Bogut will give the Cavs a true backup center behind Tristan Thompson, some rim protection and keen passing when he’s on the floor. Perhaps he’ll even provide a clue or two about his former team, the Golden State Warriors, should there be a rubber match in the NBA Finals come June.
But in order for Bogut to come in, somebody had to go out. In the Cavs’ case, that somebody was Jordan McRae. Receiving far less attention than the Bogut acquisition was the fact that Cleveland waived McRae, a seldom-used guard, on Wednesday to open up a roster spot for the big man.
Statistically, McRae won’t be missed much. Since being called up from the D-League by the Cavs in February 2016, he started five games out of the 52 he appeared in, getting less than 10 minutes of playing time on average.
Even though he won a ring for being on the team that beat the Warriors in the Finals -- and was so close with Kyrie Irving that he rode in the same vehicle with him during the Cavs’ euphoric championship parade -- he played just four minutes and 10 seconds in the entirety of Cleveland’s 2016 postseason run.
McRae’s time on the team couldn’t be captured by burying your face in a box score, however.
“Obviously it was somewhat emotional, but like we always say in this business, it happens,” Irving said Wednesday night, about nine hours after McRae was let go. “It’s part of it.”
When it was reported earlier in the week that Bogut would choose Cleveland over other potential suitors in Boston, San Antonio and Houston, it became clear that someone -- either McRae or DeAndre Liggins -- would be getting the boot from the Cavs’ 15-man roster. Everyone else on the team either had a defined role or was on a multiyear deal. McRae and Liggins were young, inexpensive wild cards who both possessed one clear skill: McRae was a scorer, Liggins was a defender.
Both accompanied the Cavs on their three-game trip beginning in Boston, and both attended shootaround at the TD Garden on Wednesday morning with the deadline for the Cavs to waive someone looming.
“I was on my phone a lot, even during shootaround,” Liggins, who said he was in the dark other than conversations with his agent as the deadline neared, told ESPN. “So I was going to be alert.”
At around 2 p.m., Liggins could exhale. McRae was the unlucky one.
“He was a great scorer, worked hard every day, extremely hard, and continued to get better,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “You saw earlier this year he played some backup point for us, he played the 2, he played the 3, and when guys were out, he was always ready to step in and fill in and play well. Hopefully he gets a chance to play on another team, because he is talented and deserves to be in the NBA. Hopefully another team will give him a good look.”
Two days have passed since McRae was cut. He cleared waivers Friday afternoon, a league source told ESPN, so he is now free to join a team of his choosing should there be interest.
There are plenty of endorsements coming from his former Cavs comrades.
“He probably scored the most minutes per game when he played that I’ve ever seen,” Iman Shumpert told ESPN. “So just his focus and determination to stay ready no matter what the circumstances are is an inspiration for anybody.
“He was definitely one of our best locker room guys, if not the best locker room guy -- always coming in with a certain energy, making sure everybody is smiling, making sure everybody is ready to go, filling in for any position really and going out there and giving you whatever you need. He would run through a wall for Coach Lue. He’s a great pro.”
While it might seem like a cruel twist of fate for McRae, it is just the harsh reality of the league. There are only 450 roster spots available and even fewer -- anywhere from 30 to 75 depending on how many true contenders you think there are in a league being dominated by the Warriors and Cavs the last several years -- on a team with any legitimate shot of winning it all.
At least McRae got to be a part of the team that won the first pro sports championship in Cleveland in 52 years. Anderson Varejao, Joe Harris and Jared Cunningham all were in the same shoes last year that McRae finds himself in this year -- spending part of the season with the Cavs, only to have the team send them packing before the playoff roster was set. Last season McRae was the new guy who stuck around, while the others didn’t. This season he was the guy who didn’t stick around while the likes of Bogut, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams came in for the final ride.
McRae was gracious in an Instagram post shared upon his exit, writing: “All smiles here. Not a bad thing to say about any player or anybody that has anything to do with this organization. I’m proud to say I am a part of Cleveland’s first-ever NBA championship. The memories I will take with me for the rest of my life. Best of luck to this great group of guys. Brothers for life. Love you guys. Thanks, Cleveland.”
And the Cavs kept on moving without him.
“It’s a business. At the end of the day, this team is trying to win another championship,” Liggins said. “It’s just unfortunate that he caught a bad break. I mean, it could have been me. I’m always prepared for the worst. But I’m just happy that he’ll find an opportunity somewhere else.”