If Cleveland trades Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, they might have some takers at the right price.
The Cavaliers need some help. After winning 18 of 19 games, they’ve lost six of their last eight. Cleveland is falling off the rails — again — and they have to fix it if they plan on returning to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season.
Lineup changes won’t help; the Cavs are what they are. But if they want to shake the roster up, a trade isn’t too wild of an idea.
The Cavs’ roster assets are limited, but they received Brooklyn’s 2018 draft pick as the gem of the Kyrie Irving trade. They also own their own pick, most definitely a late first-rounder. Now, Cleveland is in a position to flip those picks as the Feb. 8 trade deadline draws closer.
And after LeBron James reportedly chewed his teammates out after back-to-back embarrassing losses — 28 points to Minnesota and 34 points to Toronto — a change might be needed to get this ship back on track.
Do the Cavs actually have a need?
Yes, Cleveland has the best basketball player on planet Earth in LeBron James, and yes, the Cavs have another two All-Stars on the roster with Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love, but that hasn’t been enough.
Cleveland has the oldest roster in the NBA with an average age of 30 years old. Ideally, they’d like to get younger and more athletic, specifically on the wings and on the interior.
J.R. Smith was a key piece of Cleveland’s 2015 championship trip, but as SB Nation’s Cavaliers site Fear the Sword notes, he hasn’t been getting it done defensively this season.
Smith’s -1.37 [defensive real plus minus] ranks 416th of 468 players. His -0.9 [Defensive Box Score Plus Minus] is his worst since 2014.
Per Steve Shea’s defensive rating stat (explained here), Smith ranks as the worst perimeter defender and worst overall defender in the NBA this season (of 192 players with at least 650 minutes played).
The Cavs have a 113.8 [defensive rating] with Smith on the floor and are 7.3 points/100 possessions better defensively when he sits. This ranks in the 8th percentile in the NBA.
Every Cavs rotation player has a better dRTG with Smith off the floor.
Jae Crowder is a physical, versatile defender, but he’s enduring the second-worst shooting season of his career and hasn’t shown the same juice on the other end. Dwayne Wade has been a blessing off the bench as a playmaker for the second unit, but the experiment starting him alongside James went wildly wrong early into the season. Iman Shumpert, who has been out with a knee injury, is having one of his least productive seasons playing the fewest minutes of his career, too.
The Cavs could also use a boost at the center spot. After he earned a massive contract extension with his play in the 2016 NBA Finals, Tristan Thompson has seen his role reduced. He now plays minutes in spots while Kevin Love gets the start in favor of a faster, more spread-out lineup.
Cleveland is in a peculiar place once again. And there are a few options out there to get the Cavaliers back on track if teams are willing the let players go for the right price.
Here are some that might help:
Our friends at Fear the Sword listed Bazemore as the top option for Cleveland to pursue if it wants to upgrade its wing. He’s shooting a career-best 38.7 percent from three in Atlanta and uses his length to his defensive advantage.
Strengths: Bazemore’s 7-foot wingspan has helped make him an excellent perimeter defender. He ranks 4th in perimeter defense per Steve Shea’s rankings and is en route to a DBPM >1 for the 4th straight season. He ranks 5th among shooting guards in dRPM.
Bazemore’s 2.9 steal percentage is the best of all wings and he is also an excellent rebounder for his position, ranking in the 90th percentile or higher in 3 of the last 4 years. He has ranked in the 85th percentile or higher in block percentage for wings every year of his career but one. His 1.2 BLK% currently ranks in the 87th percentile.
Offensively, Bazemore is shooting 39% from 3 and is a career 41% shooter from the corners. The 39% is a bit misleading, however. He is shooting 44% on catch and shoot 3s, compared to just 24% on pull-up 3s.
He has also shown playmaking abilities for others, posting a 20.4% assist percentage this year as Atlanta’s secondary creator.
But Bazemore alone isn’t worth the Brooklyn pick. Now, Bazemore and John Collins? That might be a different story. If Atlanta’s game — taking back one of Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith and another big man, along with the Nets pick — this addresses both of Cleveland’s weaknesses while dealing with a team firmly outside the playoff hunt.
And Atlanta wins by now owning two top picks in the loaded 2018 Draft.
But the Hawks also love Collins, so this will be a hard sell.
The Jazz could use a punch in the draft after Gordon Hayward left them for the Celtics last summer. In moving Hood and Sefolosha, Utah would lose both of the wings that are thriving this season, but the prospect of landing a Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley or Mohamed Bamba to join Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert could be too sweet not to try.
Hood is having a career year in Salt Lake City, and surprisingly, so is Sefolosha. Brooklyn’s pick, along with a few serviceable pieces, could be enough to push Dennis Lindsay to make a deal.
Moving those two wings would invariably wash away this season for the Jazz, but seven games below .500 with Gobert laboring through knee rehab, that was probably already the case. Why not double-up in the draft and re-up on the wings in June?
The Cavaliers could also take back Joe Johnson’s expiring contract if the Jazz are willing to free him to play for a contender. Johnson’s only averaging 7.2 points per game this season, but he morphs into Joe Jesus in the playoffs.
Our own Tim Cato figures the Mavericks have a pair of players that could make for interesting fits in Cleveland next to LeBron:
Would Cleveland be interested in Wesley Matthews and Nerlens Noel? Matthews isn’t quite the defender he once was, but he’s hitting 38 percent from three on high volume. He cares, and this team needs someone who will scream at them for missing rotations. Noel is a huge gamble, but he could theoretically fit better than Thompson does. For that Brooklyn lottery pick, it would probably be hard for Dallas to say no.
Matthews hasn’t quite been the same defender since suffering that torn left Achilles in 2015, but he’s still an experienced, battle-tested two-way wing who would be an upgrade for the Cavs’ back court. Noel hasn’t lived up to the hype, but there’s reason to believe his best basketball has yet to come.
It’s a gamble, like Tim wrote, but it could pay dividends if it works out in Cleveland’s favor.
Bradley becomes a free agent in the summer, and while he’s made a tangible impact on the Pistons defense, he’ll become a coveted wing for teams contending for championships once free agency begins on July 1. Detroit let Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk for nothing. And even though Stan Van Gundy isn’t the quickest to pull the trigger on trades for draft picks, the Brooklyn pick could just be too tempting not to part ways with a potential rental.
Besides, why not reunite former Celtics Bradley, Thomas and Jae Crowder for a shot at an NBA championship?
In fairness, the Pistons probably don’t trade Bradley unless things implode over the next few weeks. But if Detroit finds itself reeling, sending the stout defender to a contender isn’t a bad play, either.
SB Nation’s NBA editor Mike Prada posed a trade with the Orlando Magic as an avenue for Cleveland to improve out on the wings. The Cavaliers would virtually press the reset button at the guard slot, swapping both Smith and Shumpert for Fournier and Simmons, but the roster gets younger and more athletic with Simmons off the bench, while Fournier spaces the floor as a legitimate perimeter threat.
It took Kyrie Irving for the Celtics to finally pull the trigger on moving the Brooklyn pick. Don’t expect the Cavaliers to part ways with it easily, either.
If the Thunder fall apart before Feb. 8, Paul George’s looming free agency will hang over the franchise until the trade deadline passes by. Oklahoma City will be in win-now mode so long as Russell Westbrook is on the roster, but the level of talent at the top of the draft simply can’t be ignored.
The Cavs will need a third team to help facilitate a deal for George’s $19 million contract, but if he becomes available, GM Koby Altman will make a way.
Source: Sports Feed