This summer, the NBA saw a shift that many fans, coaches, and players never thought they would see. The best team in the NBA last season, as well as in NBA history, signed a former MVP and established superstar, Kevin Durant. The worst part? They sacrificed just two role players to do so.
It was the perfect mix of fate, luck, and management – the Warriors were only so lucky that Durant’s free agency fell on the summer that the cap spiked $20 million, giving their chances at signing Durant a breath of hope.
With Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut traded / not resigned, the Warriors brought Kevin Durant to a team that was able to maintain its core, already one of the best, if not the best, in the league.
Putting Durant alongside the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green quickly ripped the Cavaliers of their Finals-winning headlines.
In the Finals, the Cavaliers, led by their fearless King LeBron James, did the impossible. They came back down 3-1 in the NBA Finals against the best team, record wise, in history.
It was nothing short of miraculous that the Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals. But it would be even more unbelievable, even more, dare I say, magical, were they to repeat.
Their rival Warriors, whether LeBron agrees on that relationship or not, shouldn’t have lost the Finals. They shouldn’t have cracked under pressure or given in to the idea of going back-to-back without finishing the job. So what did they do? They went and signed a top 5 player in the NBA to fix their, dare I say, problems.
So when LeBron James publicly expresses his anger at the Cavalier front office’s lack of deal making and salary paying, he isn’t whining. He simply is asking for his brass to get them on an even playing field with Golden State, who recently obliterated them, 126-91, on January 16th.
Golden State leveled up this summer. LeBron James, while undoubtedly one of the best, and probably the most valuable player in the league, is getting older – he said it himself. His window is closing. And while his window closes, Golden State’s is truly, scarily, just getting started.
The Channing Frye deal last Spring shows just how crucial a midseason trade can be to a team’s playoff success. After J.R. Smith went down with a wrist injury this year, the Kyle Korver deal was made to patch that hole. But that’s all it was. It was duck tape on a leak, not a new pipe. The Cavaliers have holes, believe it or not.
Their first, most blatant whole is that of a back up point guard. Rookie Kay Felder, while electrifying, is too young and too reckless to be the backup point guard on a title favorite. The kid has a long career ahead of him, and there is no shortage of tiny scorers in today’s NBA, but he isn’t the answer for the Cavaliers.
LeBron beckoned for a playmaker in his recent media tirade – and he isn’t ridiculous for doing so. LeBron plays point guard, effectively, for the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving is a lights out shooter and all NBA scorer, but he isn’t a true floor general. James is averaging his second highest assist percentage in his career indicative of his high usage rate as point forward. However, he is also averaging his highest career turnover percentage, via to basketballreference.com.
LeBron shouldn’t have to be in the game at all times for the offense to run smoothly, something that has become apparent in the Cavs’ recent struggles. Acquiring a playmaker doesn’t just help the offense run – it keeps James on the bench longer, prolonging his seasonal energy and, truly, his career. Rest is crucial for a guy averaging 37.5 MPG, about 8 minutes too much for his health.
The Cavaliers, as reported today, are bringing in veterans Kirk Hinrich, Mario Chalmers, and Lance Stephenson today for a workout, but I doubt they sign any of them. This is a political move by General Manager David Griffin – letting teams know he means business in the trade market.
The only guy that makes a bit of sense is Mario Chalmers, James’ former Finals winning floor general with the Miami Heat. But I suspect the Cavaliers front office to get active on the phones in the coming weeks.
Some possible targets include, but are not limited to –
Darren Collison, Point Guard, Sacramento Kings
The Kings should be in full on sell mode at the deadline – selling everyone except DeMarcus Cousins, that is. This may be the only opportunity for the Kings to convey a first round pick out of Darren Collison, an underwhelming point guard for a rebuilding team.
A package of Kay Felder and a 2018 first round pick to Sacramento could do it, but there is a slight chance a third team would need to be involved.
For the Kings, this would simply be a pick to flip in the future for a veteran that can help this team, just stockpiling assets. Felder, on the other hand, offers the Kings a player with upside to play around with in the line up. Ty Lawson, who has been serviceable in his rehabilitation year, would assume starting responsibilities.
As for the Cavs, Collison is as good of a player you could get with your current assets and not having to give up a guy like Iman Shumpert. He would provide a punch off the bench they haven’t had since Matthew Dellavedova, and likely quell any of LeBrons anxieties over a lack of a playmaker.
Also, PG Ty Lawson could likely be had in a Felder +2nd rounder-Lawson swap straight up, and he has been solid in his return to the big stage, averaging 8.8 PPG.
Sergio Rodriguez, Point Guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Rodriguez, formerly of Real Madrid, started the season off as a starter in Philly, but has recently lost that role to grinder and undrafted phenom T.J. McConnell. Still, Rodriguez is a gifted passer and has no problem getting his teammates the rock. He averages an efficient 8.3 PPG, 5.4 APG, and shoots 35% from downtown from 30 starts and 42 games played this season.
He is on just a one year, $8 million deal, so it would likely take the Cavs trade exception along with a first rounder and maybe shooting guard Jordan McRae to get Rodriguez from a surging Sixers team with playoff aspirations.
Rodriguez would be the ideal trade deadline acquisition for the Cavs, if they can pull it off.
And, finally, as a long shot –
Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard, Chicago Bulls
I will be completely honest – I don’t fully know how this trade is possible. The Cavaliers luxury tax issues make all trades for players with salaries larger than around $5 million nearly impossible. But if the Cavaliers are deadset on winning championships with LeBron in his pique years, then this would be the deal to swing for.
Now you may ask, why would Chicago want to do this? Why would they want to give up Wade, their hometown hero who just made a drastic decision to sign with them this summer, for what couldn’t possibly be face value?
Well, we all have seen the dumpster fire that the Chicago Bulls have been this season. No floor spacing, mixed leadership, and lack of a primary ball handler have all seen the once promising team slide into mediocrity. Mediocrity is not how Dwyane Wade wants to spend his twilight years.
Chicago desperately needs to undo this past summer, and amazingly the Cavs can help facilitate that. Now I am just spit balling here, and there are plenty of people who would have plenty of objections to this specific trade, but view it as a model of what could happen in a deal for Wade.
Chicago Bulls receive – PG Ricky Rubio, SG Iman Shumpert, F Shabazz Muhammed
Cleveland Cavaliers receive – SG Dwyane Wade
Minnesota Timberwolves receive – SG J.R. Smith, PG Rajon Rondo, 2018 Cleveland First Round Pick
Now, this is a crazy deal, but it has bona fide benefits for all teams, especially the Bulls.
They are able to rid themselves of both Wade and Rondo’s deals, poison pills for such veterans on a team that wants to reload.
They get a legitimate ball handler to go alongside their present and future, Jimmy Butler, who if given up would be such a travesty of a deal that it should make Bulls fans cringe at the thought. They also get a talented and underplayed wing in Shumpert. Muhammed is a nice piece that, while no longer the youngest of assets, could really turn into a lights out scorer if given time.
Overall, getting this sort of haul for two aging veterans on mega contracts is an option the Bulls likely never thought possible.
Now the Timberwolves are obviously relatively interchangeable for this model-type scenario, but lets just say its them going through on this deal. They want to 1) reach the playoffs and 2) win playoff games. They have the nucleus for it. It is time for the front office to make a move for some veterans.
Getting rid of Rubio is the first move. Kris Dunn has to start gelling with this team as their primary ball handler and distributor. But this team needs veterans that can step up when the youth falters. Thats why, no matter how pissed he would be to get traded, J.R. Smith would be huge for this team. His contract isn’t nice, but his scoring is. The Wolves lack a punch off the bench, or they could even start Smith alongside Andrew Wiggins for some nice scoring highlight reels.
Getting back Rondo, a veteran, pass first distributor, is like replacing all of Rubio’s potential production with a player the Wolves won’t be obligated to play as much. Rubio is a guy who is constantly in trade rumors, and that’s because the Wolves are constantly testing the market for him. If he stops playing, his value shuts down. Now, with Rondo, that isn’t the case. He is a play well or sit down type, no matter his contract. The future of the franchise isn’t partially tied to Rondo, where as it was with Rubio.
The Wolves instantly become a better team all around, as do the Bulls. Oh yeah, and the Cavaliers.
While trading both Shumpert and Smith may cause a chemistry issue, nothing can be more important than keeping King James happy. Suiting up every night with Wade again would do just that, and the on court poetry between them, along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, would put the Cavs on par with the Warriors, talent wise.
The Cavaliers are a fantastic team – a championship winning team. But the Warriors are a better team than ever before, and LeBron knows this. Its going to take more than just a herculean Finals performance. It’s going to take masterful team chemistry, depth, and health.
The Cavs can defeat the Warriors. I have no doubt. But I bet LeBron wouldn’t even bet on the Cavaliers in a 7 game series right now. He is coming off his first losing month of basketball in over ten years. He has half that left, at best. The time to win is now.
So call it complaining, but I’ll call it what is – preparation. We will see what happens on or before the Feb. 23rd deadline, and if the Cavs can make a move to push them not over the top, but on even ground with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and the Golden State villians.