At 38-14 entering the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers are stuck somewhere between pretty good and the NBA's elite. They've remained atop the Eastern Conference for nearly the entire first half, yet a talent gap most certainly exists between Cleveland and the oft-mentioned 48-4 Golden State Warriors.
Cleveland now has less than a week to execute a deal to address its needs; the deadline looms at 3:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 18.
While there's no one major glaring weakness for the Cavs, they could stand to address these five issues.
The Issue: 59.9 field-goal percentage by opponents in restricted area this season, 19th in NBA
Successful teams don't give up easy baskets, and what spot on the court is easier to convert from than right underneath the hoop?
Consider this: Twelve of the top 14 teams in restricted-area opponent field-goal percentage would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Of the bottom 10 squads, only one (Dallas Mavericks) would qualify for the postseason.
The Cavaliers fall in between these two groups.
Cleveland's best defensive interior force, Timofey Mozgov, has already lost the starting center job (and confidence) in his fall from grace this season.
Tristan Thompson remains a force on pick-and-rolls but doesn't block shots (0.4 per game) and has worse paint-protection numbers (50.3 opponent shooting at rim) than notable league-wide softies David Lee (50.0 percent), Greg Monroe (50.2 percent) and even 6'7" shooting guard Jimmy Butler (49.5 percent), per NBA.com.
Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao provide their share of rebounding and offense, but neither can play lockdown defense where it matters most.
Cleveland would be wise to target a seldom-used shot-blocker like Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson (4.3 blocks per 36 minutes, 40.5 opponent shooting) and plug him into the middle of the defense as soon as possible.
What To Do with Mozzy?
The Issue: Mozgov's poor play, impending free agency
After inspired play a year ago, don't be surprised if Mozgov's days in Cleveland are numbered.
Following a slow start to the year due to summer knee surgery, the 29-year-old has simply looked out of sync. The Cavs were 10.9 points per 100 possessions better with him in the game last season. This year, his presence has made them 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse.
While LeBron James doesn't often show up teammates, he's been visibly frustrated with his Russian big man seemingly on a regular basis. At times, it appears he's simply ignoring Mozgov on offense, almost as a punishment for previous poor play.
Not only has Mozgov dropped out of the starting lineup, but the seldom-used veteran Varejao has jumped ahead of him in the rotation as the first big off the bench. Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 10, when Love was ruled out of the game with a shoulder contusion in the second quarter, it was Varejao who began the second half.
Then there's the matter of free agency. Mozgov is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and with an ever-growing cap, he could still command north of $10 million per year. With Cleveland already in salary-cap hell, general manager David Griffin has to find the idea of inking him to a big extension terrifying.
Although the Cavs sacrificed two first-round picks for the Russian last season, it may be best for Griffin to cut his losses and deal Mozgov before he walks for nothing this summer.
More Threes, Please
The Issue: 35.8 team three-point percentage
While Cleveland has been a decent team from outside (ninth in efficiency), its style of play demands a greater level of accuracy.
The Cavs are fifth in the NBA with 28.3 three-point attempts per game, or about one-third of their total shots. For a league that's moving to the outside, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
However, the Cavaliers only have two players (Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith) who shoot better than 40.0 percent from deep. James (27.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (29.5 percent) have struggled to find their stroke.
It should come as no surprise the Cavs have interest in notable marksmen Kyle Korver, Jared Dudley and Trevor Ariza, according to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com.
Adding shooters around James is always a good idea. He's averaging 13.2 potential assists this season, or the number of dimes he would be recording if teammates made every shot off one of his passes. This is good for first among forwards and 10th overall, per NBA.com.
How important is adding another reliable shooter? Cleveland is connecting on 37.5 percent of its attempts from deep in wins this season. In losses, this accuracy rate drops to 31.2 percent.
Of course, if no help is acquired via trade, the door can't be completely closed on Ray Allen, either. The 40-year-old marksman has yet to officially retire. The Miami Heat have an open invitation for him to come back, and teams have recruited legendary shooters who have been out of the league for years before.
Look for the Cavs to pick up an additional outside threat on the wing in one form or another before the season ends.
Bang for the Buck
The Issue: Cleveland's sky-high payroll and lack of young, affordable players
When Cleveland traded Joe Harris to the Orlando Magic in January, it marked the 11th player on a rookie-scale deal that the team has parted with since the past four drafts. This list includes Dion Waiters, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Jae Crowder.
Obviously, teams that are chasing a championship would like to lean on veterans and players in their prime. The Cavaliers have their share of this and are paying for it. Cleveland's total roster with taxes is expected to reach over $170 million this year, with no salary-cap relief in sight.
With six players making $10 million or more next season, and a possible seventh in Mozgov, Cleveland would be wise to target some younger, affordable talent if possible, with the hope being that those players could blossom in the next few years and help keep Cleveland's championship window cracked open.
This could be Henson, who's on the last year of a rookie deal and is under contract for the next four at a reasonable rate. It could also be Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, who the Cavs have "strong interest" in, per Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com. McLemore, a lottery pick in 2013, is making just $3.1 million this season and is owed $4 million next year.
The Issue: Planning for every situation
Come playoff time, teams need to be prepared for anything.
This is where specialty players come in. Need a three-pointer to win the game? A rim-protector to block a potential last-second lob? Your star player just got hit with a cheap shot and needs a bruiser to send a message back?
Cleveland has some of these specialty players already, to an extent. James Jones can still knock down the open three-ball. Jared Cunningham has been used on occasion for his speed and perimeter defense. Varejao continues to bring an energetic spark whenever his number is called.
But what about the tough guy? What about the lack of veteran mentorship and championship experience? Players such as Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, Kendrick Perkins and Brendan Haywood brought these traits to the table last year but are now retired or wearing a different uniform.
For this, Cleveland may not need to make a move at the trade deadline but rather monitor what other teams are doing. The days following the deadline are typically rife with buyouts of guys who were included in a deal to match up salaries but will never suit up for their new team.
This is precisely how the Cavs inked Perkins last year, following his trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Utah Jazz. He didn't play much but was used for some hard screens and sage advice and quickly became a favorite in the locker room. Now with the New Orleans Pelicans, Perk stopped in after the game to catch up with his old mates when the Pelicans visited Quicken Loans Arena on Feb. 6.
He remains a buyout candidate this year, as New Orleans is 20-33 and likely to miss the playoffs. Other veterans who could be cut include the Brooklyn Nets' Joe Johnson, the Minnesota Timberwolves' Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince, and the Sacramento Kings' Caron Butler.
Thanks to the trade of Harris, Cleveland has maintained an open roster spot for just such an occasion.
Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CavsGregBR.
Stats via Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of Feb. 11 unless otherwise noted.
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