Young Stars the Cleveland Cavaliers Should Target in Kyrie Irving Trade
The Cavs aren't sure whether LeBron James will feel the same way when he reaches free agency next summer. And that uncertainty is reportedly determining their direction in Irving trade talks.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Cleveland is operating as if James is leaving. That's not a clue of what's to come, but rather an attempted safeguard to protect its future in case the hometown hooper skips out again.
The Cavs want young building blocks. Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks' 7'3" unicorn centerpiece, is a "primary Cleveland target," per Wojnarowski. But the 'Bockers aren't interested, a league source told Newsday's Steven Marcus and Mike Rose.
Not to worry, Northeast Ohioans. Cleveland's youth-rich wish list runs well beyond the Zinger.
We have already identified five young studs who can anchor an Irving deal, plus a handful of fringe candidates who could hold certain appeal to the Cavs. And that's all while adhering to their preference for youth and avoiding potential over-25 targets like Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
The 24-year-old center already has an All-Star appearance and rebounding title under his belt. If the Cavs could envision him as the bully-ball zig to Golden State's small-ball zag, then he'd fit the basic description of a blockbuster centerpiece.
But Drummond's salary ($76.3 million through 2019-20) looms larger than his stats. Despite looking the part of a defensive anchor, the Pistons have yet to hold a top-10 ranking at that end during his five-year tenure. His abysmal free-throw shooting (career 38.1 percent) can limit his floor time. Plus, his arrival would make Tristan Thompson either a super-expensive sub or the next trade puzzle for Cleveland to solve.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets
The former No. 2 pick would address arguably Cleveland's biggest need for a dynamic wing defender. Last year, he tied for fifth among small forwards with a 2.47 defensive real-plus minus, per ESPN.com, and generated the eighth-most defensive win shares among all players age 25 and under (3.1).
That said, his offensive game is woefully underdeveloped, and his lack of range (7-of-34 from deep for his career) could sabotage Cleveland's spacing. At the least, Kidd-Gilchrist's offense would prevent him from being the primary return for Irving. Either a third team would need to be involved, or the Hornets would have to risk rocking the boat by moving out franchise face Kemba Walker.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Parker theoretically fits the profile of Cleveland's preferred pick-up. He's only 22 years, still on his rookie contract—although he'll need a new deal by next summer—and is already a proven producer. His scoring average spiked by six points per game last season (from 14.1 to 20.1), while his 49.0 field-goal percentage ranked seventh among non-centers who averaged 20-plus points.
While the Bucks have interest in Irving, sources told Wojnarowski, the Cavs could be much cooler on this potential swap. That's because Parker is rehabbing his second ACL tear in three years and may not return before the 2018 All-Star break.
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks
Unless the Cavs are comfortable with Derrick Rose—or are the world's biggest Kay Felder believers—they need to fetch a floor general in any Irving deal. Schroder not only fits that bill, he's also a 23-year-old up-and-comer who just had a career year in points (17.9), assists (6.3), field-goal percentage (45.1) and player efficiency rating (16.1).
Schroder is a more willing passer than Irving, but the latter is a superior shooter. And since James is already a top-shelf quarterback, Cleveland needs its guards to be marksmen. Schroder also just became a full-time starter last season, so he'd come with plenty of question marks, particularly for being less than two years younger than Irving.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
Three summers back, executives deemed Rodney Hood the 23rd-best player in the 2014 draft. In the seasons since, the southpaw has yet to average 15 points per game or top a 14.1 PER.
You're forgiven if you're taken aback by this selection.
But Hood is better than people think. Maybe a lot better. He's had his struggles with consistency—par for the course with many youngsters—but his hot streaks are scalding. He has gone for at least 20 points 25 times the past two season and averaged 4.0 triples and shooting 53.8 percent in those contests.
He packs a scoring punch from all three levels. His shooting form is smooth, his dribble moves are slippery and he's crafty—sometimes ferocious—around the rim. In 2015-16, he ranked in the 75th percentile or better as an isolation scorer (94.5), spot-up sniper (81.6) and pick-and-roll ball-handler (76.9).
Hood can support a star, share a bit of the spotlight or have it all to himself for spurts. Add in the fact he's equally dangerous on or off the ball, and he has the offensive skill set that fits best with James.
There are questions about whether Hood can be a post-LeBron building block, but that's true of any prospect. And since Hood's profile isn't as high as some of the other options listed, he could bring the most pieces along with him.
Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
Jackson is the sticking point, according to Arizona Sports 98.7's John Gambadoro. The Phoenix Suns just spent the fourth overall selection on the 6'8" swingman, and he looks like the ideal defensive yang to Devin Booker's scoring yin.
But the Suns have been searching for their post-Steve Nash star, and Irving is already at that level. Maybe that certainty is enough to make Phoenix soften its stance on Jackson.
The Cavs should hope so. His best-in-class on-ball defense would be a tremendous boon for its 22nd-ranked unit. Suddenly, Cleveland is no longer forced to run James ragged defensively or pretend 37-year-old Richard Jefferson remains a viable option to throw at top scorers.
Jackson is a helper today as both a versatile stopper and explosive fast-break scorer. The Cavs then get the gift of learning what he'll be tomorrow, either as James' sidekick or replacement. If Jackson can harness his jumper—he shot 42.2 percent from outside in his final three months of college ball—he'll provide a far-reaching skill set and a wealth of physical tools.
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
The Cavaliers didn't have anyone who played all 82 games last season. The Denver Nuggets had one player reach that milestone—then-rookie Jamal Murray, who played the entire campaign with a sports hernia.
That's a testament to the toughness and maturity the 20-year-old possesses. But the reason he's on Cleveland's radar, as Wojnarowski repored, is his potent, malleable offensive game.
While Murray's numbers helped him snag All-Rookie second-team honors, they didn't jump off the page. He averaged 9.9 points and 2.1 assists and shot just 40.4 percent from the field and 33.4 percent outside. However, he did so in only 21.5 minutes a night and thrived during a switch from spark-plug shooting guard to starting point guard over the course of the year. Christopher Dempsey of the Nuggets' official site observed:
"He made huge strides over the course of his rookie season, and was playing pretty high-level basketball by season's end. His April numbers (15.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 44.9 percent shooting) are completely attainable over the course of a season. And coming into the 2017-18 season fully healthy will give him the chance to be more explosive and more dynamic from the start.
That should excite Cleveland. As should Murray's potential as both a knockdown shooter and creative playmaker. And the fact he already gives a more consistent fight defensively than Irving.
Murray looks greener than James might like, but the latter's manipulation of opposing defenses could make the former's efficiency rates skyrocket. What's intriguing is Murray's future may include him having a similar impact on the next batch of blossoming ballers.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum's one-and-done sprint at Duke featured per-40-minute averages of 20.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He made 50.4 percent of his two-point shots and 45.2 percent of his field goals overall. The Boston Celtics liked him enough to select him with the No. 3 pick, and if you take their words at face value, would have made him the first choice had they not traded it away.
Tatum's buzz was palpable before summer league tipped. It bordered on uncontrollable shortly thereafter. And for good reason. He torched Salt Lake City defenders for 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds, then went for 17.7 points and 8.0 rebounds over three Las Vegas outings.
"There are players with glitzier games and bigger shoe contracts, but few are more versatile than Jayson Tatum, who flashed the full range of his talents at summer league," Sports Illustrated's DeAntae Prince wrote. "He's been called Paul George Lite before, but the comparison feels more apt now."
No, Tatum isn't George. But the rookie has the same measurements (6'8" with a 6'11" wingspan) and follows the same blueprint. Tatum is more one-sided, but his offensive ceiling is towering thanks to nifty footwork and high levels of coordination.
The Celtics may not want to hand that potential over to their conference rivals, but they could see it as a necessary sacrifice to increase their star power. They have interest in Irving, according to Wojnarowski, along with the knowledge that "Cleveland is mostly intrigued with Tatum."
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
That noise you just heard was the collective groan of the Gopher State. It's not that the Minnesota Timberwolves couldn't use Irving—provided the parties wait long enough for new addition Jeff Teague to be included—it's that they've publicly attempted to kill this rumor.
"I think he likes it here, we like him, he can get the very best contract from me, better than he can get from anyone else," Wolves owner Glen Taylor said, per Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune. "I don't think we have any trouble of offering him the max anyway."
Taylor hasn't backed off that stance, but he has expanded on his thought process in a way that keeps the Wiggins-to-Cleveland speculation alive. Before making a max commitment to him, Taylor wants the former No. 1 pick to make his own commitment.
"He can't be paid just for what he's doing today," Taylor told the Associated Press (via ESPN). "He's got to be better. ... There are some things that I need out of him, and that is the commitment to be a better player than you are today."
Hmmm. Those are interesting words about someone you supposedly feel is worth nearly $150 million.
Might Minnesota have a hint of doubt about Wiggins' future? His laid-back demeanor has never quieted critics who feel he's capable of doing more, and his game has holes in just about every area beyond inside-the-arc scoring.
The situation at least looks interesting enough for Cleveland to explore it. Who knows? The clubs might find each is better off with what the other can provide. So long as Wiggins commits to defense, the Cavs can afford his inconsistent shooting and forgettable playmaking. And even if Irving's defense drives Tom Thibodeau mad, Minnesota could use both the spacing and shot-creation skills.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.