The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the most interesting teams in the NBA this year, if only because their future is so uncertain.
Will LeBron James be back after the season? Will Isaiah Thomas fit in seamlessly when he returns from injury, and will he return or depart come free agency? Finally, will the Cavaliers hold onto the Brooklyn Nets pick they received in the Kyrie Irving trade or will they deal it for veteran help either this season or in the offseason?
And who might that veteran help be?
It's isn't hard to connect the dots. The Cavaliers could use an upgrade at center, and it just so happens that a few should logically make their way onto the trade block. DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol, most notably, are talented veterans stuck on teams struggling in a major way this season that are unlikely to make a playoff run.
But as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News reported, "Cleveland has been linked to the Clippers' Jordan and Memphis' Gasol, but one source said any such deal is still a way off. The primary bait the Cavaliers could offer would be center Tristan Thompson, who has been dealing with a calf injury and has lost his spot as a starter."
The other bait, obviously, is Brooklyn's first-round pick. But Deveney wrote that multiple league sources have said the Cavaliers remain unwilling to deal that particular asset.
"They would be open to a deal by all indications," a general manager told Deveney. "But they're not talking about that pick. That's the Plan B for the LeBron stuff and from what I know, they don't want to budge on it."
In other words, the Cavaliers see the Brooklyn pick as their backup plan in the event James departs in free agency. If that domino falls, Thomas might follow suit. In that event, the Cavaliers would have two major assets—the Brooklyn pick and a Kevin Love trade—as a means to begin their rebuild.
But keeping the pick serves a dual purpose, as the Cavaliers can also use it this offseason to make a deal for a veteran to try to entice James to remain in Cleveland. Making the move for Jordan this offseason is riskier, as he can opt out of his contract this summer. That could leave the Cavaliers without three stars and a draft pick.
But if they keep it, they either draft a player for the future or use it to bring aboard another veteran to pair with James that is more than a half-season rental.
Gasol, meanwhile, is under contract for one more year and has an opt-out clause for the 2019-20 season, but there's an argument to be made that he isn't as good of a fit as Jordan, who is the better rebounder and more impactful defensive presence (though Gasol does block 1.4 shots per game, compared to 1.1 for Jordan).
Plus, where Gasol would need to be more involved in Cleveland's offense, Jordan could essentially serve the function of the roll man in the pick-and-roll, finishing lobs.
Or as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com put it in late November, "I'm not sure [Gasol] gives you much more (overall) than what Love gives. Jordan, meanwhile, playing with Love would change the Cavs' dynamic."
So from Cleveland's perspective, landing Jordan without giving up the Brooklyn pick is arguably the most ideal situation. It may be an impossible sell for the Los Angeles Clippers, however, who would be crazy not to get a least one first-round pick for a player of Jordan's stature.
The Cavaliers don't seem inclined, at this point, to give up that Brooklyn pick. It's a superb backup plan to keep in their back pocket. And without seeing how Thomas fits with James, Love and the rest of the Cavaliers, patience makes sense.
Any trade the Cavaliers approve involving that Brooklyn pick must serve two purposes: Bridging the gap between the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors and enticing James to remain in Cleveland after the season.
If both of those goals can't be satisfied, the Cavaliers would be crazy to throw away such a valuable insurance policy.