With the NBA's Feb. 19 trade deadline approaching, rumors are bounding, team executives' phones are ringing off the hook, and many are wondering how the yearly flurry of player movement will mold the rest of the season.
This is a crucial point in the season for the league's contenders, as it's one of their last chances to acquire the one or few "missing piece(s)" they may be lacking in order to compete for a title in June (the only other way would be to sign a free agent that hasn't been playing or has been released).
The Cleveland Cavaliers have stood out amongst the throng of hopeful bidders over the last few seasons, making last-second deals in order to improve their chances at capturing the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
While the Cavs have made some noise with big signings during the last couple trade deadline periods, a good argument can be made that they should stay put with what they have this season.
Firstly, it's hard to argue that a 40-11 record, a current 10-game winning streak, arguably the deepest lineup in basketball, the second-best three-point shooting squad in the game, and the (tied) best defensive unit in the Association are things to be in a rush to fix.
Since guards Mo Williams and Delonte West hit the pine with injuries about two weeks ago, the Cavaliers have displayed an overwhelming sense of team depth. Daniel Gibson, who has very much come into his own as a consistent deep shooter this year, has lead an offense that has continued to produce has become surprisingly fluid in the absences of Williams and West.
Second-year forward Jawad Williams has come from the end of head coach Mike Brown's bench—a spot normally relegated to players like Scot Pollard and Tarence Kinsey—into a crucial role in the team's rotation.
While Williams' first few extended, impressive performances may have been credited to lapses in the opposition's scouting, the former Tar Heel has continued to use his three-point shooting ability, pump fake, and skill driving toward the rim to shake defenders. Players like Williams are essential in the most raw sense of the word for championship hopefuls.
Since West and Williams went down, a long-awaited giant has awoken (take a guess). Shaking off a sluggish start to the season, Shaquille O'Neal has become an undeniable force for the Cavaliers' frontline as of late. He's finally converting close layups and hook shots frequently and is actually shooting a decent (in his standards) percentage from the free throw line (57 percent).
This combination of relatively unexpected offensive production has been coupled with the ho-hum, everyday additions of LeBron James' circus acts on offense and defense, Anderson Varejao's never-quit defense, hustle, and non-stat sheet contributions, the exponential growth of beast-in-training J.J. Hickson, and the continued consistent shooting from Anthony Parker and Zrydunas Ilgauskas.
This team is playing seriously intimidating, well-executed basketball. Additionally, the Cavs' game has seen one of its highest peaks in the absence of two of its most crucial, talented pieces.
That said, the temptation to make a rash move for the "golden ticket" to a championship is always nagging, even for a team at the Cavaliers' level. Names like Antawn Jamison, Troy Murphy, and Amare Stoudemire make Cleveland fans salivate when paired with the words "Cleveland," "trade," and "interested."
Reactions like the aforementioned need to be tempered, however. While a hypothetical addition of someone like Jamison would help the Cavs, it isn't necessary in most realistic situations. One widely discussed trade scenario has Cleveland swapping Ilgauskas, whose contract expires after this season, and Hickson (whom the Cavs are very reluctant to let go) to Washington for Jamison. The thought is that the Wizards would buy out Ilgauskas' contract and place him on waivers, thus making him available for a re-signing with Cleveland after a mandatory 30-day period.
For many Cavs fans, the deal is a no-brainer: trading an ancient bench center and a project that's still growing for a proven frontline force that can hit the three, drive to the rack, and rebound nightly?
Not so fast.
Aside from Ilgauskas' integral stat contributions to the team, Brown and general manager Danny Ferry realize how much "Big Z" has put into this organization. If the Cavaliers were to win a championship during a season in which Ilgauskas was traded, it would tarnish the gold more than a bit for most Cleveland fans.
Ilgauskas has literally seen every enduring struggle a professional athlete can face: multiple surgeries, several seasons ended or shortened by injuries, an abysmal team and fanbase surrounding him, off-court issues, and the heart-thumping race toward the top.
Claiming an NBA title for Ilgauskas, a future Cavaliers legend in what could be his last season in the league, almost certainly is of utmost importance to Ferry. If the Cavaliers were to even consider trading Ilgauskas, the offer would have to almost guarantee that it would bring the Cavs ring (ideally with the long-tenured Lithuanian returning shortly).
If the Cavaliers have proven anything during the last stretch of a dozen games or so, it's that they're perfectly capable of winning an NBA title this season in dominant fashion with the weaponry they have right now.
Their winning streak has admittedly come during a pretty soft spot in their schedule, but in the Association, winning is winning. The Cavaliers currently have a wonderful formula in place to make a strong push to the Finals this summer.
They possess a very talented backcourt, a massive frontcourt that includes two seven-footers and one of the best players to ever shoot a basketball, and a bench that stretches miles and is full of role players who execute their places to nearly game-by-game perfection.
When it comes to the Cavaliers and the alluring trade opportunities that will no doubt arise within the following days and weeks, resistance is a virtue.