Grading the Cleveland Cavaliers' Trade Deadline Performance
It was set up (as always) to be one of the NBA's most exciting regular-season days.
And the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for—wait for it—absolutely nobody.
It was a relatively quiet trade deadline across the Association, with the defending champions choosing to stand pat. No Carmelo Anthony-Kevin Love swap. No playmaker. Nothing.
"We tried a lot of things that didn't work," Cavs general manager David Griffin said, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. "It is what it is. But we're really, really comfortable with the group we had. We were not going to do anything of any significance."
With a 40-16 record to lead the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers felt no need to pull off a blockbuster deal. Everyone in the East is still looking up to them, not vice versa.
Despite remaining silent, don't think the Cavs had a bad day. Several factors leading up to the deadline, including the day itself, have Cleveland primed to improve during the regular season's final stretch.
The Kyle Korver Trade
Cleveland's big trade came weeks before the deadline when they acquired shooting guard Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks.
The Cavs sent Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams and a 2019 first-round draft pick to the Hawks in exchange for Korver, netting them not only of the NBA's greatest three-point shooters but also a pair of trade exceptions valued at $4.8 million and $2.2 million.
While Dunleavy was supposed to be Cleveland's veteran shooter off the bench, Korver has taken that role to new levels. He's averaged 11.0 points and 3.1 rebounds on a sizzling 51.5 percent clip from three as part of the Cavaliers' second unit. Over his past 10 games, Korver has even put up 14.7 points on 61.9 percent shooting from the field and 62.7 percent from deep.
Apparently, playing alongside LeBron James has its perks: A whopping 65.8 percent of Korver's shot attempts with the Cavs have either been classified as open or wide open by NBA.com. With Atlanta, Korver got an open shot attempt 55.8 percent of the time.
"Normally if I don't run, I don't get open," Korver said, per Vardon. "I've learned I have to run a lot usually to get open. But it's different here. The players we have here are amazing. Nothing gets a shooter open like more shooting and LeBron and Kyrie [Irving]."
The Cavaliers may have orchestrated just a single significant trade this season, but Griffin sure made it count.
Staying Away from Rumored Trades
One name was continually linked to the Cavaliers throughout the trade season.
The Utah Jazz discussed sending 26-year-old point guard Shelvin Mack to Cleveland in a deal for shooting guard Jordan McRae, as Chris Haynes of ESPN.com reported. Mack is averaging 7.3 points and 2.8 assists in 21.4 minutes, primarily as a reserve. McRae gives the Cavs 4.4 points and 1.1 rebounds during his 10.6 minutes. Both have fallen out of their teams' rotations.
Iman Shumpert's name also popped up in two potential deals.
The Minnesota Timberwolves reportedly coveted the 26-year-old shooting guard, per Sam Amico of Amico Hoops. Shumpert is enjoying a resurgent season with the Cavaliers, averaging 7.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals while shooting a career-best 40.3 percent from deep.
The Houston Rockets, fresh off a trade for former Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams, wanted to add Shumpert to their loaded backcourt, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Calvin Watkins. Talks stalled when the Cavaliers asked for point guard and premier defender Patrick Beverley.
Griffin admitted engaging in discussions all the way up until the 3 p.m. ET deadline, even if no deal for Mack, Shumpert or anyone else materialized. Trading a premier defender like Shumpert would have been a poor choice. A swap of McRae for Mack would have been nice but may have discouraged other free-agent point guards from signing with Cleveland.
In this case, not making a move was quite alright.
Letting the Competition Steal the Spotlight
The Cavaliers have two main competitors for the Eastern Conference throne, and only one of them made an effort to improve on Thursday.
Toronto, which pushed Cleveland to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, acquired both power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic and small forward P.J. Tucker of the Phoenix Suns, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Even with these additions, the Raptors must focus on grabbing a top seed before worrying about the Cavaliers. While Cleveland has followed a 7-8 January with an 8-1 February, Toronto has gone just 11-14 in 2017. It sits fourth in the East with a 33-24 record.
Boston, perhaps with the best collection of young talent and draft picks of any NBA team, chose to do nothing despite a day full of rumors. The Celtics are 37-20, second place in the East and playing with house money. They're still in the rebuilding stage. Given the sorry state of the conference, even rebuilding is good enough to climb above teams like the Raptors, Washington Wizards and Hawks.
Boston had a real shot at giving Cleveland all it could handle in a playoff series had it acquired Butler, George or even both. By choosing to do nothing, it's essentially conceding the conference to the Cavaliers for another year.
And by allowing these squads to steal the spotlight on Thursday, Cleveland showed it's not desperate to further separate from the pack. Anthony discussions never resurfaced, no panic moves were made and, wouldn't you know it, the Cavs remain the favorites in the East.
As expected, this is where Cleveland stands to do its damage.
With one open roster spot already and a McRae waive short of another, the Cavaliers will look to free agency to fill their remaining needs.
We knew at some point the Cavaliers would get a point guard. A defensive big behind Tristan Thompson would be nice as well.
Thanks to the imploding Dallas Mavericks, the Cavs could get both for nothing.
Five-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams was waived after Dallas attempted to trade him to no avail. According to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, Williams is expected to sign with the Cavaliers. The 32-year-old was averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 assists in 29.3 minutes for the Mavericks this season.
Failing to trade for Mack doesn't seem so bad now. Williams would give the Cavs a competent backup to Irving—one who may actually see minutes in the NBA Finals. He also shares an agent with Love, Korver and Richard Jefferson.
"I always liked D-Will, he's a good player," Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said, per Vardon. "Any time you have a guy who is an All-Star, he's a great talent. So, he can make the plays, he's a great pick-and-roll player, he can shoot the basketball, he has size so you can switch 1 through 4 with him defensively. He can post smaller guards so I've always been a big fan of D-Will."
If Williams does indeed sign with the Cavs, he could be joined by former Mavericks teammate Andrew Bogut. The 32-year-old center was traded on Thursday to the Philadelphia 76ers in a deal that brought Nerlens Noel to Dallas, as first reported by Wojnarowski.
Haynes reported that Cleveland was in "prime position" to sign both Bogut and Williams.
Getting either one of these former Mavs while giving up nothing in return would be a dream deadline performance by Griffin. Landing both would give Cleveland perhaps the best bench (along with Korver, Shumpert, Channing Frye, Derrick Williams and Jefferson) in the NBA.
Grade (if Williams and/or Bogut are signed): A+
Backup Plans for Existing Free Agents
If Williams and Bogut are claimed off waivers by another team or decide Cleveland isn't for them, the Cavaliers do have backup plans in place.
The team worked out former Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders on Wednesday. He last played in 2014-15 and is now 28, but he was a premier shot-blocker when healthy, though he has unsuccessfully auditioned for a number of teams already.
"I don't think his talents went anywhere," Lue said after Sanders' workout, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. "Being able to block shots, run the floor, being athletic. I don't think that's going to change. It's just a mindset of, 'Does he really want to play the game and does he still love it?' If his mindset is right, he can definitely still play."
The Cavs previously worked out veteran point guards Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich and Jordan Farmar on Feb 1. If a deal with Williams can't be reached, Cleveland would likely turn to one of these three to lessen the burden on Irving and James until the postseason begins.
While Williams and Bogut are the dream targets, Sanders and Chalmers/Farmar wouldn't be bad consolation prizes.
Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @CavsGregBR.