LeBron at Point? Make a Deal? Potential Cavs Solutions for Isaiah Thomas Problem

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2017

Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaiah Thomas, right, holds up his jersey as general manager Koby Altman looks on during a news conference at the NBA basketball teams practice facility, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman played perhaps the team's best defense of the past year during Thursday's press conference, stopping any and all questions pertaining to Isaiah Thomas' injured hip.

Thomas and former Boston Celtics teammates Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic were officially introduced as Cavaliers, but the focus was on the two-time All-Star point guard's still unknown return date.

While Altman refused to put a timetable on Thomas' recovery, head coach Tyronn Lue did say the team would be without its new star guard to begin the season. This leaves the Cavs with Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder as the team's only official floor generals.

Without Thomas to start the season (and possibly as late as March, per speculation from ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh), do the Cavs have enough to get by? Or should they be looking to add yet another point guard to the roster?


Replacing Kyrie

Thomas and former Cavs guard Kyrie Irving are similar players. Both score in high volumes from multiple areas of the court. Both live for the big moment. Both also won't be starting the season in Cleveland's backcourt.

If and when Thomas takes the court this year, replacing Irving's 25.2 points per game last season shouldn't be a problem. Until that time, the Cavs will have to shuffle their cards.

The obvious pressure will fall on LeBron James, who was eighth in the league in 2016-17 with 26.4 points a night. While it's not in his nature to put up 20 shots a game (he hasn't done so since 2009-10), James may have to carry the extra scoring burden.

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 07:  Kevin Love #0 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers high five in Game Three of the 2017 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 7, 2017 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressl
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Kevin Love should finally get the touches he deserves after slowly climbing to 19.0 points per game last year. When sharing the court with Irving this past season, Love averaged 20.5 points on 42.0 percent shooting per 36 minutes of play. When Irving sat, Love's stats shot up to 27.4 points on 45.1 percent from the field, per NBA.com. Expect a bigger jump from Love, rather than James, while Thomas recovers.

The rest of the offense vacated by Irving/Thomas will be assigned to Rose, who's recovering from a torn meniscus in his left knee from early April. There's been no report that he won't be ready to start training camp on September 26, and he will almost certainly be Lue's starter to begin the season.


Can Rose, Calderon Carry the Load?

Rose is good enough to keep the Cavs afloat. In 2015-16, with Irving missing the first 24 games while recovering from a knee injury suffered in the NBA Finals, Cleveland went 17-7 with Mo Williams as the starting point guard.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 19: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against Jose Calderon #3 of the New York Knicks during the game on December 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

There appears to be a plan for Thomas' absence. Rose will be the starter. Calderon will get some run as the backup. As for Felder, a second-year guard? Neither Altman nor Lue made a single mention of him in Thursday's press conference. That's telling.

The drop-off from Thomas to Rose is one for concern. As ball-dominant as Irving and Thomas are, both are capable of squaring up and knocking down catch-and-shoot three-pointers. They provide some off-ball threat to opposing defenses, something Rose hasn't shown.

As Rob Mahoney of SI.com writes:

"When Rose doesn't have the ball in his hands, he loses most everything that makes him an effective basketball player. Instead, he waits. Rose never had much of a nose for cutting, nor has he expressed much interest in improving. Rarely will you see Rose setting a screen that hasn't been called for explicitly by a set play; that kind of action just isn't a part of his improvisational game. So Rose stands idle at the three-point line, utterly without purpose until some incoming pass awakens him again."

The one thing Thomas and Rose share (besides porous defense) is their ability to drive.

Thomas led all players with 12.7 drives per game last season. Rose wasn't far behind with 10.0 a contest, per NBA.com. Both shot an impressive 51.2 percent on their drives, higher than league MVP Russell Westbrook (48.0) last season. Rose doesn't bring Thomas' shooting ability or overall offensive game, but getting into the paint should be enough offense when sharing the floor with James and Love.


What About LeBron James at Point?

James is certainly capable of bringing the ball up the floor, and he's one of the greatest passers the game has ever seen. Lue used him in certain lineups last year as the floor general, surrounding him with shooters and rim-running athletes.

When James runs the point, it's not a question of can they. Rather, it's should the Cavs use him as the primary ball-handler for extended minutes? The answer, quite simply, is no.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes the ball against the Golden State Warriors in Game Five of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 12, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Bruce Yeung/Getty Images

Any extra work on James' shoulders should be avoided until spring. James enters year No. 15 set to turn 33 in December. Lue has to do a better job of monitoring his franchise player's wear and tear.

If this were the Finals or a competitive playoff series, putting the ball in James' hands is always the best policy. Making him chase point guards must be avoided in the early months until the season starts to matter. Cleveland certainly isn't in any fear of losing out on a playoff spot.

Even if it means a 36-year-old Calderon bringing the ball up the court 20 minutes a night to begin the year, preserving James for the long haul should take precedent.


Another Point Guard Needed?

While it may seem unusual to pursue a point guard via trade with four already on the roster, it wouldn't be a bad insurance policy.

Felder may not even make the final 15-player roster cut, and he could be waived and re-signed to a two-way contract to spend most of his year in the G League. We know Thomas is going to miss a chunk of time. Does anyone believe Rose will stay healthy all year?

That leaves Calderon, and possibly Felder. As one NBA scout recently told Bleacher Report, "both options aren't great right now."

For the first time in what seems like years, the Cavaliers actually have trade ammunition to bring in more help. The addition of the 2018 Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick presents terrific value and also allows Cleveland to part with its own likely late-round pick.

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 21:  Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets takes the basketball up the court in front of Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns during their game against the Phoenix Sunsat the Toyota Center on March 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Eric Bledsoe's name was thrown around in potential Irving trades due to his relationship with James (they share the same agent, Rich Paul) and ability to play both sides of the ball. He's due $14.5 million this season, however, and would find minutes scarce if Thomas and Rose were both healthy.

Cleveland's best bet would be to keep the Brooklyn pick for now and not dangle it for a point guard upgrade. Instead, looking at defensive-minded options like Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers or old friend Matthew Dellavedova of the Milwaukee Bucks would be more realistic.

For now, it appears the Cavs just need to weather the storm, pray Rose can stay on the court and keep minor trade options open at the same time.


Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers lead writer for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary numbers provided by Spotrac.


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