5 Trade Packages That Could Fix the Cleveland Cavaliers
All is not well in Northeast Ohio.
Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing their best basketball in over a month. But all that means is they're riding a two-game winning streak, a feat they last achieved in mid-December.
They've won just five of their last 15 contests, posting the NBA's third-worst net efficiency rating over that stretch. Their defense ranks 29th overall, and their offense has struggled to integrate Isaiah Thomas. They're bickering behind closed doors, tinkering with their starting lineup and keeping their four-year streak of scapegoating Kevin Love alive.
This is a flawed team from every angle, but it's still the Eastern Conference club to beat as long as LeBron James is on the roster. Speaking of, if the roster deficiencies alone weren't spurring the Cavs toward an active trade deadline, then the King's impending free agency should be enough motivation to move.
Luckily, the market offers some possible fixes for Cleveland's biggest problems, with the five following trade packages standing out as the best realistic options before the February 8 trade deadline.
The 3-and-D Gamble
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Wesley Matthews, Nerlens Noel
Dallas Mavericks receive: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, 2018 first-round pick
It's probably telling that the most attention paid to Matthews this season has been his post-Achilles injury performance and what clues it might offer for what's awaiting DeMarcus Cousins.
But Matthews his quietly delivered his strongest season since the setback, connecting on 41.3 percent of his field goals and 38.6 percent of his three-pointers, plus knocking 1.5 points off his opponents' field-goal percentage. He's still only scoring 12.8 points per game and isn't coming close to a league-average player efficiency rating (11.2), though, so it's unclear how much of his trade value has returned.
The Mavericks seem to think it's back in a big way. They'd only deal him if it meant bringing back a first-round pick, league sources told Marc Stein of the New York Times.
That might give sticker shock to some executives, but it shouldn't scare away the Cavs. Craft the right deal around Matthews for a 2018 first-rounder—Cleveland's own, not the vaunted Brooklyn Nets selection—and the Cavs potentially land a multipositional defender to throw at the Golden State Warriors (if there's another Finals rematch) and a floor-spacer to keep lanes open for LeBron.
If Noel gets healthy, the Cavs have bolstered their defense inside and out for the cost of two players averaging fewer than 20 minutes and what would currently be the 24th pick. If the Mavs like Thompson's future—he's only three years older than Noel—they get a rotation player, a decent-sized expiring contract and a first-rounder for a 31-year-old and an injured player who wasn't getting minutes when healthy.
Playoff-Tested Combo Guard
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: George Hill
This is neither an original idea, nor a particularly exciting way of addressing Cleveland's issues. But adding Hill would help on several fronts (namely, perimeter shooting and defense) without costing any of the club's significant assets.
This rumor feels like it was floated forever ago. It's actually been less than a week since sources keyed in ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst on the particulars. But considering how quickly keyboard strokes can travel, it's been long enough for Hill to have already responded.
"I'm not mad or frustrated," Hill said, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. "Either it happens or it doesn't."
The fact it hasn't transpired yet might indicate a lack of interest from one or more parties involved. Still, the framework makes sense for all involved.
The Kings (15-34) aren't headed where Hill thought they were going when he inked a three-year, $57 million pact in July. There's also no good reason for Sacramento to hang on to a 31-year-old collecting that kind of coin, especially when he shares a position with last summer's fifth overall pick, De'Aaron Fox. This swap would be a boon to the Kings' flexibility, plus they pick up an extra draft pick down the line.
From Cleveland's standpoint, Hill brings postseason experience, the ability to defend multiple spots and a three-point stroke that's never been hotter (career-best 45.1 percent). His willingness to play off the ball makes him a snug fit with James, and Hill was in the top 10 at his position in defensive real plus-minus last year.
Finding 2 Stoppers in ATL
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon
Atlanta Hawks receive: Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
As expected, the Hawks are reportedly open for business. Wojnarowski wrote that Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were all available, but one would assume first-year general manager Travis Schlenk would explore all possible paths to picks, prospects and/or salary savings.
The Cavs have already kicked the tires on Bazemore, sources told NBA.com's David Aldridge, which should surprise no one. A two-time Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year at Old Dominion, Bazemore's average of 1.7 steals per game is tied for 10th-most in the league. The high-energy swingman also appears tailored for Cleveland's drive-and-kick attack, as he hits 42.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes.
He's an obvious target for Cleveland, as is Dedmon. The 28-year-old is a mobile 7-footer who provides both a defensive presence and, as of this season, offensive spacing. While most of his stats are at career levels (including 10.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game), his three-point column is the most intriguing—after only attempting one three his first four seasons, he's already converted 20 at a 37.7 percent clip.
Grab both, and the Cavs will have lightened James' load considerably. Bazemore can play on the ball (3.6 assists per game) or off it (37.9 three-point percentage), and he'd form a relentless (and versatile) duo with Jae Crowder. Dedmon helps as a screener, rebounder, interior defender and transition player.
And the cost to acquire them might not be as steep as you'd think. Bazemore's market is deflated by the $37 million owed to him the next two seasons, and Dedmon's is damaged by the glut of available bigs. Add in Atlanta's desire to deal, and this has "bargain" potential.
Between Frye and Rose, the Hawks would collect nearly $9 million in expiring contracts. Shumpert will make $11 million next season, but that's barely a quarter of the $43 million owed to Bazemore and Dedmon beyond this year. If the future pick isn't tempting enough for Atlanta to bite, Cleveland could consider adding Cedi Osman or Ante Zizic to the exchange.
Rim Protector and Super-Sub
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams, Wesley Johnson
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn)
After L.A.'s shocking swap of Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons, first reported by Wojnarowski, the Clippers shouldn't waste any time diving further into their necessary rebuild. While they aren't looking to bottom out, they are scouring the market for assets to fuel a semi-youth movement.
"Sources say Los Angeles will continue to discuss dealing Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan," Wojnarowski reported, "with a plan to focus on young players and draft picks while competing for a playoff spot this season."
Even if the Nets' pick has lost some of its luster, it's still likely to be the best 2018 draft chip potentially in play at the deadline. If both L.A. and Detroit struggle down the stretch, there's a chance the Clippers would hold three lottery picks in an apparently loaded draft.
That's the primary selling point to L.A., although that competitive desire also helps Cleveland. Head coach Doc Rivers, who hasn't suffered a losing season in over a decade, would have pieces to work with. This admittedly isn't the sexiest package, but it includes a mobile big (Thompson), a stretch center (Frye) and, when healthy, a two-way swingman (Shumpert).
Dumping two expirings for longer-term money might seem to run counter to the Clippers' overhaul. But if they hope to stay in the hunt, this gives them three usable, experienced veterans. Plus, this is a much cheaper alternative to re-signing Jordan and Williams, and with only Thompson's deal stretching past next season, they'd be positioned to make a major run at the talent-rich 2019 free-agent class.
The big question is whether Cleveland would deal this pick. The answer appears to be no, unless the deal brings back a "franchise-resetting asset," league sources told ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. None of the three players going to the Cavs here qualify as such, so maybe that's enough to burst this bubble.
However, would Cleveland consider getting two good players since there might not be any paths to a great one? If it increases the odds of James sticking around beyond this summer, can the Cavs afford to say no? They're reportedly eyeing both Jordan and Williams, sources told Stein, and it's tough to see them collecting that haul without handing over the pick.
Jordan is the interior presence they lack, a two-time rebounding champ who was a top-10 shot-blocker and glass-cleaner just last season. Williams is the Association's best scoring sub (by a mile) and a potent enough offensive weapon to change the outcome of a game or two in a postseason series. And Johnson could be more than a throw-in, as he ranked third among small forwards in defensive real plus-minus last season.
Cavs Go All-In
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Carter-Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Charlotte Hornets receive: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Cedi Osman, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn), 2020 second-round pick (via Miami)
Bleacher Report's Dan Favale, the architect of this deal, aptly dubbed it a "humdinger." It would take massive leaps of faith for both Cleveland and Charlotte to sign off a nine-player, two-pick blockbuster, and yet this feels possible—even if only remotely.
Cleveland has already been linked to Walker in a hypothetical Thomas swap. Granted, it was speculation and not a full-fledged rumor, but the words still hold weight coming from Windhorst, via The Jump: "Right now, there's a lot of frustration with the way Isaiah's playing on the team. And I wonder, even though it's so early in terms of his return from injury...I wonder if the Cavs would consider moving Isaiah and would they put in a call to the Hornets to see if they could figure out if they could get Kemba Walker."
When weighing both track record and production, Walker is the most dynamic player coming to the Cavs in any of these deals. He's been good for at least 20 points and five assists per game three years running—a distinction shared with only five other players—and he's much sturdier defensively than Thomas.
Plus, Walker is only part of the package. Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist—while owed a few metric tons of cash in upcoming seasons—fit the versatile defensive mold needed to topple the defending champs. When Batum is on, he's also a shooting and distributing threat. Kidd-Gilchrist scratches an itch for youth and athleticism. And Carter-Williams' length brings another dimension to Cleveland's backcourt.
Again, there's no telling if Cleveland sees enough here to sacrifice the Brooklyn pick. But with DeMarcus Cousins out and Paul George seemingly off the trade market, this collective could be as close as the Cavs can get to landing a difference-maker.
From Charlotte's side, owner Michael Jordan says he wants "an All-Star player" in exchange for Walker, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. Would Thomas' selections the past two seasons qualify him? It seems possible, particularly if the Hornets are also getting a likely top-10 pick, a prospect, a potentially high-level future second and gobs of salary-cap savings.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.