When LeBron James left Cleveland on the first day of free agency, it was widely assumed the Cavs would choose to rebuild the franchise that has been entirely based around him.
That was the path Cleveland took in 2010, one that ended up netting three No. 1 overall picks in four years, including Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins. Not known as a free agent destination, the draft once again appeared to be the best way to return to relevancy for the Cavaliers.
No. 8 overall pick Collin Sexton seemed like the perfect start to a rebuild. Surely, some veteran pieces were soon to be traded in order to open up playing time for guys such as Sexton, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic and others.
Instead, Cleveland has yet to trade anyone, choosing to sign former fan favorite Channing Frye (35 years old) to a one-year deal and give Kevin Love a four-year, $120 million contract extension. There's no sign of a rebuild in sight, something Love himself shot down.
"It's almost like, to me it's not a rebuild, because we have talent, we have championship-caliber guys, and we have young and fresh guys that are going to be willing to learn and come along in this league as I mentioned. I think guys putting on their hard hats and coming to work every day," Love said, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.
While one can question if this is the best approach for a franchise that just lost the NBA's best player (it's not), it appears the Cavs seem determined to stay relevant in the 2019 playoff picture.
With that, here are five trades that will help Cleveland make the playoffs without James.
Trade 1: JR Smith to Charlotte
Cavaliers Receive: PF Marvin Williams
Hornets Receive: SG JR Smith
While Smith can still contribute to a playoff team, the Cavs are already set on the wing this season. Rodney Hood (if he re-signs) should become the starting shooting guard. George Hill can play off the ball next to Sexton, and minutes need to be available for Kyle Korver and Osman as well.
All of this makes Smith expendable, but why would the Hornets want a 32-year-old shooting guard who has declined the past two seasons?
It all depends on the contracts.
The Hornets have one of the worst salary situations in the NBA. They already have $107 million committed to 2019-20, and that's without new deals for All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Jeremy Lamb and restricted free-agent center Frank Kaminsky.
Switching Smith for Williams this season is basically a salary wash ($14.7 million to $14.1 million). The difference is next year, when Williams can opt in to a $15 million player option, while Smith's contract is just partially guaranteed at only $3.87 million. That's a savings of $11.13 million for a team that desperately needs to retain its best player.
Cleveland can use Williams as a floor-stretching big behind Love for this season, placing him in a frontcourt along with Tristan Thompson, Nance and Frye. Charlotte already has Cody Zeller, Kaminsky, Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo in its bigs rotation, with rookie Miles Bridges likely to play some small-ball power forward as well.
The Cavs find a backup for Love, while Charlotte clears significant cap room.
Trade 2: Cavs Go All-In with Lowry
Cavaliers Receive: PG Kyle Lowry, G/F CJ Miles
Raptors Receive: G George Hill, SG Kyle Korver, G Jordan Clarkson, 2021 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
The Raptors have already parted with two major organizational pieces this offseason; why not one more?
After firing Dwane Casey and trading DeMar DeRozan, Lowry could be on the table next. As Josh Lewenberg of TSN predicted back in June, the Raptors would be "willing to listen to offers" for both Lowry and DeRozan.
Lowry's value shouldn't be particularly high given he's 32 and owed more than $64 million over the next two seasons. His stats fell to 16.2 points and 6.9 assists last year, a sign Toronto may need someone else to pair with 27-year-old star Kawhi Leonard moving forward.
The Raptors can still stay near the top of the Eastern Conference with a core of Leonard, Hill, Serge Ibaka, Korver and Jonas Valanciunas this season. Beyond that, they'll open up over $24 million next summer with the partially guaranteed contracts of Hill and Korver. A future first-round pick should solidify the trade for Toronto.
For the Cavs, this allows them to chase the playoffs with two All-Stars and gives 19-year-old rookie Sexton time to develop. Lowry and Love alone should be postseason-worthy, and Miles helps replace Korver's role as knockdown outside shooter.
It's a lot of money to take on for the Cavaliers, but it should guarantee a playoff spot.
Trade 3: Whiteside-TT Swap
Cavaliers Receive: C Hassan Whiteside
Heat Receive: C Tristan Thompson, SG Kyle Korver
Consider this a change of scenery for a pair of players who need it.
When healthy and motivated, Whiteside is a talented big man who can rebound, block shots and connect from mid-range. Over parts of the past two years in Miami, he's looked lazy, unmotivated and on his way out of the Heat rotation.
Thompson battled injuries last season but is still an elite rebounder who can defend in space when healthy. He's two years younger than Whiteside and is owed roughly $15 million less over the next two seasons.
The hope for the Cavs is they get a version of Whiteside similar to that of 2016-17, when he averaged 17.0 points, 2.1 blocks and an NBA-best 14.1 rebounds. The combination of a motivated Whiteside and a prime Love would be an impressive frontcourt duo for Cleveland—even at a price tag nearing $50 million. While unlikely, there's a chance Whiteside could choose not to opt in to his $27 million player option for next season, opening up a big chunk of cap space.
For Miami, moving on from Whiteside and avoiding his $27 million contract for 2019-20 is a win, especially since it opens up time for second-year center Bam Adebayo. Getting a starting-caliber center in Thompson and an elite three-point shooter in Korver only strengthens the rotation.
Trade 4: JR Back in New York
Cavaliers Receive: SG Courtney Lee, F Lance Thomas
Knicks Receive: JR Smith
The Knicks won't make the postseason this coming season and should be doing everything in their power to prepare for 2019-20.
Kristaps Porzingis will miss some/most/all of the 2018-19 season as he recovers from ACL surgery, Joakim Noah's contract is still too terrible to trade, and former lottery picks Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox need time to develop.
New York doesn't want nor need Smith despite his former glory days in the Big Apple, but his partially guaranteed 2019-20 contract will come in handy. By moving Lee and Thomas, the Knicks save about $5 million this year and $10 million next summer, when salary-cap space for them becomes important with a star-studded free-agent class. Moving the two veterans also opens up minutes for players such as Knox, Tim Hardaway Jr. and newly signed Mario Hezonja.
The Cavaliers can use Lee as a starter or reserve, as he averaged 12.0 points on 40.6 percent shooting from three last season. Thomas gives them small forward depth after the departure of LeBron, and he is a career 40.8 percent shooter from deep. His contract can be bought out for $1 million next season as well.
This deal is all about making the postseason for Cleveland now and increasing New York's cap space next summer.
Trade 5: CJ Comes Home
Cavaliers Receive: SG CJ McCollum, SF Evan Turner
Blazers Receive: G George Hill, G/F Rodney Hood (S&T), SG Kyle Korver, SF Cedi Osman, 2021 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Portland is in the luxury tax going into 2018-19. For a team that failed to win a playoff game last spring, that's a problem.
Damian Lillard probably isn't going anywhere after earning All-NBA First Team honors, which leaves CJ McCollum as the team's best trade chip. McCollum is a terrific scorer but a questionable defender who has yet to make an All-Star team despite being owed $82.7 million over the next three seasons. His deal and Evan Turner's annual $18 million are severely limiting Portland's opportunity for growth.
Cleveland can use McCollum (a Northeast Ohio native) for both his scoring and playmaking next to Love and should be willing to eat Turner's remaining two years and $36.5 million in the process.
This deal is predicated on Hood agreeing to a sign-and trade that pays him roughly $7 million annually. Currently a restricted free agent, Hood has yet to sign an offer sheet with a team after averaging 14.7 points between the Jazz and Cavaliers last season. Hill can start next to Lillard or serve as the team's sixth man. Hood and Korver fill in the scoring gap left by McCollum, and Osman, 23, is coming off a 20-point, eight-rebound, 4.5-assist summer league and could be the Cavs' starting small forward this season.
A package of Hood, Hill, Korver, Osman and a future first lets Portland stay competitive in a tough Western Conference this season while opening up major cap room next summer. The Blazers would go from owing McCollum and Turner $46 million in 2019-20 to getting Hood and Osman for $10 million and could buy out Hill and Korver's partially guaranteed deals for only $4.4 million. That's a savings of over $30 million for Portland in a summer where players such as Kevin Durant, Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler, among others, can all hit the market.
The Cavs probably won't attract any big free agents for a while, so they can afford to keep their cap space tied up and hope that the core of Love, McCollum and Sexton can be a playoff unit for years to come.