Cavaliers' Complete 2022 NBA Trade Deadline Preview, Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2022

Cavaliers' Complete 2022 NBA Trade Deadline Preview, Predictions

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    For the first time since LeBron James' second departure out of Northeast Ohio in 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a pulse.

    Moreover, they have a playoff spot in hand (if the campaign closed today, at least) and tremendous growth potential.

    What the front office must tackle between now and the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline, though, is whether that growth should occur organically or be hurried along by a win-now trade.

    That option and more will be explored in this comprehensive guide to Cleveland's trade season.

Assets

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    If the Cavs can sniff out a substantial swap, they should have the trade chips to get it done.

    Their top trade chip is scoring guard Collin Sexton. While he lost this season to a torn meniscus, he also has restricted free agency awaiting him this summer, meaning any club that acquired him would have the option to give him an offer sheet (and match any he signs elsewhere) and get his Bird rights, giving it the ability to exceed the cap to keep him around.

    But if Cleveland doesn't move him, then those options are at its disposal. While he's undersized for the 2 (6'1" and 190 pounds) and not a good enough passer to play the 1 (career 3.3 assists against 2.5 turnovers), he's still an electric scorer (career 20 points per game) and surprisingly efficient shooter (career 45.8/37.8/82.7). If the Cavs think he can coexist with Darius Garland, they might have to keep Sexton off-limits.

    Moving down a tier, Cleveland has the $17.8 million expiring salary of Ricky Rubio, who is similarly shelved for the season with his own knee injury (ACL tear). In addition, the Cavs have all of their first-round picks, a boatload of incoming second-rounders and the solid-but-unspectacular wing tandem of Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler.

Needs

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    Cleveland could use a lot of help, but its needs list hinges on its willingness to spend.

    If the Cavs want to splurge, they would do wonders for themselves by landing a two-way wing. Isaac Okoro is limited on offense. Lauri Markkanen, a power forward by trade playing small forward out of necessity, has limitations on defense. Neither would block an incoming impact wing from logging major minutes.

    While coach J.B. Bickerstaff has done a brilliant job of establishing this team's defensive identity, the offense could still use a lift. No one averages 20 points per game, and only Darius Garland clears 17 a night. Finding someone who could help Garland shoulder the scoring burden and not get smoked defensively would be a major win for the front office.

    Moving down the wishlist, the Cavs could use more shooters (as virtually every team could in the modern NBA), and an extra playmaker would help cover the absence of Rubio. Rajon Rondo has proved a moderately sufficient stopgap solution, but Cleveland probably doesn't want to depend on him too much in the postseason.

Prediction

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    A major move doesn't feel impossible for the Cavaliers. Then again, it doesn't feel particularly likely, either.

    Sexton should have not-insignificant trade value. His scoring punch is powerful, and control of his next contract is nothing to sneeze at.

    Then again, his ideal role is hard to identify. Can he log heavy minutes on a contender, or would he be best served by an instant-offense sixth man role? The fact that question is hard to answer will make it tricky to identify Sexton's trade value and find it on the open market. If someone blows away Cleveland for Sexton, a deal could get done, but that's probably wishful thinking.

    Saying that, it seems more likely than not that Rubio (and his expiring contract) will be involved in a fairly significant swap. If attached to a first-rounder and maybe a sweetener like Osman (whose 2023-24 salary is non-guaranteed), that should net someone of substance.

    Cleveland's need for additional scoring and shot creation is too glaring to be overlooked. That should have the front office's full attention ahead of the deadline, and if the Cavs can swing a deal, look for them to add someone who occupies a prominent post in their offensive hierarchy.

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