Every year it seems Cleveland is active on the trading block. When LeBron first came back to the Cavaliers, they drastically improved after trading away Dion Waiters, Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, and a 2019 2nd Round Pick in exchange for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. They also dealt a few protected picks for Timofey Mozgov in that 2015 season as well. The following season, the team dealt for Kyle Korver and Channing Frye, and proceeded to win the 2016 NBA Finals as relative underdogs.
This season, Cleveland finds themselves as default favorites to win the East, but with no where near the level of security as in past seasons. For one, Boston has emerged as an Eastern Conference powerhouse, and that is without all-star Gordon Hayward active. Secondly, Cleveland hasn’t shored up their league-4th-worst defense. Both problems can be aided by a legitimate rim protector, and a defensively sound point guard.
With Kevin Love at starting center, and Jose Calderon at point guard (Isaiah Thomas won’t help in this regard either), Cleveland’s offense torches opponents, but the defense doesn’t follow suit. Allowing 110.8 points per possessions, Cleveland’s defense ranks in between Atlanta (110.9) and Orlando (110.5), who’s combined record is 22-53.
Here are some moves Cleveland should complete, if given the opportunity:
Atlanta: Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon, 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK), 2019 2nd Round Pick, 2023 2nd Round Pick for Dennis Schroeder, Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon
Most of the trades will involve some combination of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and/or Tristan Thompson. Their lacking play and the excellent play and floor spacing by Kyle Korver has made those three the most expendible, but for the other team involved, it makes them buy-low assets.
Schroeder has put up excellent numbers this season as the clear go-to guy for Atlanta. He’s averaging 19.8 points, 6.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game on 44.8% shooting. His defense has slid since taking on a role of volume scoring, but back when he was a role player, Schroeder was much better on the defensive end. He had a 103 defensive rating in 2015-16.
Bazemore and Dedmon are defensive specialists as well. As 28 year-olds, they fit Cleveland’s time-line way better than Atlanta’s rebuilding one. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, Bazemore had 6.6 defensive win shares, and this season he is averaging 12.5 points on 39.3% from three. He would give Cleveland a defensively capable two-guard. Dedmon finished last season with 5.2 win shares in semi-limited minutes, and is currently averaging 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds on 60.1% from the field and 48.3% from the three point line on 1.5 attempts per game. Dedmon could be the rim protector with the same impact Timofey Mozgov had when he arrived in 2015 if not a with a greater impact.
Atlanta gets three players with championship experience to help navigate the rebuild, a better pick of their own from having more losses this season, and another lottery pick from Brooklyn via the Cavaliers.
Charlotte: Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon, 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK), 2022 1st Round Pick, 2023 2nd Round Pick for Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard
Charlotte is stuck in mediocrity right now with the salary expenses of a contender. This means that their pieces are for sale if it means getting young assets like a lottery pick this off-season, and a Cleveland pick that most likely will occur at a post-LeBron James point in time, and thusly could wind up being a very high pick. For Charlotte to have two lottery picks in this year’s draft, and a potential lottery pick from Cleveland in 2022, is too good to pass up for the stuck Hornets.
Cleveland, meanwhile, gets one of the top players at both point guard and center in the Eastern Conference. Walker is averaging 21.4 points, 5.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. The Hornets are 18.9 points per 100 posessions better with him on the court, and while he has slid on the defensive end recently, Walker has high defensive potential in the right role. He had 3.6 defensive win shares in the 2015-16 campaign when Charlotte last had a playoff squad, and his defensive tenacity was part of what made Walker a collegiate champion with UConn.
Howard is putting up his dominant center numbers of 15.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game on 53.5% shooting. His days as a force are numbered, however, as the 32 year-old big man has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career. Making him the defensive anchor for a Cavaliers team in dire need of one would benefit both parties. James and Howard, who for years clashed in Eastern Conference Playoff play, teaming up would be dangerous in an NBA not geared toward preventing a loaded front court attack, but rather the Warriors’ potent back court driven style.
Miami: Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK), 2019 2nd Round Pick, 2023 2nd Round Pick for Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic
Miami screwed up this offseason. The team was not built to win games long term, they had no secondary offensive option to Goran Dragic, but paid multiple players money that would suggest otherwise, and now the Heat are left with long term financial commitment to a team that likely won’t make the playoffs. Getting a lottery pick to couple with their own likely lottery pick is a prime opportunity for Pat Riley to start fresh. Dragic is 31 and Whiteside is 28 with an athleticism-driven game that could decline rapidly at any moment. The time to get an asset like a lottery pick for them is now.
This trade benefits Cleveland very similarly to how the Charlotte trade benefits them. Dragic isn’t at Walker’s level, but he is a very steady guard who is averaging 16.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and he is very easy to hide on defense. Miami had the 5th best defense in the NBA last season, and Dragic was a featured player on the team.
Whiteside is similar to Dwight Howard in his style of play, but is younger and in his prime. Whiteside is averaging 14.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks on 55.8% shooting in just 26.1 minutes per game. His defensive rating of 99 is unreal, and sustainable. His 99.9 defensive rating last season was 4th in the NBA. Put him at center, and Cleveland’s defense becomes much more impregnable.
Milwaukee: Tristan Thompson, Jose Calderon, 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK) for John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon, Rashad Vaughn, 2021 2nd Round Pick
Milwaukee is one right player away from having a consistently spectacular five man unit. Adding Thompson, a scrappy hustler to a team of flashy athletes and scorers like Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tony Snell, Jabari Parker, and Thon Maker could yield unbelievable return if Thompson pans out, and they nail the lottery pick right.
Henson has been a polarizing figure in Milwaukee, but his 8.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks on 60.7% shooting in 24.2 minutes per game could be just what Cleveland needs. Henson’s length and shot blocking is missing from Cleveland, and if Milwaukee can be 10.7 points per 100 possessions better with him, who knows what kind of impact he’ll have on Cleveland.
Brogdon is the perfect Cavs point guard. A defensive-first off-ball three point shooter who can handle the ball when LeBron gets off the court. He’s averaging 13.0 points on 38.8% shooting. Vaughn hasn’t showed much, but could make Smith and Shumpert even more expendable if he develops into a legitimate NBA two-guard.
New York: Iman Shumpert, Cedi Osman, Derrick Rose for Joakim Noah, Cash
A very low risk trade for either team – Noah has done nothing but clog the front court rotation for New York this season. Enes Kanter and Willy Hernangomez are the Knicks centers here to stay, and at 7’3″, Kristaps Porzingis can obviously man the position as well. Getting Shumpert gives New York a defensive option in the back court compared to the offensive minded Courtney Lee, Jarrett Jack, Tim Hardaway Jr. and rookie Frank Ntilikina. Osman is a prospect at the three, where New York is currently rolling with out of position Hardaway Jr..
Cleveland gives up a third string two guard to get a former All-NBA center and Defensive Player of the Year. Another center who used to go at it in the playoffs with LeBron, the transition to Cleveland for Noah, who once had this to say about the city, might be weird and uncomfortable, but for basketball purposes, Noah’s length and defensive intensity could be just what Cleveland needs. Noah is 2nd in career defensive rating among active players, giving him 20 minutes per game of run at center isn’t the worst idea.
Orlando: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Jose Calderon, 2023 2nd Round Pick, 2024 2nd Round Pick for Bismack Biyombo, Elfrid Payton
Another buy-low deal for Cleveland, this gets them both a center and a point guard that fits the bill of their needs, and they don’t need to surrender the Brooklyn pick. Orlando gets out of Biyombo’s ridiculous contract, out of having Elfrid Payton, who’s return from injury at the beginning of the season occurred with Orlando turning from a 8-4 team into a now 12-26 team, and gets them wing depth where they are currently rolling with below average wings.
I am low on Elfrid Payton. I called him the most overrated point guard in the NBA. Nonetheless, if LeBron James can turn Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Matthew Dellavedova, and now Jose Calderon into productive point guards on his team, the ceiling for Payton is higher than all of them. Payton is 6’4″ and thus long enough to both anyone with the right defensive mechanics. He has shown an uncanny ability to dominate games after Orlando’s playoff hopes have disappeared in a season – he averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 assists, and 7.0 rebounds on 50.8% shooting in 30.1 minutes per game after the all-star break last season. Also, he is showing a new three point shot (36.7% on 1.7 attempts per game) this season that he’s never shown before.
As I mentioned, Biyombo hasn’t lived up to his contract with Orlando. The center who saved Toronto in the 2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Miami after Jonas Valanciunas got injured has averaged 5.6 point, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 20.5 minutes per game for Orlando in his 2nd year there. Still, Biyombo has showed the ability to be a productive player on the right team. For the three seasons from 2014 to 2016, Biyombo had offensive and defensive ratings of 116 and 100, shot 55.8%, and averaged 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes. If he can do that on Charlotte, he can absolutely do that on Cleveland, where playing with LeBron would give Biyombo easier attempts.
Toronto: Tristan Thompson, 2018 2nd Round Pick for Jonas Valanciunas
The Raptors appear ready to move on from Jonas Valanciunas. He has been on the trade block for a few years now, and his minutes have gone down every year since 2013 to the 21.0 minutes per game Valanciunas now plays. The Raptors have similarly long post players Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira waiting for Valanciunas departure, but don’t have any players with Toronto-born Thompson’s edge.
The Cavs would love to have a 7’0 true center on their team. Valanciunas knows how to play in an offense where he isn’t the premier option. He’s been dealing with shot-chuckers Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan for years now. Still, his 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in just 21.0 minutes per game is impressive. His 103 defensive rating this season would be best by all Cavaliers by nearly 5 points per 100 possessions. Giving up a struggling Thompson for Cleveland should be a no-brainer as LeBron gets closer and closer to playing the four full-time.
Dallas: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon, 2023 2nd Round Pick, Cash for Wesley Matthews, Devin Harris, Nerlens Noel
This trade is a low-end solution to the problems of the Cavaliers, but they are solutions. Harris and Matthews don’t fit the Mavericks timeline, and Noel has clashed with Rick Carlisle repeatedly. Devin Harris is unquestionably past his prime as a 34 year old former all-star who hasn’t been a regular starter since 2012-13 season. He is also unquestionably an upgrade over Jose Calderon. Harris is averaging 8.6 points per game and shooting 36.4% from the field.
Wesley Matthews is another upgrade. An overall smarter player and better off-ball weapon than J.R. Smith and Shumpert at the off-guard spot, Matthews is averaging 11.7 points on 37.1% from three. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if both of those numbers went up on Cleveland towards the last time Matthews was on a contender: the 2014-15 Portland Trailblazers – when Matthews averaged 15.9 points per game on 38.9% from three.
Nerlens Noel might have taken over for Javale McGee as the clown of the NBA after getting a hot dog at halftime of a game he was playing in. Noel hasn’t lived up to the bill since getting draft 6th in the 2013 NBA Draft over centers like Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Gorgui Dieng, and Mason Plumlee. Still, Noel is a great athlete, and managed to hold an impressive 101 career defensive rating for mostly a horrid 76ers team. Noel averages 2.1 steals and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes for his career, and has unbelievable defensive potential with the right system.
Denver: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon, 2023 2nd Round Pick, 2024 2nd Round Pick for Mason Plumlee, Tyler Lydon, Emmanuel Mudiay
A return for J.R. Smith to Denver would get welcomed if he could play like his old self, and Denver can effectively clear their front court clog, which this trade does. Smith, Shumpert, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Will Barton is a better guard/wing rotation that aligns with Denver’s short term goals of making the playoffs this season, and gets them two additional 2nd Round Picks long term.
More importantly, this trade gets Cleveland everything they need. Mudiay is like Elfrid Payton; he hasn’t been effective for his team, but has the physical tools to be effective for Cleveland. Mudiay is 6’5″, and has averaged 9.5 points on 40.5% from three on 2.8 attempts this season. Still just 21, Mudiay has high upside if he can play smart and productively.
Plumlee has a career 105 defensive rating, which isn’t the greatest, but is still three points better than any Cavalier this season. His 2.4 defensive career box plus/minus is legit, and comes with a career of starting for playoff caliber Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trailblazer teams. Plumlee thrives as a rim runner too, which Cleveland could absolutely use this season.
Los Angeles (Clippers): Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK) for DeAndre Jordan, Patrick Beverley
If only Pat Beverley was healthy. The defensive ace (2.4 defensive win shares last season) in the back court is expected to miss the rest of the season, but would have made the perfect compliment to James at the point this season. Through 11 games, Beverley averaged 12.2 points per game on 40.0% from three with his typical brand of lock down defense. He is expected to miss the rest of the season, however, and will make a great piece going forward should the Cavs retain James.
Jordan is the main piece, however, and the reason the Cavs surrender the Brooklyn pick with Beverley out for the season. Jordan was an all-star last season, and is currently averaging 11.1 points, 15.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks on 65.1% shooting. This is the 1st season since 2011-12 Jordan is not leading the league in field goal shooting, and he would likely take his place atop the league again if he were to play alongside a play-maker like LeBron. The 120 and 101 career offensive and defensive ratings are also scary for the East and NBA should Jordan join a contender like Cleveland.
Memphis: Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon, 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK), 2024 1st Round Pick for Marc Gasol, Mike Conley
Back to trades that net Cleveland stars at both point guard and center. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have overcome great odds to lead Memphis to 50-win seasons in the Western Conference repeatedly this decade. The Grind House, however, is dying off. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are already gone. With a 12-26 record and fired David Fizdale, Memphis appears ready to hit reset. With Memphis, Thompson, Smith, and Shumpert would all play greater roles than they currently do, and the two lottery picks (Brooklyn and Memphis’ own) would accelerate a rebuild.
Cleveland gets two great players and winners. Mike Conley, an Ohio State alum, is a great fit alongside James in the back court. Conley hasn’t hit his stride yet this season, but averaged 20.5 points and 6.3 assists on 40.8% from three last season.
Gasol’s percentages are down this season, but the 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game is very legitimate, and the percentages would go way up on Cleveland. Gasol is a three-time all-star and former defensive player of the year. He would be a game changer for Cleveland, and wouldn’t have to play 34.6 minutes per game.
New Orleans: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, Jose Calderon, 2018 1st Round Pick (BRK), 2023 1st Round Pick, 2024 1st Round Pick, 2023 2nd Round Pick, cash for Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik
This could be the biggest blockbuster deal in NBA History if it went down. It sounds crazy, and it is crazy, but this deal also leaves both teams in a better situation. Cleveland gets the Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis combination in their front court. That duo is averaging 52.0 points, 22.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 3.6 blocks, and 2.6 steals per game. They are two top-five players at their respective positions. To get those two, then Jrue Holiday at point guard, who’s averaging 18.1 points and 5.2 assists per game on 49.0% shooting, and 7’0″ Omer Asik at back up center seemingly robs New Orleans.
Actually, New Orleans gets saved. General Manager Dell Demps is sweating right now. His team, despite having two of basketball’s top talents, is just 18-18 because of his inability to surround them with complimentary healthy talent. Cousins is a free agent after this season, and could leave if he so chooses this off-season. If he does, Anthony Davis could request a trade as a result. The Pelicans haven’t made the playoffs since the 2014-15 season, when they made it as an 8-seed in Davis’ only career playoff appearance, and less has been used to justify a trade request, where New Orleans would lose all leverage.
Here, New Orleans gets not only a lottery pick from Brooklyn this season, but two more first round picks after the Brooklyn pick. Their choice of role players to keep for a rebuild with the Cleveland return, and also Kevin Love, who, when given the responsibility of being the number one option, can and has respond(ed) with averages near 24 points and 12 rebounds per game. A starting line-up of Lottery Pick A, J.R.Smith, Lottery Pick B, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson wouldn’t be the worst in the world.
Phoenix: Tristan Thompson for Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler is a 35 year old center with championship experience playing on the Phoenix Suns, who are tied for the 2nd youngest age in the NBA (24.9, tied with Portland). Phoenix is in the thick of a rebuild, and Chandler is a misfit. Tristan Thompson doesn’t exactly fit the team’s time-line either, but more so than Chandler. Chandler is averaging 6.7 points and 9.6 rebounds on 63.1% from the field. The Cavs would love to have a long 6’1″ player with a propensity for finishing on alley oops.
Thompson would serve as a valuable mentor from a championship team for these young suns. His style of play and willingness to do the little things should serve as guidance for their wings who don’t play defense like Devin Booker and T.J. Warren, and their raw big men like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
Sacramento: Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon, 2018 2nd Round Pick, cash for George Hill, Kosta Koufos
George Hill, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Garrett Temple – Sacramento didn’t sign those guys this offseason with the intention of keeping them until the end of their contracts. They are trying to fish assets from teams wiling to surrender them for those vets. Getting a low 2nd round pick should suffice since they are getting a couple of buy-low guys like Shumpert (a perimeter defensive presence on the right team), and Thompson (a huge factor in Cleveland’s 2016 Finals victory).
Hill is averaging 10.1 points on 46.9% from three on 2.9 attempts per game. Hill’s ability to defend and play off the ball made him valuable to San Antonio, Indiana, Utah, and what would be Cleveland. The 6’3″ guard has developed into an unbelievable sniper, and is still a premier perimeter defender.
Koufos manned starting center for the 57-win Denver Nuggets in 2012-13. He played 22.4 minutes per game, and the team was 11th in defensive rating despite the presence of low-end defenders like Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Miller, Evan Fournier, and Wilson Chandler playing big minutes. Koufos continues to play at a high level, and his 1.2 defensive box plus/minus with a team like Sacramento is sufficient as a starting center for Cleveland in a 15-20 minute per game role.