Whether any potential deals are actually worth it for the Cavs — a team increasingly challenged in the Eastern Conference, let alone against the Golden State Warriors — or their prospective partners is, of course, a matter of debate. Still, we came up with a handful of ideas that would help flip the switch.
• For Cleveland: The motivation is obvious. Replacing the much-maligned Love and still-recuperating Thomas with two All-Star-caliber players would do wonders for a defense that is a fraction of a point from being the NBA’s worst, even if an almost 33-year-old Gasol is no longer the All-NBA/All-Defensive player he once was and the 30-year-old Conley’s latest injury (a sore left Achilles) has kept him out since mid-November. Pair them with LeBron James, and Grit ‘n’ Grind suddenly takes on new meaning.
• For Memphis: This is the nuclear option. With attempts to tread water as a playoff team failing and their ownership situation in flux, this has to be a consideration for the Grizzlies. Gasol has made vague reference to his future in Memphis and can become a free agent after next season, while Conley is operating on one of the NBA’s richest contracts through 2021. The expiring contracts of Thomas and Frye would save the Grizz a boatload of money, Love is a name they can sell to their fans, and both the Nets pick and a potentially post-LeBron Cavs pick could turn into top-10 talents to build around. — Ben Rohrbach
Cavaliers get: DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams
Los Angeles Clippers get: Tristan Thompson, Thomas, Frye, 2018 Nets first-round pick
• For Cleveland: As reported last week by Marc Stein of The New York Times, the Cavs see two-time All-Defensive First-Teamer Jordan as just the sort of “elite rim protector and rebounder” they need to clean up the messes created by their turnstile perimeter defenders. Williams, whose thrilling bid for a surprise All-Star berth came up short, would help revive what’s quietly been a bottom-10 offense over the past month by providing what Cleveland hoped Thomas would: instant scoring, dangerous pull-up shooting and supplementary playmaking to lighten LeBron’s load.
• For L.A: You’d assume the Clips won’t feel super-compelled to cut bait on Jordan (and even Williams, despite his expiring status) now that they’re in the midst of a surge that’s put them back in the Western Conference playoff picture. Woj reported earlier this month that they “aren’t set on trading Jordan at all costs,” preferring the idea of standing pat to “bringing back marginal draft picks with heavy protections.” If the Clippers can haggle the desperate Cavs down to minimal protection on the Nets pick, though, it’s got a chance to be waaaaay better than “marginal.” Jettisoning Williams and Jordan would also go a long way toward submarining this year’s squad, thus improving the value of the Clips’ own 2018 first (which, unlike next year’s, they control) in the final season before lottery reform hits to change the math on tanking. — Dan Devine
Cavaliers get: Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams
Charlotte Hornets get: Thomas, Frye, Shumpert, 2018 Cavs first-round pick, future second-round pick
• For Cleveland: The Cavs reportedly “checked in” on Walker after Charlotte put him on the trade block. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Walker isn’t exactly a lockdown defender, but he’d be an upgrade over what the Cavs trot out at the point of attack now, while bringing the mix of pick-and-roll playmaking and 3-point shooting, both on and off the ball, that Cleveland’s been missing. (He’s also locked up for next year on a bargain contract, ensuring you’ve got one more high-level, likable player around should LeBron decide to leave this summer.) Williams is exactly the kind of floor-spacing forward who tends to thrive alongside LeBron. He also plays defense, which is nice.
• For Charlotte: It’s all about rebuilding a team that’s stuck in neutral. The deal sheds the $29.1 million owed to Williams after this season, with about $13.7 million coming off the books with the combination of Thomas’ and Frye’s expiring contracts. Even if Shumpert exercises his player option for next season, he’s due about $1 million less than Walker, which helps further shave down Charlotte’s ’18-’19 salary number. If the Hornets want payroll flexibility and future draft assets in any Walker deal — no matter what MJ says — this is a start. (A potentially intriguing variant, if either team has the stomach to include a longer deal in the mix: replacing Williams with Nicolas Batum and adding Tristan Thompson to the package headed to Charlotte.) — DD
Cavaliers get: DeMarcus Cousins, Solomon Hill
New Orleans Pelicans get: Love, Kyle Korver, 2018 Nets first-round pick
• For Cleveland: Cousins is an All-Star starter averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds and five assists with three combined blocks and steals per game. He’s disinterested sometimes and defensively challenged most times, but there’s no denying his talent. Just ask LeBron, who might help unlock a nightly effort from Cousins. James called him “the best big man in our game” two weeks ago, and after Boogie dropped a historic triple-double on Monday night, the Cavs superstar doubled down on his praise:
Yo @boogiecousins chill out man!! Sheesh!!! Super sick stat line
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 23, 2018
• For New Orleans: If the Pelicans aren’t long on pairing Boogie with Anthony Davis — a duo that currently has them positioned for the playoffs but below contender status — and are wary of shelling out $30 million-plus annually for Cousins, they’re running out of time before they have no other choice. Love is a complementary All-Star who might find his Minnesota roots outside LeBron’s bubble, complete with a 3-point stroke that, with Korver, can space the floor for Davis to dominate. They won’t help a defense that also ranks among the league’s worst, but a top-10 draft pick might in time. — BR
Cavaliers get: George Hill, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos
Sacramento Kings get: Thompson, Frye, Shumpert, Cedi Osman, 2021 Cavs first-round pick
• For Cleveland: As first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania and subsequently confirmed by multiple sources, the Cavs see Hill as a big, versatile guard who would provide an immediate defensive upgrade, who can shoot the lights out off the ball, and who’d benefit from a change of scenery that puts him back in playoff contention. Temple’s a big wing who can defend multiple positions, handle the ball and, on rare occasions, go off. Koufos won’t wow you, but he’s a solid, active, smart positional defender who rebounds well. This might not raise Cleveland’s ceiling as much as some of the other deals on the board, but it’d elevate their floor.
• For Sacramento: The last-place Kings have made it very clear that they’re going young, so flipping three veterans for assets makes sense. Frye gets bought out. Thompson slots into Koufos’ spot in the big-man rotation (or gets re-routed, if a playoff suitor likes the idea of giving him a fresh start). Shumpert brings back the high-top fade, because every King needs a crown. Ultimately, though, it’s an upside bet — that Osman, the 6-foot-8 22-year-old from Turkey, can be a viable NBA forward given minutes and opportunity, and that the Cavs are close enough to losing LeBron and cratering that the 2021 first (the next unencumbered No. 1 pick Cleveland can trade) will wind up being a high lottery selection. A team like the Kings that’s in no danger of being good for a couple of years can afford to think longer-term while continuing to develop the cache of youngsters they’ve already got. — DD
Cavaliers get: Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood
Utah Jazz get: Frye, Jae Crowder, 2018 Cavs first-round pick
• For Cleveland: We’re a few weeks removed from reports that Cleveland had kicked the tires on Favors, but he still makes sense as an efficient finisher and damn good interior deterrent. Hood’s battled with injuries over the years and has had an up-and-down season in Utah, but he’s a legit scorer and complementary playmaker who could fit into a couple of different slots in Cleveland’s perimeter rotation and help buoy a flagging Cavs offense.
• For Utah: In a post-Gordon Hayward world, all that matters is setting yourself up to build around the core of Rudy Gobert and ascendant rookie Donovan Mitchell. (And, maybe, someday, Dante Exum? Pretty please, basketball gods?) Crowder’s a cost-effective wing who feels like a worthwhile buy-low reclamation project for Quin Snyder’s development academy, and after landing Gobert and Hood with picks in the 20s, I’d feel good about handing Utah’s front office a late first-rounder in what’s expected to be a talent-rich 2018 draft. — DD
None of these deals may be enough to catch the Warriors (or Houston Rockets or anybody else out West), and surely there are more that could bolster the Cavs’ chances in the East — like their reported interest in Atlanta Hawks wing Kent Bazemore — but these might be their best options, so long as any opponent is willing to help bail out a Cavaliers team desperate to keep LeBron in Ohio and so long as Cleveland is willing to wager future assets on the odds of another Finals run helping in that regard.
Speaking of which, here’s another deal that could serve both the present and future: Ship J.R. Smith and Cleveland’s 2021 first-round pick to the Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie — one of the more intriguing “sell high” candidates of this year’s deadline — and resurgent swingman DeMarre Carroll, bolstering the Cavs’ depth now and the odds that their first-rounder from Brooklyn falls into the top five later.
That might be the sound of one last general manager hanging up the phone on Cavs GM Koby Altman.
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