“Cleveland! This is for you!” Those words from LeBron James will ring through the minds of Cleveland Cavaliers fans for as long as they can. In case you don't remember, the 2015-16 Cavs pulled off the biggest upset in NBA Finals history when they took down the 73-9 Golden State Warriors via a historic 3-1 deficit comeback to win the franchise its first-ever championship. Obviously, LeBron James making his triumphant homecoming ultimately led to that historic championship. But none of those would have happened if a couple, heck, even maybe more trades didn't happen. With that said, let's go back into the Cavaliers archives and take a look at some of the best deals Cleveland has pulled off. Here are the 10 best trades in Cleveland Cavaliers franchise history.
10. Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Delonte West, second-round pick
Chicago Bulls receive: Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons, and Shannon Brown
Seattle Supersonics receive: Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall, Adrian Griffin
During the 2007-08 season, the Cavaliers were looking to beef up their roster to counter the Big Three the Boston Celtics created during the summer. LeBron James wanted the Cavs to trade for Jason Kidd at the time, but Cleveland ultimately settled for four rotational pieces who added a lot of depth to the team.
Ben Wallace wasn't particularly in his prime when the Cavs traded for him, but he still provided a steady interior presence during their run to the postseason. Wally Szczerbiak was one of the best shooters in the league at the time and was a perfect complementary piece next to James. Delonte West (dad jokes aside) also played a vital role for the Cavaliers during his time there.
Ultimately, the three still gave James the help they needed to compete and they helped the Cavaliers make the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. However, it just wasn't enough to propel Cleveland to a title during James' first tenure with the team.
8. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and 2018 protected first-round pick
During the 2017-18 season, the Cavaliers were reeling from trading Kyrie Irving in the offseason. Isaiah Thomas' hips deteriorated to the point where he just wasn't the star that we saw play for the Boston Celtics the couple of seasons prior. With that, the Cavaliers re-tooled midway through the season and acquired Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. during the trade deadline.
Clarkson and Nance weren't household names, but they were capable of being key contributors to a team that was still looking to compete for a championship. Clarkson became a key bench piece upon his arrival in Cleveland, where he averaged 12.6 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from three, which is still by far the best shooting stretch of his career. Meanwhile, Nance also had a productive three-plus year tenure as a Cavalier, where he averaged 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds 182 games with the franchise.
8. Mo Williams
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Mo Williams
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Damon Jones, Adrian Griffin, Luke Ridnour
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Joe Smith, Desmond Mason
After failing to get past the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Playoffs, the Cavaliers looked to make changes in the offseason. They traded for Mo Williams in a six-player, three-team deal to add a dynamic guard that was just starting to rise up the ranks in the NBA.
Acquiring Williams immediately paid its dividends as the 6-foot-1 guard blossomed playing alongside LeBron James. He averaged 17.8 points in the 2008-09 season en route to earning the lone All-Star nod of his career. Williams helped James lead the Cavs to the best record in the NBA that same season. They made the Eastern Conference Finals, but were unfortunately knocked off by the surging Orlando Magic.
James and the Cavaliers once again had the best record in the league the next season, but they once again failed to win a title, which ultimately forced The King to leave his home state squad. Nonetheless, Williams was a key piece during the terrific regular season runs they had in those two campaigns. And let's not forget — Williams was part of that 2016 championship team, too. So, at least he got a well-deserved ring for his efforts during his first stint as a Cavalier.
7. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and a protected first-round pick
New York Knicks receive: Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, Lance Thomas, and a second-round pick
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Dion Waiters
Ah yes, the dynamic duo of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. This is arguably one of the most iconic tandems in Cavs history, not particularly because of their basketball acumen, but their pretty odd reputation to say the least. Nonetheless, Shump and J.R. were instrumental pieces that helped the Cavaliers make their run to that historic 2016 NBA Championship run.
The pairing came in a massive three-team deal, that involved Cleveland trading away an exciting, yet erratic young stud in Dion Waiters. Shumpert and Smith, in particular, were wildcards themselves. But they gave the Cavs the offensive and defensive tandem they needed at shooting guard to play alongside Kyrie Irving.
While they certainly weren't big names, they still played key roles for the Cavaliers on their way to taking down the mighty 73-win Warriors. Sometimes, trades like that address and iron out the edges make the difference for championship teams.
6. World B. Free
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: World B. Free
Golden State Warriors receive: Ron Brewer
Older Cavs fans probably remember World B. Free for injecting excitement back into Cavaliers basketball during the 1980's. Though his time as a Cavalier preceded one of Cleveland's best eras, he still had a memorable tenure in Northeast Ohio. He led the team to one postseason appearance in 1985 though they just won 36 games that season.
In just over three seasons with the Cavs, Free averaged 23.0 points per game in 257 total games with the franchise. That is still the second-best per game scoring average in franchise history behind (who else) LeBron James.
Free had one of the more underrated NBA careers in history. He was a journeyman who played with six different franchises. Despite averaging over 20 points for his career and putting together eight 20 PPG campaigns, Free made just one All-Star campaign, where he averaged 30.2 points per game in 1979-80.
5. 1986 first round pick (that turned into Brad Daugherty)
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: First-round pick (Brad Daugherty)
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Roy Hinson
This surprisingly isn't the best trade the Cavaliers have made which involves them landing a pick, and even a first overall pick at that (see No. 1). In 1986, the Cavs made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to get the draft rights for the first pick in exchange for Roy Hinson. Cleveland used that pick to take North Carolina stud Brad Daugherty.
Daugherty became one of the greatest Cavaliers players in franchise history and was a nightly double-double threat through most of his career. He made five All-Star appearances and earned an All-NBA nod in 1992. Unfortunately, his career was cut short due to injuries. He played his last game at the age of 28 and ultimately retired two years later.
Nonetheless, the 7-foot big man was a significant piece who helped lead Cleveland through arguably its second-best era. During his seven seasons with the franchise, the Cavaliers made the postseason six times and even went to the Eastern Conference Finals, where, like every team in the 1990's, they ran into the Chicago Bulls. Nonetheless, Daugherty was an absolute force in the middle for the Cavs through that stretch, as he registered three straight 20-10 seasons from 1991 to 1993.
4. Donovan Mitchell
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Donovan Mitchell
Utah Jazz receive: Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, three first-round picks (2025, 2027, and 2029), two first-round pick swaps (2026 and 2028)
Trading for Donovan Mitchell has turned the current-day Cleveland Cavaliers into perennial playoff contenders. The Cavaliers already created some buzz the year before after they went 44-38 and made the play-in tournament, where they were unfortunately knocked off by the Atlanta Hawks. It's safe to say Mitchell was the missing piece to put Cleveland over the top.
Last summer, the Jazz looked to blow up their team after trading Rudy Gobert and Mitchell was inevitably going to the next one to go. After weeks of rumors, Cleveland swooped in and acquired the All-Star guard.
Mitchell formed a dynamic guard pairing in Northeast Ohio with Darius Garland. They led the team to a 51-31 record, their first 50-win campaign since LeBron James left for the second time in 2018. Unfortunately, they were not able to build off that strong campaign and lost to the New York Knicks in the first round. Still, the future is very much bright in Cleveland with Mitchell, Garland, and the emergence of Evan Mobley anchoring this squad for the foreseeable future.
3. Larry Nance (the OG one)
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, and a first-round pick
Phoenix Suns receive: Tyrone Corbin, Kevin Johnson, Mark West, first-round pick, and two second-round picks
The 2018 trade deadline seemed like deja vu for the Cavs when they traded for Larry Nance Jr. That's because exactly 30 years ago, Cleveland traded for his dad, Larry Nance, in a massive multi-player and multi-pick deal that turned the Cavaliers into strong title contenders.
Already an established All-Star with the Phoenix Suns, Nance went on to have a stellar career with the Cavaliers. He made two more All-Star teams and helped the Cavaliers make multiple playoff appearances, including the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992. Unfortunately, like every East team during the 1990's, they ran into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Nonetheless, this is still arguably the second-best era in Cavaliers history and this is in large part due to Larry Nance leading the franchise throughout that stretch.
2. Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, $6.3 million trade exception
This is the deal that pretty much punctuated Cleveland as a championship team. With Kyrie Irving set in stone, LeBron James made his return to Cleveland in the hopes of bringing a title to his hometown. The only thing missing was a third star that could complement the James-Irving duo.
The Cavaliers just took Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, Kevin Love was growing frustrated with the Minnesota Timberwolves due to their lack of success and there were rumblings that he wanted to get shipped to a contender. While Wiggins, at the time, had more upside, Love was already a proven All-Star and a nightly double-double threat.
Cleveland pulled the trigger and traded the Canadian-born star in exchange for the former UCLA alumni, as the Big Three of James, Irving, and Love instantly turned the Cavs into title contenders. Of course, as it turned out, the trio lost in their first Finals together to the Golden State Warriors, largely due to Love and Irving's injuries. But they avenged that loss the following season by spoiling Golden State's historic 73-win season and overcoming the greatest series deficit in Finals history. A lot of the credit went to James for his emphatic chase down block on Andre Iguodala's potential go-ahead layup and Irving's dagger three-pointer that sunk the hearts of everyone in Oracle Arena.
But what ultimately sealed the deal and the championship for the Cavaliers is Kevin Love's often overlooked stop on Stephen Curry. That “Stop” made him a legend in Cleveland forever.
1. 2011 first round pick (that turned into Kyrie Irving)
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Baron Davis, unprotected 2011 First Round pick (Kyrie Irving)
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Mo Williams and Jamario Moon
On surface level, seeing that a “first round pick” is the top acquisition Cleveland has made seems rather odd. But if we dive deeper into what that pick actually turned into, it all makes a lot of sense. It's hard to remember that the Cavs got the chance to draft Kyrie Irving because of a trade.
During the 2011 trade deadline, the Cavaliers dealt Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis and an unprotected first-round pick. The Clippers made a massive mistake in not using any protections on that deal, as it eventually landed Cleveland the No. 1 overall pick.
The Cavaliers took Kyrie Irving, even though he played just nine games in his lone season at Duke. And the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, as mentioned, there was no chance Cleveland was going to win anything if LeBron James didn't make his homecoming. The Cavaliers were still one of the worst teams in the league even with a young stud like Irving leading the way. But the rising star's mere presence on the Cavs was enough for James to leave his star-studded championship team in Miami and embark on fulfilling his promise to win a championship for Cleveland.
All of these factors make this the best trade in Cavaliers franchise history.