The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA, at least on paper. On the day of the NBA’s February 8 trade deadline, the Cavaliers did not disappoint. In just a few hours, the Cavaliers acquired George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, and Rodney Hood.
To do this, the 2016 NBA champions had to trade Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, and Channing Frye. Predictably, the Cavaliers will be a different team this year, as they try to regain their clutch on the Eastern Conference. While no one is sure how these newly acquired players will fit together, the Cavaliers still aren’t done making transactions.
With one open roster spot left, the Cavaliers will have a serious discussion as to which players they will target to add to their growing team. It’s nearly confirmed that Kendrick Perkins will fill on of the spots. Here are 10 players that the Cavaliers should have their eye on to fill the other spot if they hope to once again become a championship threat in the NBA.
10. Joe Johnson
In a bizarre last minute frenzy, the Cavaliers engaged in a three-team trade that dealt Shumpert and Joe Johnson to the Sacaramento Kings, Crowder to the Jazz, and George Hill to the Cavaliers. Johnson who was traded as an accessory piece in the deal will likely seek a buyout from the Kings. In the event that he does so, the Cavaliers could be at an advantage. To begin, LeBron James is one of most popular players to team up with. Secondly, the Cavaliers have championship aspirations and could convince Johnson to suit up and help them on the journey. Still, why would the Cavaliers need yet another old, one-dimensional scorer? The answer is actually quite simple.
Johnson is currently averaging 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Yet, he is shooting 27 percent from the 3-point line, and his contract is somewhat cheap. He will make just $11 million, which should be relief to the Cavaliers’ luxury tax dilemma.
Although Johnson is struggling with his shot this season, he brings something that the Cavaliers haven’t really seen before. He is a premier isolation player, even at 36 years of age. Once revered as “Iso Joe”, Johnson still has a reliable offensive repertoire that allows him to score off any defender using his size and footwork. Playing alongside of James, Johnson can take advantage of weakened defenses, giving the Cavaliers a one-two punch in their rotation.
Granted, the Cavaliers are already a ball-dominant, isolation team. Still, it couldn’t hurt to add a reliable scorer who can get buckets at ease to the team.
9. Marco Belinelli
Marco Belinelli is undoubtedly one of the most underrated players in the NBA. The 2014 NBA champion is currently averaging 11.4 points, 2 assists, and nearly one steal a game for the Atlanta Hawks. He is also shooting 37 percent from deep this season. Now that the Hawks are rebuilding for the future, they have no need to keep Belinelli, who is 31 years old.
With no intentions on competing in the near future, it’s only a matter of time before Belinelli urges the Hawks to buy him out of his contract, which is set to pay him nearly $6 million this year. As a matter of fact, numerous teams are already interested in Belinelli, mainly because of the high quality shooting he brings.
Hence, Belinelli is a perfect fit the Cavaliers. On most possessions, James drives into the paint and dishes out to 3-point shooters around the perimeter. The system works well. The Cavaliers’ shooters, such as Crowder, Shumpert, and J.R. Smith just couldn’t convert on most of their 3-point attempts enough to fuel the Cavaliers’ offense. Belinelli is known for being a 3-point specialist throughout the league. With his prowess, James can once again focus on distributing, while Belinelli lights up the defense from outside.
8. Shabazz Muhammad
Shabazz Muhammad once used to be a jewel for the young Timberwolves franchise a few years back. Now, the Timberwolves are ranked fourth in the Western Conference and are in a great position to make the postseason since 2004. Nonetheless, it is clear that Muhammad is no longer a part of the Timberwolves’ rotation and future plans moving forward. Muhammad is only playing 9.6 minutes per game. He is posting some of the worst averages of his career, scoring just 3.7 points on 38 percent shooting from the field and 21 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Muhammad’s lack of minutes has dramatically affected his production and consistency, which is why he will likely request a buyout from the Timberwolves soon.
If he is granted a buyout, the Cavaliers can take advantage of an opportunity to gain a versatile small forward who can score and defend his position.
On the offensive side, Muhammad is a gifted scorer. In the 2014-15 season, when he was given quality minutes, Muhammad posted his career high averages of 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds. He shot 48 percent from the perimeter and 39 percent from deep. On the defensive end, Muhammad is a willing defender that can hold his own against opposing small forwards.
In Cleveland’s system, Muhammad will thrive with bountiful opportunities for him to further ruin defenses that James shatters on a nightly basis. James is known for making his teammates better, so Muhammad should be thrilled to join a team where he will be more involved.
7. DeMarre Caroll
The Cavaliers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. Clearly, they need some defensive stoppers if they ever hope to contend with the likes of the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, and Houston Rockets. Offense can only carry a team so far, and the Cavaliers had to unfortunately learn that the hard way when they were decimated by the Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. Although it’s unlikely that the Cavaliers can land a defensive stalwart, they can find a quality defender on the market. Actually, that task may have just gotten easier. DeMarre Carroll of the Brooklyn Nets has garnered interest from a variety of NBA teams for his defensive specialties. Now that the trade deadline is over, Carroll is likely to request a buyout and join a contender.
It would be an understatement to point out that the Cavaliers need an actual quality defender. Against the Warriors in the 2017 Finals, the Cavaliers got torched because they couldn’t defend both Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Granted, this is an impossible task even for the NBA’s best defensive teams. Still, if the Cavaliers can sign Carroll, they will add a great wing defender that can persistently stay in front of opposing small forward. In a potential Finals series down the road, Carroll can become an instrumental piece in the Cavaliers’ plans to stop Durant. With an added defensive depth, Carroll can be just what the Cavaliers need to become a respectable defensive team.
6. Boris Diaw
For those that don’t know, Boris Diaw was previously a core player from the 2014 San Antonio Spurs championship team. Diaw, in fact, held the team together with his brilliant decision making. To put it simply, Diaw is a 6’8 power forward with a limited offensive game, a strong defensive presence, and a penchant for running plays for his team. Diaw is somewhat like Andre Iguodala for the Warriors. For both players, statistics truly don’t tell all of the story. Much like Iguodala, Diaw can run up and down the court and run an offense. This is vital for a team like the Cavaliers who lack viable play makers.
The common weakness for the Cavaliers has been their depth. When James sits, no one else can facilitate the team quite like he does. Diaw isn’t the play maker James is, but he provides a great option from the bench once James takes a rest.
To become a true contender, the Cavaliers will need to stock up on two-way players, instead of one-dimensional talent that can hinder the team in conditional moments. With just a few tweaks, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue can figure out a way to implement Diaw into his team’s rotation if they should sign him in the coming days.
5. Tony Allen
In a deal to acquire Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans traded Tony Allen to the Bulls on February 2. For the Pelicans, the deal gave the team depth after a season-ending Achilles injury to DeMarcus Cousins. For the Bulls, however, they likely made the move to restore peace in the locker room. Simply, this wasn’t a trade that Allen asked for. The Bulls are currently rebuilding, and they don’t look ready to win now. Allen is 36 years old, and obviously doesn’t have the time to wait around.
Now that the trade deadline has passed, the Bulls could buy Allen out of his contract so he can go elsewhere. If he decides to do this, he can very well join the Cavaliers who could use his defensive abilities.
Allen is a six-time NBA All Defense team member. Allen made the first NBA defensive team three times in his career, which is a testament to his exemplary perimeter defense. Allen is not known for being a good shooter, and he isn’t as athletic as he used to be. Still, it would be hard for the Cavaliers to ignore maybe their only shot at capturing their defensive redemption this year. If Allen becomes available, the Cavaliers would have almost no choice but to consider signing him. Since the Cavaliers are contenders, it will also be hard for Allen to ignore them.
4. Marcus Smart
The Boston Celtics have a unique issue on their hands. While Kyrie Irving is the team’s starting point guard, there are some questions on who will capture the backup role. Initially, Marcus Smart was this person. Smart isn’t offensively gifted. In fact, he is an offensive liability, shooting a dismal 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. Smart is, however, known as a pesky defender. He can get defensive stops easily with his excellent communication skills and perimeter defense. Though, after injuring his hand in January, Rozier got increased minutes and played extremely well. This shouldn’t be good news to Smart.
On February 8, the Celtics decided not to trade Smart. Still, Smart is still recovering from his injury. When he does come back, it’s not likely that he will return to his usual 30 minutes per game average. If problems arise and Smart is released from the Celtics, the Cavaliers should not hesitate to gain a willing defender, regardless if he can shoot well or not.
3. Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez is currently averaging 12 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Yet, he is only averaging roughly 21 minutes per game. Lopez is clearly a starting center, and there are some persistent rumors that Lopez might seek a buyout to pursue a bigger role with another team. If these rumors are true, the Cavaliers should be excited. Currently, the Cavaliers are still running Kevin Love as their starting center. Love is not a quality center, and he often has difficulty defending other centers.
Lopez is a dominant offensive presence in the paint, but he just needs the minutes to prove it. Last season while playing nearly 30 minutes per game, Lopez posted 20.5 points per game. He shot 47 percent from the field and 34 percent from the 3-point line. The Cavaliers could use a starting caliber center to put Love back at the power forward position. His scoring can also take some of the burden from James during the season and the playoffs.
2. Jeremy Lamb
The Charlotte Hornets are now facing a financial crisis. The Hornets are 10th in the Eastern Conference, and will likely miss the postseason for the second consecutive year. Yet, they are paying close to $117 million in guaranteed contracts, which is shy of the luxury tax benchmark. It makes no sense for Michael Jordan to pay luxury tax for a mediocre team. Therefore, the Hornets may release one of their players. That player might be Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb is currently having a breakout year. He is averaging 13.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. He also has a cheap contract, paying him only $3 million this year. The Hornets are going to have to eventually have to shed a contract. Most likely, it will be Lamb, and the Cavaliers could benefit from adding a young scorer to their bench.
1. Tyreke Evans
Tyreke Evans is having an eventful year for the Memphis Grizzlies. He has seen a resurgence in his career, averaging 19.5 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. Evans is shooting 45 percent from the field and an incredible 39 percent from the 3-point line. One of the common scenarios of the trade deadline was where Evans would end up once it was all over. Now that Evans has blossomed into a quality starter, the Grizzlies hoped to trade him for some depth. It turned out that no trade came through, but Evans may end up requesting a buyout in the coming days.
If he does, the Cavaliers should make a full effort to acquire him. After all, the Cavaliers are title contenders, and Evans could contribute alongside of James, which is enough for many players to sign with the Cavaliers. Although none of these players are automatically linked to the Cavaliers, the 2016 NBA champions could target them now that the buyout season has just begun.