Things got messy for the Cavaliers in frigid Minnesota. Isaiah got kicked out the game for a flagrant on Andrew Wiggins. LeBron had 10 points. It was ugly and afterwards LeBron copped to the Cavs not playing well but he’s only preaching to the choir. The Cavs do their usual apathetic team thing in the dog days of the NBA schedule, before the All-Star break, in the weary gloom of winter, on a Monday night in Minneapolis.
No one is really worried about Cleveland. Except with the trade deadline fast approaching. The Cavs need help. They know it. So does everyone else. Specifically, they need a big man, a rim protector. Kevin Love can get you through the season but in the playoffs with all comers having some kind of athletic size up front, the Cavs need to match the bigs. But there is one problem. The Cavs are trying to get something for nothing.
Don’t even talk about a trade for DeAndre Jordan- who the Cavs want and who the Clippers want to give up- without talking surrender of the pick the Cavs received for Isaiah Thomas. Brooklyn’s lottery pick. That lottery pick is special because if/when LeBron walks, the Cavs can truly rebuild, either around Isaiah Thomas, if they decide to offer him a max deal, or without Isaiah.
The only way you get good in this league is with the lottery. The Cavs getting Kyrie in the lottery was the reason LeBron wanted to come back. If it is true that LeBron isn’t just yanking the media’s chain and he really wants to go to Los Angeles it is only because of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, two top-5 lottery picks. The Brooklyn pick is gold.
It gives the Cavs insurance on the future. Otherwise, Kyrie might as well be in Phoenix. The Suns Kyrie trade didn’t go down because the Suns weren’t willing to give up their lottery pick, Josh Jackson. Without a lottery pick, the only insurance the Cavs have is a 27-30 pick. Yes, Jimmy Butler was 30 and Kyle Kuzma was the steal of the 2017 draft at 27 but those were anomalies, not something you can bank on. The Cavs need that pick.
The Cavs need a big like DeAndre.
So who blinks first?
The Clippers, who the Cavs are trying to make a deal with, are the Cavs one year from now. Their superstar is gone. They are in rebuilding mode. The Clippers are good enough to win about 32 games and bad enough to lose more with Griffin perpetually injured or cursed. They want a top-5 lottery pick to go with their 9-11 lottery pick. The Clippers don’t need to trade DeAndre. Yes, he will probably opt-out and then they get zilch for him but they don’t want big contracts. They want players they can cut loose or pay smaller salaries, and they want draft picks. Years of Doc Rivers not caring about the draft are over. The Clippers need to get younger and talented. Fast.
The Cavs need to get younger too. It is a classic NBA push and pull. The coach and players want to win right now. The organization is thinking about the future. It is a good place to be. The Cavs having something a lot of people want. But there has to be caution too.
If this truly is LeBron James last year in Cleveland, the Cavs should milk it for all it’s worth, make it count. Only one title in the LeBron James Part II era would be weak.
Organizations who win their first title are desperate for the second, not because they are greedy, but because one title can be interpreted as accidental, a fluke, a moment of luck. Two titles is consistent domination. Three or more is a dynasty.
But there is one more karma thing about that Brooklyn pick. The reason the Cavs got Kyrie Irving in the first place was not because the basketball gods wanted to save them. The Cavs made a trade mid-season with the Clippers. The Clippers got Mo Williams. The Cavs got an unprotected first round draft pick which turned out to be the number one pick and Kyrie. It was a move that, in hindsight, devastated the Clippers. It is what Cleveland is hoping to avoid as they try to shoot the moon.
You shoot the moon in cards by dominating your opponent with all the hearts so you win and they lose. But it only works if you get all the hearts. Otherwise, it is a fail.
It is a dicey proposition for Cleveland to try to get more size and keep the Brooklyn pick too. As of today, that pick would be 8th in the lottery. Not a top-5 pick. Not what everyone thought it was going to be.
Number 8 in the lottery is what exactly? In 2017, it was Frank Ntilikina, a nice defensive guard for the Knicks who has a lot of athleticism and upside. In 2016, it was Marqueese Chris, an undersized power forward who has been average or worse. In 2015, it was Stanley Johnson who has been pretty much a bust.
Since LeBron James has been in the league, there hasn’t been a number 8 pick who has been an All-Star. (T.J. Ford, Rafael Araujo, Channing Frye, Rduy Gay, Brandan Wright, Joe Alexander, Jordan Hill, Al-Faroq Aminu, Brandon Knight, Terrence Ross, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Nik Stauskas).
So if the Cavs are holding their breath for a mid-lottery star, I wouldn’t.
To get something you have to give up something. The Cavs will have plenty of lottery’s in their future after LeBron James leaves. Now is the time to shoot the moon, go big, let go of the Brooklyn pick and fill the glaring hole at center.