The team’s play in recent weeks looks nothing like a side that has been to three straight NBA Finals in the past three seasons.
The loss of Kyrie Irving was meant to hurt but few could have envisaged Cleveland losing in high double figures to elite teams. The 88-120 loss to Houston Rockets was the latest in a line of big losses to the likes of Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves.
For the record, Raptors blew out Cleveland without All Star Point Guard Kyle Lowry and Center Serge Ibaka. Former player and newly inducted into NBA’s Hall of Fame Tracy McGrady summed up Cleveland’s season so far opining the team must trade everyone with the exception of two players.
Tasked with building a new look team after falling again to Golden State Warriors in the last postseason, Coach Tyronne Lue has not endeared himself to fans as his team continues to struggle particularly on defense where last season’s miserable Finals ending is hinged on. Ranked outside the top 15 places in defensive rating, the Cavaliers are 26th a fortnight from this year’s All Star Weekend.
While calls for his sack have been dismissed by management, his role on the team must be reassessed. Fusing eight new players into a team is challenging making reports of a rift between the old guard and new sect very believable. Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder headline the new group that moved to Ohio in the offseason.
Aside Dwyane Wade who is playing and producing as expected, none of the remaining newbies are playing well. J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson’s play means the down season isn’t just restricted to the new guys in town. With the February 8 trade deadline near, Cleveland has the opportunity to shake things up and recharge for the remainder of the season. The team needs to address a host of issues in the trade period beginning with finding another Forward following Kevin Love’s injury laden absence.
The former Minnesota man is nursing a broken hand for the next six-seven weeks; they need a healthy Point Guard since Thomas’ play suggests he is yet to fully recover from the hip injury he sustained in last season’s postseason. Rose has dealt with his fair share of ailments and Jose Calderon honestly shouldn’t be in the NBA at this stage of his career. Cleveland need players but has little leverage in assets. Like McGrady illustrated, the Cavs roster is littered with players with trade value due to a mix of declining production and expensive contracts.
This combination makes it hard to make a deal for some of the best players in the market including DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams and Tobias Harris. Teams want players on cheaper contracts or draft picks in return for their players and Cavs out favor players like Smith and Thompson command contracts that pays them at least $14 million for the next two seasons. However, all that can be altered should General Manager Koby Altman add Brooklyn Nets 2018 Draft pick owned by his outfit.
The pick is a first round protected one which is valuable to a lot of teams around the league and likely to get Cavaliers just about any player they want. Owning such a pick has great value down the years as Boston Celtics collection of top ten picks has given them a strong foundation of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. With the team’s struggles to get consistent play from the Point position, packaging the pick with Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Calderon to Charlotte Hornets for 2017 All Star Kemba Walker is a fair deal. With Walker operating on a $12 million contract currently and for next season, this is a unique opportunity to tie down one of the league’s most underrated creators.
With Walker on the roster, the Cavs can dedicate a huge part of its payroll to him as he will be eligible for a contract extension should LeBron James leave the team again. Extending Walker’s deal is a safer bet than Thomas whose sluggish play has confirmed executive worst fears on giving him a big contract. In the meantime, trading for Walker gives Cleveland a big chance to beat Boston and stand the might of the Western Conference’s best team. Keeping Walker beyond this season offers a brighter future for Cleveland with Love set to stick around for two more years.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter