Few teams have ever wanted a non-superstar as much as the Cavs seemed to want Timofey Mozgov in the months leading up to the January 2015 trade that brought him to Cleveland. The 7’1″ center who had started only 30 of the 82 games he played the season before in Denver was the clear-cut top target for the Cavs after they traded for Kevin Love in August 2014. The Nuggets wisely held out until they could extract an eye-popping return of two first-round picks, one from the Grizzlies that the Cavs had long ago acquired and one from the Thunder that Cleveland had just received for trading Dion Waiters two days prior. The surrender of that ransom for a player who’d never averaged more than 9.4 points per game nonetheless thrilled LeBron James, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported at the time, and a week after the trade, the Cavs embarked on a 48-12 tear that didn’t end until the Warriors won the last three games of the finals.
So, it’s jarring to see that the Cavaliers have begun to explore the market for a trade that would send Mozgov out, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported earlier this month. It’s been a rocky season for 29-year-old in the final year of his contract, to be sure. He still hasn’t found his bearings after a July 1st surgery on his right knee, and just about every stat of his is down from the numbers he put up last season in 46 games following the trade. He’s been in and out of the starting lineup, and most recently, he’s been out, with new coach Tyronn Lue preferring Tristan Thompson at center.
Still, it’s tough to reckon with the idea that the Cavs would be willing to give up on a player they so clearly wanted and were so elated to acquire, and whose addition to the lineup seemed so transformative just a year ago. They apparently had recent talks with the Pelicans, though those didn’t go anywhere, Wojnarowski reported this week. The Cavs would like a three-and-D wing player who can back up Iman Shumpert, fearing he’ll go down to another injury, as Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. Proficient three-and-D types aren’t easy to find, so if the Cavs have designs on turning Mozgov into that sort of player, they’d have to find a team that strongly believes Mozgov can return to the form he exhibited in the second half of last season, and that wouldn’t fear Mozgov bolting in free agency this summer.
Wojnarowski suggested this month that Mozgov would appeal to Western Conference contenders, and that makes sense, since they’d ostensibly have fewer concerns about Mozgov signing elsewhere, and a deal between teams in opposite conferences wouldn’t have as much chance of coming back to haunt either side in the playoffs. The Warriors and Spurs seem like unlikely candidates to make any sort of significant move, given how well they’ve played. Perhaps the Clippers, down a big man in the absence of Blake Griffin, would bite. Wesley Johnson, a career 34.7% 3-point shooter with a 7’1″ wingspan, could be the sort of backup wing player the Cavaliers are looking for, but Mozgov and DeAndre Jordan would be an awkward fit.
The Grizzlies are reportedly gauging the market for Courtney Lee, who’s been on a tear from behind the arc the past two months, and perhaps they’d like to double down on grint-and-grind with yet another big man, especially with Brandan Wright still unavailable because of injury. However, Memphis would surely be loath to give up a 3-point shooter without getting one in return. Trevor Ariza fits the three-and-D profile, but unless the Rockets have serious concerns about Dwight Howard, it’s tough to see them giving up their starting small forward for Mozgov. The Mavs appear true long shots, since they seem to have found their center in Zaza Pachulia and are light on wing players.
The Cavs might be better served looking within their own conference at the Bucks, a team that could use a rim-protecting presence with Greg Monroe around and that has no shortage of intriguing options on the wing. Still, unless the Cavs have interest in a player on an expiring contract like O.J. Mayo or Jerryd Bayless, Milwaukee would probably be hesitant to disrupt its long-term structure for an impending free agent like Mozgov.
Cleveland has the advantage of a pair of trade exceptions, one worth about $10.5MM and the other close to $3MM, to avoid salary-matching headaches, but even so, it’s not easy to see a feasible trade for Mozgov. The native of Russia was such a clear fit with last year’s Cavaliers, and even though he and former coach David Blatt, who’s coached the Russian national team, had a shared history of sorts, the Cavs owe it to themselves to give Lue the opportunity to connect with him in a way Blatt couldn’t and restore his confidence and his level of performance. The benching might be a wake-up call of sorts that allows Mozgov to sort out any physical and mental issues. It might not. Regardless, a Mozgov trade would seem like a rash move for a team that just made one with its coaching change. The Cavs can’t let the pressure to win now force them into a trade they’ll regret.
Do you see a workable Mozgov trade that helps the Cavs? Leave a comment to share your ideas.