Seven months after defeating the Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers remain the class of the East, but Monday’s blowout loss to Golden State served as a reminder that Cleveland can’t afford to simply stand pat and hope to repeat as champions this spring.
Upgrading the roster in certain areas remains a priority for the team, and while LeBron James and GM David Griffin have a difference in opinion on the need for another big man, they agree that the Cavs could use a veteran point guard to take some pressure off of LeBron and Kyrie Irving.
Earlier in the season, the Cavs were getting by with their in-house options at the point behind Irving. Guys like Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith aren’t point guards, but they’re capable of handling the ball and making some plays for short stretches during games. James will also take over point guard duties for several possessions over the course of a game. And while rookie Kay Felder probably isn’t ready to take on a significant role quite yet, he has shown flashes of promise when he has gotten a chance to play.
Still, with Smith sidelined and Felder still not quite ready, the Cavs will be monitoring the trade and free agent markets in the coming weeks for point guard solutions. After making a two-for-one trade with the Hawks, Cleveland has an open roster spot, giving the club some flexibility to address the backup PG spot in a number of ways.
Here are a few possible directions the team will likely consider, along with the pros and cons of each approach:
1. Signing a veteran free agent
Possible targets: Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Jarrett Jack, Andre Miller
Pros: Trades can be tricky to negotiate, so it would be much simpler for the Cavaliers to convince an out-of-work player to join the defending champs, giving him the opportunity for a meaningful role. Such an offer would appeal to virtually any current free agent, so the Cavs would have their pick of the litter, so to speak. There’s no shortage of veteran point guards with extensive NBA experience on the market, and some of them – such as Chalmers and Cole – have played with James in the past.
Cons: Of course, there’s a reason most of these players are available. Many of them are recovering from injuries, or simply don’t have enough left in the tank to draw much interest from NBA teams. Perhaps some of them would be willing to audition on 10-day contracts, but the Cavs – deep in luxury-tax territory – would have to be careful about which player they sign, since every dollar in salary they spend going forward will be doubled or tripled when that end-of-year tax bill arrives.
2. Calling up a player from the D-League
Possible targets: Briante Weber, Ray McCallum, Julyan Stone, Xavier Munford
Pros: If the Cavs prefer to go younger, there are several D-League standouts who could interest the club. Weber, McCallum, Stone, and Munford are having excellent years in the NBADL, and have each spent time with NBA teams before. If the Cavs want to get a closer look at some D-League prospects, they’ll have a great chance to do so this week at the league’s showcase in Mississauga, Ontario.
Cons: Cleveland already has a young point guard in Felder, one in whom they’ve invested a draft pick (and cash to acquire that pick). While it’s possible that one of those D-League players is a little more NBA-ready at this point than Felder, the difference wouldn’t be significant. If the Cavs add a point guard, it will likely be a veteran, making a D-League call-up a long shot.
3. Using a trade exception to acquire a player
Possible targets: J.J. Barea, Leandro Barbosa, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson
Pros: When the Cavaliers acquired Kyle Korver, they used a portion of their $9.6MM+ trade exception to take on his salary, leaving about $4.4MM left over. As David Griffin later explained, the odds of the team acquiring another player who earns $8-9MM+ before that TPE expires on February 18 were extremely slim. But the club could use that leftover $4.4MM – or the $4.8MM TPE created in that Korver deal – to target a point guard. There are several point guards around the NBA who earn less than that amount and could be solid contributors. Targeting a veteran on a non-contender, such as Barea (Mavs) or Barbosa (Suns), might make sense.
Cons: A non-contending team won’t simply give up a productive veteran for free, so if the Cavs want to land a decent player, it will take more than just dumping Chris Andersen‘s salary along with a future second-round pick. Adding a player earning $3-4MM would also eliminate the tax savings the club created in the Korver deal. Finally, the team would need to consider whether a potential trade target has guaranteed money on his deal beyond this season, weighing whether or not that player would fit into the team’s future plans.
4. Trading for a player without using a TPE
Possible targets: Deron Williams, Sergio Rodriguez, Rajon Rondo
Pros: Expanding their search to players earning more than their $4.4MM would increase the number of trade candidates available to the Cavs.
Cons: I don’t view this as a likely scenario for a few reasons. For one, Griffin has already said that he didn’t expect to land a player earning more than a modest salary. For a deal to work, the Cavs would have to send out substantial salary of their own – perhaps Shumpert’s – which could mean sacrificing one rotation piece for another. If the Cavs make a move, I expect it to be something smaller, rather than one that would shake up their lineup significantly.
5. Waiting for a buyout candidate to emerge
Possible targets: Rondo, Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon
Pros: The Cavs aren’t in much danger of slipping down the Eastern Conference standings if they don’t address their point guard situation right away, so the team can afford to wait until after the trade deadline to see if potential buyout candidates emerge. Players like Rondo or Rose probably wouldn’t be appealing to Cleveland on their current salaries, but if they’re cut and are willing to sign with a new team for the minimum, that changes the equation significantly.
Cons: If the Cavs shift into wait-and-see mode and wait until late February or March, plenty of alternative options will come off the board in the meantime, and the team could ultimately be left empty-handed. Additionally, if a talented player is waived by his current team, the Cavs would have to take a hard look at why it happened, and determine whether or not that player would be a fit in the Cleveland locker room. For instance, at this point, it seems very unlikely that the Knicks would buy out Rose unless there’s another incident like last week’s, when he unexpectedly missed a game without contacting the team. In that scenario, would the Cavs even be willing to roll the dice on him?
What do you think? Which route makes the most sense for the Cavaliers to address their backup point guard situation, and which specific players do you think they should be going after? Jump into the comments section below to weigh in with your thoughts.