The 2013 NBA Draft is only 24 days away and rumors of the Cavaliers trading the first overall pick continue to run rampant, in addition to the listed players I mentioned last week, Luol Deng and DeMarcus Cousins have also been discussed as potential trade targets for the Cavaliers. With all the speculation, now seems like as good a time as any to discuss the player (or players) we as Cavs fans feel the team should attempt to acquire with their biggest asset. While many people no doubt feel differently, for me that player is Atlanta Hawks Center/Power Forward Al Horford.
When I started thinking about which All Star level player I felt would be the best fit for the Cavaliers, there were a few prerequisites I wanted the player to meet. The first was that the player has a reputation as someone with solid character (goodbye DeMarcus Cousins). The second was that the player be relatively young so that his peek years would somewhat overlap with those of Kyrie Irving and the other members of the Cavaliers’ core (exit Paul Pierce). The third and final demand was that the player was already signed through at least the 2014-2015 season (so long Luol Deng and Danny Granger). Among the players rumored to be on the Cavaliers wish list, this left Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, and LaMarcus Aldridge. As these players are all power forwards or centers who have made All-Star and All-NBA teams, and therefore somewhat easier to compare than other players, I rated them in a series of categories that helped me determine who would be the best overall fit for the Cavaliers. All data with the exception of the defensive stats came from basketball-reference.com. The players were then rated from first to fourth place in each category with first place receiving four points, second place receiving three points, two points for third place, and one for fourth place. Here is how that system played out (Note: the players are discussed in each category from first to fourth place).
Age: Obviously given the age of Irving, Waiters, and Thompson, the younger the player the better the fit for the Cavaliers. At just 24 years old, Love easily wins this category. Turning 27 today (June 3rd) puts Horford second. Aldridge is also 27, but will turn 28 in July, while Gasol is already 28 and will be 29 in January. While this may not seem like much, every prime year would be vital to the Cavaliers.
Positional Fit: In a perfect world the Cavaliers acquire their player of choice without giving up Tristan Thompson. Therefore you want the frontcourt player you acquire to be able to play center regularly. As a true center, the advantage is definitely Gasol’s in this category. While many observers feel Horford is a more natural power forward, he has played center the majority of his career and has done so effectively and without complaint. Aldridge has also played center a significant amount of his career, but is known to strongly prefer playing power forward. Although Love played some center at the beginning of his career, he is definitely a power forward and is probably incapable of guarding most centers (or power forwards, but we’ll get to that later).
Playoff Experience: This is a big intangible as few of the current Cavaliers have been to the playoffs. While Horford and the Hawks have made the playoffs all six years of his career, Gasol and the Grizzlies have gone farther, giving him the edge. Aldridge comes in third, playing in the postseason three times, but never advancing past the first round. Love has no postseason experience.
Contract Status: Horford is the winner here, as he is signed through the 2015-2016 at $12 million per year, easily the lowest rate among the four players. Love will make roughly $14.7 million next season and see that go up by roughly one million each of the following two seasons, with the ability to opt out of the 2015-2016 season when he would make roughly $16.7 million. Aldridge makes slightly less than Love each of the next two seasons, but is only signed through 2014-2015, while Gasol has the highest salary at $14.8 and $15.8 million over the next two seasons and is also a free agent in the summer of 2015. While these don’t seem like huge differences the new collective bargaining agreement will make every penny count and Horford will make over $3.5 million less than any of the other players in 2014-2015 and is signed longer than the others as well.
Offense: All four players are elite offensive players at their positions and would be huge additions to the Cavaliers in this regard. That being said, Love is one of the truly elite offensive players in the league. He has a career PER of 22.1 and a true shooting percentage of .557. Aldridge has also been the best offensive player on his team at times, with a career PER of 19.7 and a true shooting percentage of .537. Horford has a lower PER of 18.4, but a higher true shooting percentage of .571. Finally, Gasol has a PER of 18.2 and a true shooting percentage of .576, very similar to Horford. I ranked them Love, Aldridge, Horford, Gasol not only due to PER, but also due to their individual experience and comfort level as a main offensive focal point of their team.
Defense: Marc Gasol is the reigning defensive player of the year. While that selection has been debated in different circles, no one denies that Gasol is an incredibly effective defender. Horford is seen as a very solid defender at both the center and power forward positions. Aldridge has shown the ability to be an average defender, but his effort on this end is inconsistent. Finally Love is a poor defender as he is not strong enough to defend centers nor athletic enough to defend power forwards well.
Durability: Gasol has averaged 75 games a season in his career, while Aldridge is at 72.5. Horford is averaging 65 games a year, an average brought down by the 2011-2012 season in which he only played 11 games due to a torn pectoral muscle. Love has averaged 57.4 games in his career, including just 18 last year due to multiple fractures in his shooting hand.
Availability: None of these players are going to be acquired without giving up major assets. That being said, Horford seems the most likely to be available in a trade. While Danny Ferry would love to keep Horford and add Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, the chances of either free agent signing with the Hawks appear to be slim. If Ferry cannot beat the odds, then he is probably better off trading Horford and rebuilding the Hawks from scratch. The Trailblazers have no desire to trade Aldridge, although there have been rumors that he has voiced his discontent in Portland. If it looks like he will leave as a free agent in two seasons, the Blazers would be wise to at least listen to offers. Flip Saunders seems determined to repair the rift between Love and the Timberwolves, making his being traded highly unlikely. Finally, Gasol seems to be one of the players the Grizzlies new management is intent on building around, along with Mike Conley.
Point Totals: Horford 24, Gasol 21, Aldridge 19, Love 17
This seems about right. Horford fits well with the Cavaliers, is affordable, and is on the same level as these other players. Gasol would also be an excellent fit, but it is highly unlikely that Memphis would even entertain trading him at this point. Aldridge fits offensively, but his lack of interest in playing center regularly would require another move by the Cavaliers. Finally, despite what others say, I don’t see Love as a great fit in Cleveland at all. The Cavaliers already have a superstar who is gifted offensively, below average defensively, and appears to be somewhat injury prone. Having your second superstar fit this description seems like a recipe for underachieving seasons. If the Cavaliers attempt to trade the number one pick in this year’s draft, Al Horford seems like the best possible return for the team.