“I just hope that we’re not satisfied as an organization,” LeBron James told reporters after a game last month. “I just hope we’re not satisfied.”
Those words seemed to be an unmistakable message to owner Dan Gilbert. It might have been tempting to become complacent after winning the franchise’s first championship and ending Cleveland’s infamous title drought. It was LeBron himself, after all, who said in his Sports Illustrated letter that what was most important was “bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
But with that mission accomplished, he set his sights higher. Over the summer, Lee Jenkins profiled LeBron, and wrote that the great ones are not wired in a way that allows them to be content. “They are driven to slay monsters, as many as four at a time, and chase ghosts.” The implication was clear: Michael Jordan’s six championships are the ghost that LeBron will spend the rest of his career chasing.
At 32 years old, LeBron knows his window is closing, and he expects the franchise to do everything it can to give him as many more opportunities as it can. The Cavs, for their part, traded for Kyle Korver in early January, and that move looks to be paying off. They recently picked up Derrick Williams, and it seems likely that he’ll at least be a contributor going forward.
Even if they don’t make another trade (which is far from certain), they will still be able to add one more piece, as their roster currently stands at 14 players. They have some options.
Option 1: Add a backup point guard.
After the Korver trade, LeBron said, “We got to get a point guard.” So this would appear to be his preferred option.
If they go this route, the player they would most likely add is Mario Chalmers. He obviously has a history with LeBron, and was one of the guys who worked out for the Cavs a couple of weeks ago. Even though nothing yet came of that, Brian Windhorst noted that he’s still on the team’s radar.
Windhorst: I don't think you have heard the last of Mario Chalmers with the #Cavs. That workout was a check on how he is doing.— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) February 9, 2017
Chalmers played in 61 games last year between Miami and Memphis, and averaged 10.3 points per game. He ruptured his right Achilles on March 10, so any contract with the Cavs would be contingent on his recovery.
Another option would be Jordan Farmar, who reportedly was the most impressive player when the Cavs hosted that workout. If that is true, perhaps the reason the Cavs didn’t offer him a 10-day contract is that they are waiting on Chalmers to get fully healthy. Or perhaps they are keeping their options open while the possibility of making a trade still exists.
Adding a point guard would make a lot of sense for the remainder of the regular season. It would give the Cavs more depth, and it would take some of the pressure off of LeBron and Kyrie Irving to create on offense, especially in the absence of the help they’d normally get on offense from JR Smith and Kevin Love.
The playoffs, however, are a different story. LeBron and Kyrie are going to play a ton of minutes, and one of them will almost always have the ball in his hands. It wouldn’t hurt to have one more guy they could trust to handle it, but perhaps the reason the Cavs didn’t pull the trigger on Farmar is that they think they might need help elsewhere.
Option 2: Take out an insurance policy on Kevin Love.
After having knee surgery on Tuesday, Love is expected to miss six weeks. Hopefully, everything will be fine. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be back with a few games left in the regular season and be able to find his rhythm before the playoffs begin.
However, things do not always go according to plan. If Love suffers some sort of setback, he could end up missing part of the postseason. That would leave the Cavs in a precarious position. LeBron would have to take on more of a load by guarding opposing power forwards, and, beyond him, the frontcourt would consist only of Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Derrick Williams, and Richard Jefferson.
In today’s NBA, big men are obviously not as valuable as they one were. The Cavs were able to make it to the Finals in 2015 with Love missing most of the playoffs. But that Finals run took everything out of LeBron, and he was completely spent by the end.
This became more worthy of discussion when the Raptors added Serge Ibaka to their frontcourt that already had Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson. I don’t think anybody on the Cavs is losing sleep over possibly having to face Toronto in the playoffs, but if Love were to be sidelined, it could be an interesting matchup. The Raptors would likely have a huge rebounding advantage.
Therefore, it makes sense for the Cavs to at least consider adding some size.
One name that is a longshot but is worth mentioning here is Larry Sanders. The 6’11” Sanders last played in the NBA in December 2014, but he is still just 28 years old. Back in 2012-13, he averaged 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Rumor has it that he is close to returning to the league.
Can't wait to go out and make the game easier for a team...can't wait to block my first shot...#Sooncome— Larry Sanders (@l8show_thegoat) February 15, 2017
Other than Sanders, there are not many quality bigs currently out there. Chris Kaman thought about retiring after last season, but did not rule out playing at some point this season. And then there is a guy recently released by the Warriors by the name of Anderson Varejao. But that’s about it. The Cavs might be forced to wait a little bit and see if any other names end up on the market.
Option 3: Wait as long as possible and see who becomes available.
A couple of weeks ago, it would have been hard to imagine Derrick Williams ending up on the Cavs. Then he was waived by Miami, and here we are. It’s not always easy to predict who will become available.
So if the Cavs aren’t impressed by any of their current options, they can just sit back for a couple more weeks and see what happens. Players who are bought out usually have to be added to a new team by March 1 in order to be eligible for the playoffs.
Of course, there is also still the possibility that they will make a trade. If they want to make a move, having an open roster spot could be valuable. That’s why it is probably not likely that they will add a guy before the February 23 trade deadline.
In addition to a point guard or post player, the Cavs will also probably look at the trade market for wing players who could help them guard the likes of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.
Option 4: Do nothing and roll with what they’ve got.
This seems unlikely, given they have the open spot and LeBron has basically demanded they do everything they can to be as competitive as possible. But let’s play it out.
If everyone is healthy when the postseason starts, the Cavs’ starting lineup would consist of Irving, Smith, LeBron, Love, and Thompson. The rest of the rotation would then likely include Korver, Shumpert, and some combination of Williams, Frye, Jefferson, and maybe even DeAndre Liggins.
In some sense, I think the Cavs’ depth problems have been overstated. In the playoffs, a team generally only needs nine guys who can contribute, and between the 11 names mentioned above, they should be able to get that.
The problem, though, is the assumption that everyone will be healthy. If Love is out, or if anybody else gets dinged, their lack of depth will be exposed. They seem to have exactly the right amount of players, but nothing extra.
Which is why that open roster spot is almost certainly going to be filled. It will just be interesting to see how David Griffin decides to fill it.