On July 7, 2016, less than three weeks after the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals to win their first championship in franchise history, the Cavs were beginning preparations for their title defense.
Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov were free agents and the Cavs were not planning on bringing either back, so the Cavs wanted be proactive in trying to bring in some additional help headed into the 2017 season.
That help came in the form of Mike Dunleavy, a veteran swingman and long-range marksman that was being shopped by the Chicago Bulls in an attempt to clear cap space for Dwyane Wade. The Cavs absorbed him into their $4.8 million trade exception and only had to move the rights to a foreign player to acquire him. LeBron James had coveted Dunleavy as a prospective teammate; a player that could be a knockdown shooter ala Mike Miller in his Miami days.
But it didn’t work out that way. Dunleavy only played 23 games in a Cavalier uniform, and it was apparent from the get-go that this partnership was not destined for success.
On January 7, 2017, exactly six months to the day the Cavs acquired Dunleavy, he was shipped to the Atlanta Hawks along with Mo Williams and a future first round pick for sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
LeBron was obviously excited when he first heard the news (via ESPN.com):
"It adds another dynamic piece to our team," LeBron James said. "Helluva sharpshooter and just a great guy. Great professional, as you've seen over his career, a guy that's played at a high level for a long time, has championship aspirations. And he has another rocket launcher."
Over the course of 14 NBA seasons, Korver has been one of the most prolific and dangerous three-point shooters in NBA history. Sporting a career 43.1 percent mark from three and tied with Paul Pierce for the fourth-most made threes in NBA history, Korver has been consistently brilliant as an outside shooter throughout his career. LeBron already had previous experience playing with someone very similar to Korver in Ray Allen when he was in Miami, which had favorable results for them.
Though the sample size may have been short, Korver was a perfect fit on this team.
In the season prior, Korver shot 39.8 percent from three, the first time he was under 40 percent from three since the 2008-09 season when he was still in Utah, and before he came to the Cavs, he was shooting 40.9 percent from three, so it begged the question whether, at age 35, maybe Korver was beginning to slow down.
In 35 regular season games with the Cavs, Korver shot 48.7 percent from three, and he finished the season shooting 45.1 percent from three, the highest mark in the league.
But that's not what Korver was brought in for, but rather to bolster the Cavs' potent outside shooting attack off the bench in the Cavs' pursuit of a second consecutive NBA title.
Korver played modestly well throughout the playoffs, but his usage wasn't nearly as high as it was in the regular season (12.5 USG% down from 15.2 in the regular season), his scoring was down (5.8 points per game down from 10.7 in the regular season), and his shooting splits dropped slightly (43-39-100 down from 46-45-91 in the regular season).
In the 2017 NBA Finals, Korver didn't really give the Cavs the boost they were hoping for in their three-match against the Golden State Warriors, scoring just 4.4 points per game on 36.3 percent shooting and 31.3 percent from three. When the Warriors added Kevin Durant in the offseason, it really complicated how the Cavs match up with them, and unfortunately, Korver was deemed largely ineffective against this iteration of the Dubs.
With GM David Griffin out of the picture now and no front office hierarchy currently in place, it’s hard to tell right now whether the Cavs will be interested in bringing him back. But Korver was a worthwhile addition to the most talented team in franchise history, and a player the Cavs would be wise to retain, as he is an impending free agent and the Cavs have no cap flexibility to go out and replace a player of his caliber on the open market. Having his Bird Rights matters.
Korver was brought in for one reason and one reason only: to shoot the lights out from deep. And boy did he ever, except in the one series that mattered.