With the Cavaliers-Celtics trade struggling to cross the finish line, I began to ponder the other reported deals that could make sense for Cleveland.
The Phoenix Suns wouldn’t offer up Josh Jackson and the Denver Nuggets were not going to part ways with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported earlier on Wednesday morning that the Milwaukee Bucks had offered Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton — but hadn’t officially added their first-round pick to the deal:
The Milwaukee Bucks lurk on the fringes of the Irving bidding with an offer centered around Malcolm Brogdon, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, and Khris Middleton, sources say. The Bucks have not yet put a first-round pick on the table, sources say, but the bet here is that they would to get the deal done -- or if Irving showed any interest in staying in Milwaukee long-term.
The trade to bring Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick is the best one that’s out there — with one caveat: Thomas’ injured hip.
There has been no report of the extent of Thomas’ injury and how long it could potentially sideline him in 2017-18. Although the Nets’ draft pick is the best asset in the deal, having a healthy Thomas alongside LeBron James next season is necessary.
So, if there are questions about the long-term health of Thomas, GM Koby Altman should turn to the next best return for Kyrie Irving. That’s where the Bucks and their offer comes into play.
Brogdon and Middleton aren’t flashy or the big names that Dan Gilbert has been looking for in return. But they are key components to solving the college-level Calculus problem that are the Golden State Warriors.
Brogdon, 24, is nine months younger than Irving and just completed his rookie season. For his efforts in 2016-17, the Bucks’ point guard won the Rookie of the Year honors.
The ex-Virginia star made 75 appearances this past season, including 28 starts, scoring 10.2 points and dishing 4.2 assists on 46 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. He’s not a volume shooter, but those are still solid shooting numbers for a rookie.
At 6’5”, Brogdon possesses the height and length to matchup defensively against most point guards in the NBA. His assist percentage in his rookie season was 31.4 percent — which is high considering Giannis Antetokounmpo is the primary ball-handler on the Bucks. He often played off the ball, which would be similar to his role in Cleveland alongside James.
While Brogdon’s isolation offense is nowhere near the level of Irving’s, he brings a lot of different attributes to the table that better equip the Cavaliers in a series against Golden State. He also isn’t close to the player that Irving is and I don’t think he’ll develop to that level either. But, his play-making, three-point shooting and ability to switch on defense are valuable.
On the other hand, Middleton is a three-and-d player that can thrive alongside LeBron next season. In his fifth season in the NBA, Middleton only played in 29 games, but averaged 14.7 points on 45 percent shooting and 43 percent from three-point range. The Bucks’ forward missed the first six months of the season, but looked strong down the stretch.
He’s also on a team-friendly five-year, $70 million contract that has him locked down till 2018-19, with a player option for the season after that. With his size at 6’8”, the Bucks’ forward could be an extra body for the Cavaliers to throw at opposing forwards to give LeBron a break on the defensive end. He’s only 26 years old, so he still hasn’t hit his physical prime. If the Cavs had to rebuild next year, they’d likely be able to flip him if they wanted to.
The first-round pick that Milwaukee would likely send the Cavaliers in this potential deal wouldn’t be that valuable. The Bucks are going to be a playoff team in the weaker Eastern Conference, dropping the draft pick in the late ‘teens.
While neither player coming back to the Cavaliers is as talented or productive as Irving, they each bring youth, defense and some play-making ability.
Cleveland would be missing a secondary scorer behind LeBron, which becomes really valuable in the playoffs, when you need a go-to basket. But if Thomas isn’t fully healthy in 2017-18, the Cavaliers wouldn’t get that secondary scorer from Boston either.
And the versatility that a lineup featuring Brogdon, Middleton, James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson is intriguing. Swap J.R. Smith for Love and the Cavs could have an interesting smaller lineup, too.
Also, if LeBron decides to take his talents elsewhere after this season, the Cavaliers would still have some youth to build around. They could start Brogdon, J.R. Smith, Middleton, Love and Thompson. In a LeBron-less East, that squad could still be decent. And they’d likely be able to flip Middleton next if they wanted to.
While the Brooklyn draft pick seems to be the most valuable asset that could be floated for Irving, the Cavaliers have to address next season as well. They have the best player in the world in the final years of his athletic prime. Adding two role players for Irving could potentially give Cleveland a better shot at another NBA Title. If the Celtics deal falls through, the Bucks’ offer isn’t a bad alternative.