Cavaliers GM Koby Altman and the organization are in a peculiar situation heading into 2017-18. They have the best player in the league, a top two or three roster and will likely be in the NBA Finals again.
They’re a special bunch, yet there are question marks beyond next season because LeBron James’ future in uncertain. The biggest asset that the Cavaliers have is the 2018 Nets’ first-round pick. It’s arguably the most valuable piece that was in the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas mega-trade.
But here’s a question that’s likely to keep Altman up at night: What does Cleveland do with the Nets’ draft pick?
According to the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas, the Nets over-under for wins in 2017-18 is set for 20.5. That number is the lowest in the NBA and would have them back in the lottery for a top-three pick.
So Altman could hold onto the draft pick and grab one of the superstar prospects, be it Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr. or Luka Doncic.
But here’s an alternative: the Cavs’ front office could trade the pick, along with some expiring contracts and get a superstar to make another run at the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Without a firm commitment from James about staying with Cleveland, Altman and the front office has their hands tied. Do they build for the long-term future with a 19-year old or flip their only poker chip for a top player in the NBA.
Personally, I think there are a few superstars that the Cavaliers should flip the Nets’ pick for. Let’s take a look at who would be worth giving up this prized asset for.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
One of the rising superstars in the NBA, Davis would be a perfect fit to play alongside LeBron for this season.
Davis, 24, just completed his fifth season, while arguably playing the best basketball of his career. He averaged 28.0 points and 11.8 rebounds on 51 percent shooting from the field, this past season.
The Pelicans’ superstar can space the floor and hit outside jumpers. He’s also a big presence on the interior, adding 2.5 blocks per game for his career. So the Cavaliers wouldn’t have to worry about adding a superstar that only plays one end of the floor.
Davis is on a five-year, $127 million deal, which has him locked down through 2020-21. So even if James were to bounce next season, Davis would arguably be a top-three player in the East and Cleveland could still compete.
The Pelicans are pushing all their chips to the middle of the table with Davis and DeMarcus Cousins this season. In a loaded Western Conference, that may not be enough to even make the playoffs.
As a result, I could see the Pelicans hitting the reset button, letting Cousins walk in free agency and getting the Nets’ pick for Davis to start a full rebuild.
For Cleveland, it would be a young superstar that could ride shotgun with James or carry the franchise on his own in a post-LeBron era.
Paul George, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
George was basically a Dan Gilbert phone call away from being a Cavalier. According to multiple reports, Cleveland had a deal in place to bring Eric Bledsoe and George for Kyrie Irving, but couldn’t pull the trigger — (pre-Irving trade request, of course). Later, when the Cavs worked for a different deal, Indiana wanted to go in a different direction.
Immediately, George was flipped to the Thunder and the Cavaliers missed their man. But there’s another chance for Cleveland to land this two-way player later in the season.
The Thunder are attempting to pair George with Russell Westbrook, but it could blow up before the trade deadline. With Westbrook and George both hitting free agency, the Thunder could panic and look at find a return for one of their superstars.
George would be a tailor-made fit alongside James. He would be another 6’9” wing that could play both ends of the floor, create his own shot and also knock down open jumpers.
This past season, the ex-Pacers’ forward scored 23.7 points a night on 46 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from long-range. He’s also used to playing off the ball, so playing alongside James shouldn’t be too big of a concern.
The only concern for Cleveland would be the fact that George could walk in the summer of 2018. It would be a risky move, but the chance of having George and James against the Warriors in June might be well worth it.
There were a few players I considered, but deemed the chance of landing them with the Nets’ pick to be minuscule. Similar to Davis, Timberwolves’ Karl Anthony-Towns is a great building block aside James. But I highly doubt that Minnesota blows it all up right when they’re finally looking to make the first playoffs appearance.
Marc Gasol is another name that’s been thrown around a lot, but I don’t think the short-term success by adding Gasol would be worth giving up the draft pick. His teammate Mike Conley is another option, but his contract could hamstring the Cavaliers for the future.
Cousins is another player that’s on an expiring deal that many have speculated to Cleveland. I think Cousins makes some basketball sense, but not much in terms of the locker room. Add in the fact that he’s set to be a free agent at the end of the year and he’s not worth the risk.
Get ready for the next six months of speculation with what the Cavaliers do with that Nets’ draft pick. While I think the best option for the team may be to hold on to the pick and build for the future, I’m still intrigued by the chance to add a win-now player and keep this recent run of success going.
It’s a decision that’s likely going to define Altman’s young career. He’s shown poise and experience in his first few moves, so I’m gaining confidence that he will make the right decision for the team moving forward.