The LeBron James era for the Cavaliers meant trading away a large portion of their assets. Such is life when a franchise is trying to maximize its chances of winning a title while perhaps the best player ever is still around.
The downside of that strategy, of course, is that Cleveland’s war chest is now barren entering this season and it won’t be fully restocked until their trade with the Hawks is fully realized. Remember: in acquiring Kyle Korver, the Cavs gave up a top-10 protected pick to Atlanta that, if it does not convey in 2019 or 2020, turns into two second-round picks. Those picks would convey in 2021 and 2022.
In the four years LeBron was with the Cavs in his second stint, the team largely didn’t engage with the draft. Tracking every pick the team traded, and how they all conveyed, over the same span is a dizzying exercise. The only players they drafted were Tyus Jones (who was traded to get Cedi Osman), Rakeem Christmas and Sir’Dominic Pointer; Cleveland also bought the Hawks’ second-round pick in 2016 to draft Kay Felder. Andrew Wiggins was picked just before James signed and was traded to get Kevin Love; Joe Harris was picked in the same draft, but didn’t get good until he ended up with the Nets. Collin Sexton wasn’t picked until after James had played his last game in a Cavs uniform.
Only Osman is still with the team and he barely mattered when James was still in Cleveland. Christmas and Pointer never actually played for the Cavs. Felder now plays in the G-League for Raptors 905.
Coincidentally, trading Korver on Monday to the Jazz for Alec Burks (on an expiring contract) and two second-round picks is the start of the Cavs restocking their assets. In getting the two second-round picks, Cleveland now has second-round picks in the 2020 draft and the 2021 draft that it didn’t have before, depending on the outcome of the Hawks deal. The 2021 pick, which comes via the Wizards, is likely the more attractive pick of the pair due to Washington’s looming implosion and the likelihood that the picks falls in the upper half of the second round. Remember: Osman was a top of the second-round pick. So were players like Draymond Green, Malcolm Brogdon and Montrezl Harrell.
The Cavs still have more trades to make too and this deal should set the template for what kind of deals Koby Altman will seek out. Burks could be flipped again — although the team has to wait 60 days before being able to aggregate his salary — and used to acquire assets from a team that wants to clear space for text summer. Players like George Hill (who only has a $1 million guarantee for next year) and J.R. Smith (who only has a $3.87 million guarantee) could be used for the same purpose. The Cavs aren’t going to be using cap space to sign significant players any time soon, so why not use it eat other team’s bad salaries and collect assets?
This process is not likely to net the Cavs any premium assets considering how tight some teams are holding onto their first-round picks at the moment. But maybe they can nab lottery-protected ones that they’ll nab if the team they are dealing with makes the playoffs. But even nabbing extra second-round picks would be good; this Cavs team does not yet have any sure fire young pieces. Having more chances at finding them and developing them requires picks. And the more the Cavs can get, the better. Extra picks on hand would allow Altman to use them in a trade too, if the right one presented itself.
This is what a post-LeBron rebuild looks like. This process, in truth, started when they got the Nets pick in the Kyrie Irving trade and held onto last year instead of flipping it for someone that could have helped this year. Trading the vets they acquired to help LeBron for chances at finding players that will help them post-LeBron is the logical, and only, step for the Cavs to take.