Prior to Wednesday night’s win, the Cavs seemed to be slowly imploding, marching toward the end of the circle where LeBron leaves for sunnier horizons and Dan Gilbert writes some sort of bat-shit letter in comic sans.
But Cleveland was the most active buyer on the trade market at deadline, shaking things up by getting younger and more athletic, while cleaning out some problematic failed experiments. Adding Rodney Hood and George Hill will provide shooting sparks and length on defense, while fellow additions Larry Nance, Jr. and Jordan Clarkson will bring bench energy and upside.
But, maybe more importantly, it’s about what they held onto. Instead of making any sort of desperation trade, they kept their most valuable assets. The Brooklyn pick, Cedi Osman and some key veterans all stayed put, while Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade were all shipped out. Some of those were a tough pill to swallow — Crowder’s playoff upside, having to give up on Thomas so early, Wade’s ability to lead the second unit — but ultimately, they got better without scorching all of their future options. They made calculated moves that left them with post-playoffs flexibility. It’s doubtful that any player or pick not named LeBron James was untouchable, but things didn’t align to where it made sense to go all in. Here are the key assets they kept and why that matters.
The Brooklyn Pick
Retaining one of the three greatest basketball players of all time is obviously an important thing to consider, and adding star power that moves the needle closer to a championship helps, but with no true stars seemingly available, it was smart to pocket the pick. DeAndre Jordan, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season and is 29 years old, isn’t worth the value. Paul George was obviously going to stay put, since the Thunder have been clicking for a bit now — looking like a team no one wants to see in the playoffs. Boogie Cousins suffered a freak injury, although he probably wouldn’t have been on the market either.
And, if a player of that caliber wasn’t obtainable, waiting is smart. Leverage and timing is everything, and neither of those things have been on the Cavs’ side recently. Maybe that will change in the offseason. Brooklyn is 2-8 in their last 10 games, and what started out as a relatively competent season for them, seems to be sliding downhill. With a talented lottery, which features high-scoring guards, two-way wings and skilled bigs, giving away what could easily be a top five pick for 50 cents on the dollar isn’t smart.
Cult Twitter icon Cedi Osman is full of potential, but with inconsistent minutes that generally fall into garbage time, it’s been tough to determine whether or not he is a player who can contribute to a championship-level team in the near future. Wednesday night against the Timberwolves showed that he probably can. He might be the second best on-ball defender that the Cavs have right now, which seem like hyperbole, but his work against Jimmy Butler was impressive, and it was an integral part of the close win. At 6’8”, with quick feet, he can switch multiple positions, and he showed pick n roll defending prowess that stifled some of the Wolves best scorers.
I’d imagine it wasn’t an accident that Osman found himself in clutch situations last night, since other teams were most likely asking about his availability. His offensive ceiling is still cloudy — he cuts off the ball well, and he has confidence in a three-point shot that started to work overseas, but it’s doubtful that he’ll ever be an iso ball-handler or an elite passer. But, on this team, if he hits his open jump shots and can be a plus defender, he might become what the Cavs thought Shumpert was.
It’s doubtful that another team was calling about Smith, as he’s been been stuck in a down season, and, at his age, with his skill set, he’s really only valuable to a contender, but throwing him into deals as a filler to make the money work would have been a mistake. When he’s locked in, he’s been the Cavs most consistent three-and-d player. And, although he’s been far from dialed in on a continual basis this season, he’s currently shooting 36.1 percent from deep for the year, as well as an even 40 percent over the last 10 games from behind the arc. This shake-up might be good for him, plus if George Hill or Rodney Hood get injured, not having Smith would leave the team pretty thin at guard.
Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green all stayed put, and while that might not seem like a flashing beacon of hope for another title, each has a certain skill set that adds versatility to the roster. And that matters down the stretch.