The Cleveland Cavaliers continue to find ways to win despite injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, and now they can look toward finding upgrades for the playoff push. Those upgrades appear to be centered on the wing rotation and finding players who can defend and shoot on the perimeter.
NBA insider Marc Stein, via his Substack, reports that Brooklyn Nets guard Royce O’Neale and Atlanta Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter are on the Cavs’ list of potential trade targets ahead of the February deadline. Stein says that Cleveland is searching for a 3-and-D upgrade ahead of the playoffs.
The Cavs were linked to O’Neale dating back to last season, in no small part because he is very good friends with Donovan Mitchell dating back to their time together in Utah. The 30-year-old O’Neale presents as exactly what Cleveland is looking for as well, shooting 37% on three-point attempts this season while being a mostly plus defender. The cost of acquiring O’Neale has fluctuated, but the Nets initially acquired him for a first-round pick. Cleveland will likely not have to pay that price, but O’Neale has an expiring contract and is making $9.5 million this season. The Cavs have pieces to help match salary in a trade, making O’Neale a realistic option.
Hunter, however, is a more difficult player to acquire. He has three years and $70 million remaining on his contract after this season, a number that requires the Cavs to jump through some financial hoops to make work. Hunter is a younger and better player who fits the timeline of the Cavs a little better, but he has a history of injuries and Atlanta will certainly require additional assets in a trade.
Hunter, the number four overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, is averaging 14.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game on 46% shooting. The idea of Hunter has always been better than the on-court version, but perhaps a change of scenery will help unlock things. The Hawks are looking to shed salary, and quickly, so perhaps a three-team trade could help facilitate things.
The Cavs should be looking for upgrades, especially with how well the team has played without Garland and Mobley. While they should not make a trade for the sake of making a trade, if there is an opportunity to improve around the margins in preparation for Garland and Mobley’s returns, the Cavs should explore it. O’Neale makes a lot more sense for Cleveland as his salary number is easier to swallow, he profiles as a plug-and-play wing who fits what they need, and it would certainly appease Mitchell. Hunter is a better player pound-for-pound, but the Hawks will require more in return and his hefty contract makes it difficult to fit into the salary cap without giving up a significant rotation player (like, say, Caris LeVert).
Certainly, there will be more trade rumors, but O’Neale, or even his teammate Dorian Finney-Smith, should be on the Cavs’ radar as the trade deadline comes closer.