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Can the Cleveland Cavaliers get better?

This Cavs team isn’t winning the Finals (or maybe even making them) but are there moves out there to fix the roster?

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

You guys, what the hell should LeBron do? (He should trade himself.)

His team sucks, to an almost ridiculous degree, defense-wise. NO ONE ANYWHERE thinks that the current Cavs team can beat the Warriors in the Finals (“...if they even make it!” says every super-really clever NBA know-it-all, LIKE YOURS TRULY). Who would LeBron trade for? Who would he trade away? How bad are things right now? How close are the Cavs to actually competing with the Golden Horde out West? We have questions for the King.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have a bad defense right now. To put their defense into perspective, their defensive rating this season is second worst in the NBA (Sad Sacramento, home of the ridiculous Vivek Ranadive and “Steph Curry 2.0”, AKA Buddy Hield, is worst, obviously). Last season their defense was in the bottom ten; in 2015-16, the year the Cavs won the title, their defensive rating was in the TOP ten; and, in 2014-15, the year LeBron returned to Cleveland, the Cavs’ defense was 20th overall.

So, the one season when the Cavs had a good defense is the same season that they won the Finals. Huh. Do you think those two things are connected?

During that same span, 2014-15 to now, the Golden State Warriors have had the best defensive rating (‘14-’15), the fourth best (‘15-’16), the second best (‘16-’17), and currently have the fifth best in the NBA (Boston is #1 so far this season).

They say that defense wins championships, but it’s the stars that get you there. Many of Cleveland’s stars are old and/or injured: The top two minutes played are by LeBron, 33, and JR Smith, 32; Dwyane Wade, who may actually not be playing enough, is 36, as is Kyle Korver; Jeff Green is 31; Derrick Rose would have a Darth Vader body, due to all of his injuries and mysterious absences (Force Tree Alert!) if we lived in the Star Wars universe, so who cares how old he is; and, Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love, both of whom are 29, are not known for their fleetness of foot nor their derring-do defense. NONE of Golden State’s stars are old—Steph, Klay, KD, and Dray are all younger than 30 years old—unless you count Andre Iguodala. And, fine, sure, let’s count him: so, he and Shaun Livingston, neither of whom start for the Warriors, are both older than 30. GAME! CHANGER! Regardless, the Warriors’ stars are younger and better than the Cavs’. And, the Cavs were only able to beat the Warriors two years ago because the Cavaliers had an above average defense (and, Dray was foolish and missed a game due to completely unnecessary technical fouls). And, oh yeah, Kevin Durant wasn’t there. Now he is. (I wonder if that changed anything?)

Can Cleveland regain some of their defense via trade? Kemba Walker is available, and he’d be an upgrade over I.T. To be honest, he’d be viewed as a revelation. No hate to I.T., but Cleveland doesn’t owe him anything. If they can trade him for a better player, they absolutely should do that. (If I were Golden State, I’d try to get my hands on Isaiah just for this season. Let him get a ring and be able to tell Boston and Cleveland to kiss his ass, then sign for a bunch of money elsewhere.) DeAndre Jordan is a better defender than Kevin Love, but the Cavs would miss Love’s offense if they traded him or sent him to the bench, so the optimal outcome would be DJ, KLove and LBJ all sharing the frontcourt (this would also solve some of Cleveland’s rebounding woes). Milos Teodosic is a credible defender, AND he’s “older” (30), ANDAND! his salary isn’t expensive; could you grab him with DJ in a trade with the Clippers? Great Caesar’s Ghost, could you grab both of them AND Lou Williams?

Let’s say you could actually do that, and you ended up sending I.T., Tristan Thompson, filler, and draft picks. (If the Clippers signed Isaiah in the offseason, then their six man rotation next season would be I.T., Pat Beverly, Austin Haunted Rivers, Danilo Cincinnatus Gallinari, Blake, and Tristan Thompson. You guys, that’s not bad! AND, you’d get the Nets pick?) The Cavs’ playoff roster would look like this:

PG - Teodosic/Calderon (lol, Cosmopolitan Cleveland)

SG - Lou Williams/Dwayne Wade/Iman Shumpert

SF - LeBron/JR Smith/Kyle Korver

PF - KLove/Jae Crowder/Jeff Green

C - DJ/Zizic/Frye/Whoever’s left really

And, if DRose is finished learning the secret history of the Whills, then maybe he’ll be ready to muster up some midichlorians and actually play some orange-in-the-bucket.

Is that roster good enough to hang with Golden State? Probably not.

Hey, y’all, quick question: Is there a roster that’s good enough to hang with Golden State? Would Chris Paul, Harden, LeBron, Paul George, and X (whoever is Iggy’s analog in the Warriors’ Death Lineup, which remains the coolest nickname for a basketball unit since the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys, by the way) be good enough to defeat Curry, Klay, KD and Dray?

If your answer is emphatically HELL YEAH, then may I ask you why? Because, in my thinking, Steph is better than the Point God; Klay can guard Harden as well as anyone can, but Harden CANNOT defend Klay; Draymond can guard whoever you want him to, and ditto Durant; LeBron isn’t better at outside shooting than, well, any of the Warriors, really, even though Dray’s having a down year versus his career 3 point percentage; and, Paul George can’t defend all five Warriors at once. I publicly proclaim that I still think the Warriors would defeat that team. IF you added Boogie or the Brow (or, mmmmmmaybe Al Horford), then we could talk about Golden State losing.

Unless you bend the rules and cheat to the maximo, I don’t think there’s any realistic lineup that can defeat the Warriors at full strength and tip top form.

But, honestly, man, Golden State is something we’ll probably never see again. They have four Hall of Famers in their primes, and they all fit together well. Two MVPs, in their primes. Two, maybe three, all time defenders, in their primes. Three of the greatest shooters of all time, in their primes. The BEST shooter of all time, in his prime. One of the best scorers of all time, in his prime (and, KD will possibly be the tallest player on the court for a lot of the Finals). This isn’t the Showtime Lakers combined with the Larry Legend Celtics; This is MJ’s Bulls mixed with Garnett’s Celtics. The Warriors are absolutely, positively terrifying.

All of this is to say that LeBron should force a trade, of himself, to New Orleans. The only way to defeat small ball is by going Power Tower: everyone taller than the Warriors, everyone can shoot, and everyone with an enormous chip on their shoulder.

But, whatever. Hey, did I mention that LeBron averages 7 more minutes played than the next player on Cleveland? Yeah, LeBron averages 36.9 minutes per game this season, which is tied for third most out of the entire NBA (LBJ is 33 years old). JR Smith averages 29.8 mpg, and KLove, the Cavs’ second best player, averages 28.4.


The Cavs are going to end up with one championship out of all their time with LeBron. That’s nothing to scoff at, a championship is a championship. But, this is all so very depressing. It’s like Mike Trout and the Angels: they literally just wasted years of his career because of ownership’s ineptitude (I blame front offices on ownership, as should everyone).

LeBron shouldn’t stay. He should go to the Wizards, or to the Knicks, or to, gasp, Toronto, or Philly, or San Antonio, or Houston. Go to a team that knows what they’re doing, and doesn’t demand that their best player drag them to the playoffs. Go to a team that doesn’t fire their coach and GM every single year. Go to a team that can actually attempt a legitimate defense against, perhaps, the best collection of offensive talent in history.

But, since LBJ is going to stay, let me just say this: LeBron is still the best player alive. He’s shooting 55%, which would be his third best field goal percentage of his entire career. Out of all players who average at least 20 minutes and at least 10 field goal attempts per game, LeBron’s 55 FG% is third best. He is the only non-center or 7-footer in the top 8. LeBron is blamed for personnel woes because it’s “hard to play with him.” He sucks up all the air in the room, it’s all about him, players improve once they leave for another team, etc., etc. The critics and haters accuse the King of being a black hole. But, it’s exactly the opposite. He’s the Big Bang. He is the spark that makes everything else possible. He contains infinities within himself, and if he wins the Finals this year, he will be a universe unto himself. NO ONE has done what he’s done. The only reason, THE ONLY GODDAMN REASON, that the Cavs have any kind of chance, have any hope whatsoever, is because the King has delivered before. All looked lost two years ago, and then, LeBron exploded, played some of the best playoff games in history, got a little bit lucky, and BAM: Creation itself. Cleveland Cavaliers, Champions of the Whole World. They weren’t supposed to win that Finals, either. They’ve never been favored against the Warriors. Why would they be? The Death Lineup is ultimate. But, Life Finds A Way…

LeBron doesn’t need our belief, anyway. He’s been here more than anyone, and he’s failed more than he’s won. He know exactly what he needs to do. He doesn’t treat regular season losses lightly, but he’s intent on the Finals. As always, they are his only goal, and anything aside from a championship is an undeniable failure in his vocabulary.

So, what will LeBron do? What trades will the Cavs make, if any? Will they start to practice more, so they can hone their defensive instincts? Will they chill and play .500 ball for the rest of the season, because they know, THEY KNOW, that they can make the Eastern Conference Finals? Will Wade at some point pull rank and insist the entire team behave like Miami? CAN the Cavs play defense like the Heat did a half decade ago?

If the Cavs and Warriors make the Finals, then this will be the King versus the Golden Horde, Round IV. I dearly hope Cleveland wins, as nothing would be cooler than a possible Round V.

We have questions for the King. Does he have answers?