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9 trades the Cavaliers can make at the deadline to save their season

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I’m here to help, Cleveland.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

The NBA trade deadline is this Thursday and aside from the Boban Marjanovic trade (which included Blake Griffin), the league has been quiet.

Fans, however, encouraged by the media, have been anxious AF. OMFG, the CAAAAAVS!

I’ve never seen a third seed incite so much angst! Cleveland has the 7th best winning percentage in the NBA and they have as many wins as the OKC Thunder. (Is the national media freaking out about who will replace Andre Roberson? Not really.) The Cavaliers have the 5th best offense in the NBA. Yes, their defense is atrocious, possibly the worst of LBJ’s entire career. However, they ARE capable of playing better defense: In November the Cavs had a 107.2 defensive rating, which was good for 22nd overall rather than dead last. Just improving by a few buckets per game, getting just a few stops, would change the impression of the Cavs substantially. We wouldn’t think of them as fatally flawed, they’d just be a regular bad-at-defense-but-elite-offense kinda team, which is something we see in the playoffs every season. And, this is totally possible! For instance, Denver has a 107.2 defensive rating on the year. C’mon, Cleveland can field a better defense than Denver. But, because of injuries and foolishness, they’ve not.

Granted, this is LeBron, so the drama is always going to be dialed up to 11 with his team. But, the Cavs do have serious problems. They’ve won 58% of their games and if they continued likewise, their season would end at 47-35. A .588 winning percentage would be LeBron’s lowest since 2007-08, before he left Ohio for Florida. That year the Cavs finished in fourth place and lost in the second round to that year’s champion, the Big Three Celtics (wait...a super team existed before Golden State?! Whaaaaaa?!?!?! Do the pundits know this??) with Truth, Ray, and Garnett. If Cleveland doesn’t go on a run and improve their win-loss record, then LeBron will be entering the playoffs with his weakest team in a decade. This is, how you say, suboptimal.

But, man, Iman Shumpert hasn’t played, y’know? Shump is never a guy you think about, but there’s a reason he’s been kept in Cleveland, and it’s because of his defense. He’s Cleveland’s (second, LBJ is always first at everything) 3-and-D guy when healthy. He’s the elite-ish perimeter wing who can defend whichever guy LeBron doesn’t want to, and make a three from time to time (he’s never been a good shooter, but he’s under 30% on threes, and 40% from the field overall, this season; those ratios won’t work no matter what team you’re on). Shump’s been an integral part of the Cavs’ playoff rotation, he’s only 27, and he’s only making $11 million next year; he’s not the best offensive player, but he’s still a valuable asset, and I don’t really know why people don’t talk about him more. Oh, wait, sure I do, the Cavs front office and coaching staff have basically hidden him from the world ever since he returned from injury. Like, I’ve heard of taking it easy with a guy back from rehab, but if you’re going to trade him, then don’t you want to show that he can still play? And, if you’re going to keep him, then don’t you want him to start playing some of the rust off? LBJ’s still playing mucho minutes, you can’t spell him for a while and put Shump in there while I.T. runs the second unit? Whatever, ugh, I hate the Cavs.

Regardless, Shump returning to Cleveland’s starting five is possibly the best addition to their rotation that’s available, when considering the trades that are out there. A healthy Shump would improve the Cavs’ overall defense (he’s been their best non-LeBron defender since arriving from the Knicks), and would allow Ty Lue, who is not good at coaching, to play main rotations of I.T., Shump, JR Smith, LeBron, and Tristan. Weird, that seems awfully familiar to their playoff lineup from the year they won the title. Jae Crowder shouldn’t be a starter anymore, and I’d consider starting Wade some. I.T. needs time to get his shot right, unless Cleveland trades him, so I don’t think benching him makes sense. And, you can’t depend on Love because of his broken hand/heart. “An Injured Love” is the perfect physical metaphor for this Cavs season, as well as the name of my next romance novel.

The country demands a trade, though. You can feel it. The fans want to see LeBron go at the Warriors one more time. They want to see the King take another legit shot at glory. The media sometimes forgets that fans enjoy watching superstars play each other. Am I really supposed to hope for a Celtics vs Rockets NBA Finals? Eff that with a cactus, neither of those teams has proven anything yet. (On the other hand, I do want a Raptors-Thunders Finals, but only because then I’d get to watch it by myself, since no one else in the world would care.)

The Cavs have two first round picks, their own and the Brooklyn Nets’. If you think that you can supply LeBron James with an actual upgrade, an IRL power boost, by using those assets, then I think you should do that. If you can get Kemba Walker, you should do it, no? Who cares what tomorrow looks like if you can be a champion today? If you can get CJ McCollum, get CJ McCollum. If you can get Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, or Lou Williams, or hell, JJ Redick, you should do that. Don’t trade your picks for garbage, obviously, but if you can get a good player, then you should tell manana to kiss your ass.

NBA intelligentsia think most teams should tank, because they view it through the lens of construction: If your house is poorly built, then it’s better to tear it down and build a new one, than it is to try and improve the old one piecemeal. If you think that LeBron will leave and you have one more chance to try and win big, then you should throw caution to the wind and spend everything you have to try and achieve victory. YOU’RE GOING TO BE DREADFUL WHEN THE KING LEAVES NO MATTER WHAT. Why not be spectacularly dreadful? Trade both picks, trade Kevin Love, and get a good player back who can give LeBron one more shot. Afterwards, enjoy memories of your beautiful garden while the world burns and your team stinks for a decade. That’s okay! That’s normal! Just look at what the Nets are doing: They made even worse trades than the Cavs have, and now they’re a fun, young team that the fans enjoy rooting for, and growing with. Besides, if the Cavs hadn’t drafted Anthony Bennett, then none of this would be happening, anyway, so why care about good draft picks? Odds are that Cleveland’s front office will make a bad pick, and thus ruin the assets, anyway.

I’m not saying to burn it all down, but I am saying to jump off that cliff and see if you can fly. If you can, great! It was worth it! If you can’t, then...well...you just go back to being regular, old Cleveland, don’t you?

There’s no reason to keep your powder dry when the war’s already over. Shoot your shot, Cleveland, and try to write your name in the sky a second time. If you’re going to lose LeBron, anyway, then you really have nothing left to lose, y’know?

So, in the spirit of helping Cleveland, which totally feels weird to write since Go Pistons Forever (we all need more Blaha), let’s do some fake trades!

LeBron & Kawhi

Cleveland sends: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
San Antonio sends: Patty Mills, Danny Green, and Rudy Gay

This is my favorite possible trade. This is a straight up LeBron tells the vile Dan Gilbert that he ain’t coming back, but he’ll accept a trade to a contender this year. San Antonio sends expiring contracts for LBJ and Wade, and they team up with Kawhi and LaMarcus and Pop to try and take down the Warriors from within (the Western conference). I don’t even really know if picks are needed for this since it saves Cleveland from financial destruction, and reinvigorates the Spurs as a franchise destination (which is apparently troubling Kawhi). This trade won’t happen, but there’s a logic to it that seems adamantine, but only if you knew LeBron was leaving and would accept a trade. LeBron and Kawhi together makes a kind of beautiful basketball sense.

Clipper KLove

Cleveland sends: Kevin Love and their 1st round pick
Clippers send: Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, and Wesley Johnson

This gets you (playoff) defense with Avery, scoring with Lou, and versatility with Wesley. You’d have to do some shenanigans in order to trade Avery because he’s already been traded, but you’d basically just have to do two separate trades, and send Avery by himself for whatever. I’m not a huge believer in DeAndre Jordan’s utility against the Warriors in a playoff series; I’d still rather have proven Tristan Thompson, hopefully at full health. LA gets a star to pair with Austin Rivers (heh heh heh), DJ, Cincinnatus Gallinari, and Tobias Harris (and, Patrick Beverly, maybe). Pat Bev, Haunted Rivers, Toby, Love, and DJ is NOT a bad team, at all. Plus, you pick up another draft pick.

Dallas takes I.T.

Cleveland sends: Isaiah Thomas and their 1st round pick
Mavericks send: JJ Barea and Nerlens Noel (and, Dirk, if he wants to)

This may seem blah, but salary dumps are common place, and sometimes make a lot of sense. Dallas doesn’t need Barea, and they apparently don’t like Noel, so why not exchange them for a pick and more salary cap room? This is a boring trade, but Cleveland gets improved point guard play and rim protection, cheaply. I’d anticipate a little trade like this, more than a big, league-altering one like the Blake Griffin trade.

Utah trades for a star

Cleveland sends: Kevin Love, I.T., and their 1st round pick
Utah sends: Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, and maybe buy out Joe Johnson if he wants to sign with LeBron

Utah doesn’t need Rubio now that they have Donovan Mitchell, and they should trade Rubio while his value is so high (he’s been playing very well recently, but his shooting never lasts), and finally, at long last, move on from Favors. This brings in a legit star in Kevin Love, a player who makes more sense next to Gobert. It’s tough for Utah to get big time free agents. This could be a good time to pounce on an available one. Plus, you get a pick and salary cap space. Meanwhile, Cleveland improves their defense, if not their shooting. Honestly, though, if I.T. doesn’t regain his form from years past, then Ricky Rubio is ABSOLUTELY a better player than he is.

Let’s go crazy with Charlotte

Cleveland sends: KLove, I.T., Tristan Thompson, Nets pick, and their 1st round pick
Charlotte sends: Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

This feels like moving deck chairs on the Titanic, but it helps Cleveland’s defense big time. Kemba’s closer to what Kyrie was than Isaiah probably will be, and Dwight would instantly be LeBron’s best defensive big man in his career, and Kid Christ can help with perimeter defense, if not perimeter scoring. Still, a rotation of Kemba, Shump/Wade, JR/MKG, LBJ, and Dwight is a damn good (or, should be a damn good) defensive starting unit, and a small ball lineup of Kemba, JR, Korver, LBJ and Channing Frye isn’t terrible, either.

Meanwhile, Charlotte goes into next year with mucho picks, some cap room, and a core of Kevin Love, Nic Batum, and Tristan Thompson with Monk, Lamb, Kaminsky, and Uncle Marv Williams supporting them. That’s a team with fewer logjams than they have right now, and a fair amount of shooting.

I think everyone would rather have Kemba than KLove, but Love’s game gets diminished because of LeBron and Cleveland’s style of play. If Love were given more room and shots, he’d most likely turn back into a 20-10 guy who’s also one of the 20 best players in the game.

Back to Brooklyn

Cleveland sends: Isaiah Thomas and the Cavs pick
Brooklyn sends: Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris (but, really, whomever aside from Jarrett Allen and D’Angelo Russell)

This happens because of the affordability of it all. Both Harris and Dinwiddie are on super cheap deals, and Cleveland should be willing to give up their own pick in order to improve two positions of need.

I Love New York

Cleveland sends: Kevin Love and Isaiah, and their first round pick
Knicks send: Enes Kanter, Courtney Lee, Michael Beasley, and Jarrett Jack

Kanter canNOT play defense, but that’s why you keep Tristan Thompson. Kanter’s scoring and rebounding are for real, though, and Cleveland could use help with boards. Plus, their defense is bad, anyway, right? Kanter’s also young, and although he has, ugh, “beef” with LBJ, get real, they’d get over it real quick if they played on the same team. If you can’t fix your first unit, you can at least strengthen your second, and Jack, Lee and Beasley would improve Cleveland’s backups which are Dwyane Wade, Korver, and...uh...Derrick Rose?

Don’t Forget the Lakers

Cleveland sends: KLove, I.T., and the Nets pick
Lakers send: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jordan Clarkson, and Kyle Kuzma

I have absolutely no idea if the Lakers would make Kuzma available since he’s so beloved in LA already, but everyone’s available, no? For the right price? If Cleveland godfathers LA and says, “Here’s the Nets pick, here’s an expiring contract, and here’s a bona fide star,” then the Lakers would have to consider it, no? That’s the trifecta: a pick, an expiring, and a star. What else could you want? And, no matter how awesome Kuzma has looked, the odds of him having a career as good as Kevin Love are not great (KLove is really, really, really good). With this trade the Cavs get outside shooting, improved point guard play, and perimeter defense. That’s what they’re looking for, isn’t it? Meanwhile, Lonzo, Ingram, and Love form the basis for the new Lakers dynasty. Love goes back to Cali, at last.

Drain the swamp

Cleveland sends: Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, and the Cavs pick
Washington sends: Otto Porter, Jr., Tomas Satoransky

John Wall can’t be traded until this summer because of his extension, so that makes doing a crazy trade with D.C. more difficult, but! This trade gives another legit star to D.C., while getting them away from the Porter contract that they apparently don’t like for some reason. (Dunno why, I love Porter. And, Oubre. Y’know, D.C. drafts pretty well. They don’t get much credit, because Ian Mahinmi and similar, but they identify and develop talent very well. Remember that at next year’s draft.) Meanwhile, Cleveland gets more length, and ball handlers, and turns less-than-primo assets (now that Love is injured) into a solid, young rotation player, and a bigass, young PG/SF who was the best dunker in Europe a few years ago.

There are many more trades out there the Cavs could make. Orlando wants to sell, Atlanta wants to sell, Sacramento, Phoenix (Tyson Chandler is probably cheap to acquire), Memphis… There are a TON of bad to mediocre teams looking to trade for assets, even the Cavs pick. A trade shouldn’t be out of reach for Cleveland. But, again, it’s important to remember that A) there might not be a trade that helps the Cavs more than regaining the health and rhythm of I.T. and Shump, and B) there might not be a trade, any trade, that could give you enough firepower to defeat Golden State. A team of Chris Paul, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis would defeat a fully healthy Warriors team, yes or no? Steph vs CP3, Klay vs PG13, Iggy vs Kawhi, KD vs LBJ, and Dray vs Brow: who ya got?