Hours before Thursday’s trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers finalized their fourth and final trade of the 2018-2019 season, orchestrating a three-team deal that also included the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets.
The Cavs are stocking up on future draft picks as they continue to limp towards a high lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. George Hill, Kyle Korver, and Rodney Hood were all moved leading up to the deadline in order to acquire draft picks, and then Alec Burks was the last veteran to go. Cleveland’s front office is doing a fine job of implementing their own version of “The Process.”
Here’s a closer look at the Cavs’ deadline deal and what it means for this season and the future:
SAC receives: SG Alec Burks, 2020 second-round pick (HOU)
HOU receives: PG Wade Baldwin IV, SG Nik Stauskas, SG Iman Shumpert, 2021 second-round pick (CLE via MIL)
CLE receives: PG Brandon Knight, PF Marquese Chriss, 2019 first-round pick (HOU), 2022 second-round pick (HOU)
Both the Kings and Rockets made out fairly well. Sacramento got a solid role player to help with its playoff push, and the Rockets replaced two benchwarmers with an excellent perimeter defender. However, the Cavs certainly won this trade.
From the moment Burks arrived in Cleveland, it was clear he was eventually going to be dealt. At 27 years old and in the final year of his contract, he didn’t fit the Cavs’ contention timeline. Futhermore, he played the second-most minutes of his career while a member of the team, showing that he was worthy of a much larger role than his old team, the Utah Jazz, had given him. Burks’ shooting, slashing, passing, and defense made him an attractive target to contending teams, especially because his $11.3 million expiring salary would open up cap space in the offseason.
Baldwin and Stauskas were acquired along with two second-round picks from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Rodney Hood. Neither player stepped foot onto the court for Cleveland, and they were both waived upon arrival by Houston.
In return, the Cavs received an extra second-rounder, bringing their total to 10 over the next six years. Normally, second-round selections are fairly worthless, as for every Nikola Jokic there are 15 Rakeem Christmas’ out there.
However, the Cavs are stockpiling at the right time, as the NBA will soon begin to allow high school graduates to enter the draft without attending college first. Once this happens, hopefully in the next few years, there will be a massive influx of talent. Usual lottery-level players will be pushed to the end of the first, with those players dropping into the second. Cleveland can use this to its advantage, securing a large amount of young talent at a steep discount.
In addition to their plethora of seconds, the Cavs have also begun to increase their collection of future firsts. The Houston pick is unprotected and currently 21st overall, which would be an excellent complement to the Cavs’ own pick, which currently has a 14.0 percent chance of becoming first overall.
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The two players Cleveland added are interesting in their own ways. Chriss was drafted eighth overall in 2016, but the Phoenix Suns sent him to Houston last offseason. Chriss became dissatisfied with his role, as he was active for only 16 games, playing just 6.5 minutes per night. His team option for next season was declined by the Rockets, so he will be a free agent. He didn’t show much with the Suns, but he had a solid debut for the Cavs and could be a low-cost developmental depth piece moving forward.
Knight is a unique case. He has always been a capable scorer and distributor, but prior to the 2015-2016 season, he signed a five-year, $70 million contract with Phoenix, which ended up being a massive overpay. He has suffered multiple injuries throughout his career, including a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2017-2018 season.
Despite being a good scorer off the bench, he wasn’t able to carve out a role in Houston in part due to his injury issues. With Jordan Clarkson leading the second unit, it may take a bit for Knight to figure out how he fits in Cleveland’s offense. But if his first game with the team is any indication, he’ll be a fine addition.
Knight’s real value is in his contract. No, he isn’t worth the $15.6 million he’ll be paid next season, but that is the final year of his deal, meaning he could be flipped again. The Cavs will look to trade Knight for another bad contract and a draft pick, only to repeat the cycle the next season. Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, J.R. Smith, and Tristan Thompson all have expiring contracts as well and will be trade candidates next season.
It didn’t exactly make the Cavs a better team, but that wasn’t the point of Koby Altman’s latest trade. Instead, Cleveland is now better prepared for future drafts, which is how they will need to build the team. The golden age of the past four years is over, and now the Cavs must take a page out of the Cleveland Browns’ book on how to build a roster.