The Brooklyn Nets were decimated while few clubs in the West drastically improved as the NBA witnessed a frenzy of movements throughout the league before Thursday’s trade deadline. The Cleveland Cavaliers, on the other hand, were unable to find the kind of deal that they believed would considerably boost their position in the Eastern Conference. As a result, they decided to stay put and keep what they already had. It was strange since this front office is known for being busy at this time of year. They instead chose to forego any deals. Here we look at the biggest mistake that the Cavs may have committed at the 2023 NBA trade deadline.
The Cavs’ front office chose to roll the dice on their current roster construction. That’s despite having injury issues this season. In fact, their lineup has only allowed the team to play at full strength for a few weeks at most. This sentiment was, of course, partially driven by their tremendous off-season acquisition of Donovan Mitchell.
Despite these challenges, the Cavs have a 35-22 record. That is the fifth-best record in the NBA and fourth-best in the Eastern Conference as of this writing. The front office, led by Koby Altman, was certainly reluctant to make any changes that could interrupt the team’s progress. Again, this is a top-five team this season with the second-youngest starting lineup in the league (average age of 23.2 years).
The Cavs had several players they maybe could have moved. The most notable ones were Caris LeVert and Cedi Osman. There were also Isaac Okoro and Kevin Love. When the dust settled, though, all were still on the Cavs’ roster.
That said, let us look at the biggest mistake that the Cavs made at the trade deadline.
Cavs 2023 NBA trade deadline mistake: Staying idle
Thursday’s hectic NBA trade deadline had an unusual result — Cleveland chose not to make any deal. Keep in mind that Koby Altman has made 14 in-season moves since becoming the franchise’s architect. This time around, he decided to stand pat despite so much feverish activity swirling around him. Remember that 28 of the 30 clubs executed at least one transaction on or before the deadline. Only the Cavs and Chicago Bulls were the exceptions.
“We just didn’t feel like anything was going to really move the needle for us,” Altman said. “Scoured the market and talked to every team I could. We could have made a move that was lateral, multiple moves that were lateral, that I didn’t think appreciably made us better. I really wanted to see what this group looked like together, fully healthy.”
In years past, the Cavs were known for their aggressiveness at the deadline. This season, they were looking for another shooter to add depth and versatility to the team. They spent the past few months exploring options and assessing the value of their assets. These included the aforementioned LeVert, Love, Osman, Okoro, and even Dylan Windler.
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However, the front office was extra careful this year. According to cleveland.com, the Cavs had a list of preferred targets, including Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith, Cam Johnson, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Grant Williams, Bojan Bogdanovic, and others. But these players remained with their teams as the Cavs’ assets were not enough to acquire them. Remember that the Cavs were limited in their ability to offer a first-round pick because they had spent so much draft capital on bringing Mitchell over.
During this week, the Cavs reportedly considered all potential trade targets in relation to LeVert. Take note that he has been a key player in their rotation. Apparently, they believe that LeVert is still a better option than anyone they could have acquired through trade.
Looking back, LeVert was central to any potential significant roster upgrades the Cavs might have made. His salary made also him an attractive option for trade partners. Still, nobody bit.
As a free agent at the end of the season, the Cavs hope to re-sign LeVert on a multi-year contract. By retaining his Bird rights, the Cavs have put themselves in a position where they must come to a new agreement with him this summer. The only questions are about the length of the contract and the annual salary. Note that the Cavs are projected to be an over-the-cap team. With limited resources, they would not be able to replace LeVert even if they renounced the rights of Love and waived Osman.
Speaking of Osman, we really expected the Cavs to move him at the deadline. He just has not made much impact on the team this season. We also felt the Cavs could have packaged him and another player for a suitable upgrade at the wing. Maybe someone like Brooklyn’s Royce O’Neale?
Both LeVert and Osamn are staying put, though. That might not be the worst thing in the world. However, it surely doesn’t improve Cleveland’s chances of postseason success. From that perspective, this was the Cavs’ only misstep of the trade deadline.
Having said that, we must recognize that the Cavs are in a different situation now than in years past. They are not in the midst of rebuilding or stockpiling future draft picks anymore. Instead, they really like the current roster. It’s a collection of young and talented contenders with a window of contention that is just starting to open.