Whatever happens with LeBron James’ pending contract situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be adding another star to the team, whether it’s an established pro or a new draft pick with their selection obtained from the Kyrie Irving trade. There are plenty of options for the Cavs in the draft who can both contribute immediately and lead a team in the future.
But the better move for Cleveland may be to trade the pick, depending on who is available for trade and where the pick ends up. There are a number of stars today who are more valuable for the Cavs (mostly LeBron’s) chase for championships than a lottery pick.
Names such as Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard have been thrown around, but while those players would certainly give the Cavs a massive boost against the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs and Pelicans respectively should have no interest in trading their young superstars, nor is there any indication that those players are on the trade block.
Regardless, because of Davis and Leonard’s standing, it would take much more than just a top-five or ten pick to get them. Most likely, Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, and a future first-round pick would have to be included, and even that package may not be enough.
While adding a rookie like DeAndre Ayton or Michael Porter Jr. would instantly make the Cavs a better team, LeBron James will turn 34 years old next season and may prefer to have another NBA star to play with, rather than teaching a 19-year-old rookie the ropes. So general manager Koby Altman needs to be doing his research on possible targets, and one of the best options may have just beaten the Cavs on March 15th.
Before the Cavs fell to the Portland Trailblazers 105-113, LeBron James sang the praises of point guard Damian Lillard, who ended up scoring 24 points that night. Although the Cavs have added Jordan Clarkson and George Hill, they still lack a point guard that opposing teams have to specifically gameplan to slow down, like they did when Kyrie Irving was still with the team.
The Cavs’ three-headed monster of James, Irving, and Kevin Love forced defenses to pick their poison, as it was impossible to stop any one player, as all three are excellent in both isolation and transition. But now, the Cavs have a bunch of solid role players and James, as Love is currently out with a hand injury. Cleveland needs another star ball-handler, and Lillard may be the perfect player.
Ever since Lillard and Irving were drafted, fans and pundits alike have debated over which guard is the better player. Both are among the NBA’s best, and adding Lillard to the Cavs would be a revelation. This season, Lillard is averaging 26.8 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and one steal per game, while playing 36.5 minutes per night, and shooting 91% from the free-throw line, 45% on field goals, and 38% from three-point range.
Moreover, he isn’t the sole scorer on his team; C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic combine for an average of 36 points per game. Lillard’s numbers are elite, and if teams also had to key in on LeBron James and Kevin Love, his efficiency could increase. He will also voluntarily take up a role that gave Kyrie Irving career-high numbers.
But would the Trailblazers even entertain the notion of parting with Lillard? He will turn 28 in July, and is under contract through the 2020-2021 season, in which he will make over $31 million dollars. Portland also has Lillard’s back-court mate, McCollum, locked up long-term. They currently sit at 42-26, and possess the third seed in the stacked Western Conference. They would have to be absolutely in love with one of these upcoming draft prospects in order to trade their superstar.
There is a precedent for the Cavs trading a top pick for an established star. Back in 2014, Cleveland selected Andrew Wiggins first overall, and then promptly traded him along with 2013 top pick Anthony Bennett to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love. Love was 25 at the time, and playing on the last year of his contract. After the season, he re-signed with Cleveland. Technically, having a handshake agreement where a player would re-sign with his new team after being traded is against the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, but it’s highly unlikely that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert would have traded away his future for a one-year rental.
So it took two first overall picks(albeit one was already labeled as a gigantic bust) to acquire one All-Star on an expiring contract.
The Brooklyn Nets’ pick that Cleveland owns would almost certainly have to fall in the top five for Portland to consider the deal, and they would have to be extremely concerned about their future salary cap situation; shedding nearly $30 million in salary each year for the next three seasons is a big deal. The Cavs could sweeten the deal with future picks or some of their younger players, but with the Trailblazers already contenders, why would they accept?
A lineup of Lillard, Rodney Hood, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Larry Nance Jr. looks very good on paper, and depending on which bench players the Cavs are able to retain and add this offseason, they could have their best shot at beating Golden State so far.
It’s unlikely that Damian Lillard is a Cavalier next season, but if by some miracle he is, LeBron James would be a very happy camper.