It’s still unclear just how interested the Cleveland Cavaliers are in trading Jarrett Allen. What’s definitely certain, though, is that Koby Altman and company would have an easier time moving the towering seven-footer for positive value if there weren’t so many other similar players available on the trade market—and the modern game wasn’t so starkly veering away from one-dimensional centers.
The possibility of Cleveland dealing Allen was broached on the latest episode of The Hoop Collective, as ESPN’s NBA insiders acknowledged the inevitable challenge teams face when trying to build “winning” trade packages around a quality, but not elite, five-man.
“If you say they need to move away from the two-big lineup, part of the issue Cleveland has and a lot of these teams with talented centers have is there are so many centers in the league right now. If you have a guy like Jarrett Allen, who is really good, and you want to turn him into something else, it is very hard to get even value for him,” ESPN’s Tim Bontemps said. “Which is where it comes back to if you are the Cavs, you really need Evan Mobley to take this step forward so you don’t have to do that and then sacrifice and get 60-70% of the talent level of Jarrett Allen to balance out your roster.”
Even before the Cavs acquired Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland’s most realistic championship ceiling involved Mobley transitioning to center full-time. Two-big lineups only thrive at basketball’s highest postseason levels when that tandem combines for legitimate three-point shooting, dynamic playmaking and multi-position switchability.
Still, frontcourts like Serge Ibaka-Marc Gasol with the 2019 Toronto Raptors and Anthony Davis-Dwight Howard with the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers only were part of championship teams because they were supplemented by historic, do-everything wings like Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. Both of those squads routinely downsized with only one center on the floor, too, replacing the other with big, versatile wings.
Skilled as Mobley is for a seven-footer, his developing ball skills still lag far behind those of most forwards and might not ever catch all the way up. Allen, meanwhile, is truly a traditional center, unable to score outside eight feet and at his best defensively stationed in the paint—the type of starting center who regularly gets played off the floor in the playoffs.
Quenton Albertie ·
Complicating a potential Allen trade further is Cleveland’s backcourt partnership of Mitchell and Darius Garland. Netting a small guard of roughly similar overall caliber in return for Allen wouldn’t be impossible for the Cavaliers, but also wouldn’t address their biggest need while only making their perimeter rotation more crowded.
What Cleveland really wants in an Allen trade is a top-tier 3-and-D wing, only the most valuable non-star player archetype in basketball. But Allen isn’t nearly enough as the centerpiece of a trade for O.G. Anunoby, for example, and the Toronto Raptors just inked Jakob Poeltl to a four-year, $80 million contract, locking him down to start at the five.
An Allen trade could very well come to pass. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, though, the deflated value of throwback starting centers basically ensures such a deal wouldn’t result in the type of team-wide upgrade needed for them to vault toward first-rate title contention.