Two more days, Cavs Nation.
Just as the Dallas Mavericks had when they made a blockbuster trade for guard Kyrie Irving, teams across the league may form entirely new lineups and superstar pairings as the long-awaited 2023 NBA trade deadline approaches.
If Cleveland wants to make a trade by the deadline, it must make it count.
If they haven’t already, the Cavs will soon enter one of the more critical points in their quest for another championship run. Cleveland could either keep the team so carefully built together and wait until the offseason to make their needed roster changes or jump at the chance to make a late push into the top of the Eastern Conference standings this season with its star-studded starting lineup.
The Cavs were relatively quiet at last year’s trade deadline. Cleveland’s most significant trade sent guard Ricky Rubio and multiple draft picks to the Indiana Pacers for guard Caris LeVert and a second-round selection. The Cavaliers still found a way to keep Rubio in a Cavs uniform when they resigned him to a three-year contract in July.
This year may be different.
According to the Stein Line’s Marc Stein, the Cavs were among the teams to have shown interest in Portland Trail Blazers guard Josh Hart. Yahoo! Sports senior NBA reporter Jake Fischer wrote Portland had “given rival teams the impression” that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, leading to a tweet from Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor that put even more eyes on the former first-round pick.
“Cavs fans: Keep an eye on Josh Hart.”
The Cavs can keep an eye on him. Does that mean they should trade for him?
To truly know a potential trade target, it always helps to learn the basics.
Josh Hart is averaging 9.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game for the Trail Blazers. Though he is shooting at a steady 50.4% from the field and 59.4% from 2-point range, Hart is averaging a career-low 30.4% from the 3-point line while hitting 73.1% of his free throws. He is also attempting a career-low 2.2 3-point shots per game, or just 0.1 more than Cavs forward Isaac Okoro.
A former four-star recruit from Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., Hart signed with Villanova in 2012 before spending four seasons with the Wildcats. The 6-foot-5-inch guard helped guide Villanova to a National Championship in 2016, leading the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game while placing in second with 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
Josh Hart shared the court with now-New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges and Golden State Warriors guard Donte DiVincenzo, prevailing against a North Carolina roster that featured five future NBA players in the 2016 National Championship.
The 27-year-old guard was involved in two blockbuster trades that sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans and the Trail Blazers after he was drafted with the 30th overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2017 NBA draft. He was a part of the Lakers’ trade for Anthony Davis in 2019, which sent him to New Orleans with some of the team’s brighter young prospects at the time. Hart was then dealt to Portland in a move for Damian Lillard’s long-time backcourt partner in guard CJ McCollum two days before the 2022 trade deadline.
Josh Hart is making $12.96 million this year after he signed a three-year, $37.9 million contract with the Pelicans in 2021. He also owns a $12.96 million player option for the 2023-24 season.
Can Josh Hart Fit With The Cavs?
From the outside looking in, Hart may seem like a solid option for the Cavaliers to invest in before the 2023 NBA trade deadline.
Hart’s playmaking and defensive ability would be a welcomed addition to the Cavaliers brand of basketball head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has preached about in the past.
Though Cleveland sports the league’s highest defensive rating at 109.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, they are allowing 36.7% of their opponent’s 3-point attempts, putting them at 25th in the NBA. Hart may not solve all of Cleveland’s issues while defending the perimeter, but he could help.
Josh Hart has also played his fair share of games at the small forward spot, and the Cavs have experimented with three-guard lineups. Cleveland is 2-4 this season when starting a lineup of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, according to Basketball Reference. The Portland Trail Blazers are 18-15 with a starting lineup of Hart, Jerami Grant, Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkić.
Even in Cleveland’s limited three-guard reps, all three players were at least comfortable shooters from the 3-point line. Mitchell and Garland are shooting 38.6% and 41.5% from long range, respectively, on a combined 15.6 attempts per game. Though guard Ricky Rubio is shooting just below the league average of 36%, he is attempting the sixth-most on the team at 3.4 per game.
Now for the complicated part.
The Complicated Part
Matching salaries can be tricky in trades for tax-payers and non-taxpayers alike.
Quenton Albertie ·
The difference in how much salary a team can bring back in return depends on whether a team is paying the NBA’s luxury tax, as explained by Spotrac contributor Keith Smith.
Even with their star-studded team, the Cavs have kept themselves at $2.5 million below the NBA’s luxury tax line. The Cavaliers feature four players who make at least $18 million: Allen, forward Kevin Love, Mitchell and LeVert. Love is making $28.9 million on the final year of the contract he signed with the Cavs in 2019, while LeVert is making $18.8 million on an expiring deal of his own. Mitchell is earning $30.35 million on the second year of the multi-year contract he signed with the Utah Jazz, while Allen is making a flat $20 million this season.
Garland, Mobley and forward Cedi Osman make up the team’s next three most expensive contracts this year. Garland is making $8.9 million, Mobley is making just over $8.5 million and Osman is earning $7.4 million this year. The Cavs have eight second-round picks should they need an extra boost in trading for Hart.
Even if Cleveland can pool the resources needed to acquire the 27-year-old guard, Josh Hart is “expected to decline” his player option for the 2023-24 season, wrote Fischer, while he became one of the “buzzier” names among league executives.
The Josh Hart Verdict
The pressure of the trade deadline can give teams the diamonds they desperately need to make a run at a championship, or it can cause teams to crumble as they give up far too much for a short-sighted upgrade.
In the simplest of terms, the Cavs should not trade for Josh Hart. A move right now for Hart may seem intriguing, but the Cavs would have to risk too much and gain too little.
Cleveland could try to sign Hart in free agency should he not agree to a new deal with the Trail Blazers. Hart would be a valuable backup that fits the identity the Cavs are looking for. But it would take a heavy price for Cleveland to pull off a team-friendly move and keep Hart on the roster.
Stranger things have happened before the deadline, Cavs Nation. It might take until Feb. 9 to see if the Cavs are willing to pull the trigger.