The Cleveland Cavaliers are attempting to improve their team in order to convince LeBron James to stay in Cleveland. There are many options for them to do this, and nearly every one involves trading the player selected with the eighth overall pick, as well as taking on undesirable salary.
Last offseason, the Miami Heat were interested in trading for Kyrie Irving, but were unable to reach an agreement with the Cavaliers. Now, they are reportedly interested in acquiring a first-round pick. Miami does have some players that the Cavs should be interested in, so perhaps a deal can be made this time around.
The first player that should intriguve Cleveland is Miami’s highest-paid, big man Hassan Whiteside. A late bloomer, Whiteside did not play meaningful minutes until his fifth year in the league. But since 2014-2015, he has been one of the NBA’s premier defensive centers.
Injuries reduced his effectiveness last season, but he was still solid. When healthy in 2016-2017, Whiteside averaged 17 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game. At 29 years old, Whiteside is still in his prime and can give a team elite rim protection, which is something the Cavaliers desperately need.
So why would the Heat even consider trading him? Miami is currently over the salary cap, and they would like some space to be able to sign a high-priced free agent. Whiteside still has two seasons remaining on his contract, and is owed over $52 million. The second year is a player option which he will almost certainly exercise. With Dwight Howard being traded for peanuts and a bad contract, Whiteside should cost even less, as he makes more money than Howard and has an extra year on his deal.
He is not a positive trade asset, so he should not cost much at all. Even if the Cavs don’t make a larger trade with Miami involving the eighth overall pick, Whiteside is still someone worth targeting. If the Cavaliers offer J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, and a future second-round pick, the Heat would be hard-pressed to decline.
The second player Cleveland should explore trading for is Goran Dragic. The Cavs need an upgrade at point guard, and Dragic would be exactly that. He is a great scorer, a solid defender, and a good passer. He made his first All-Star team last season with the Heat, averaging 17.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. A true floor general, Dragic has command of the offense and is adept at running plays to put his teammates in good positions to score.
Dragic is 32 and has two years remaining on his deal, with the second being a player option for $19 million. Although he is a very good player, Dragic is not worth giving up the Brooklyn pick for. But there are still two targets remaining for the Cavs.
Justise Winslow is only 22-years-old and still has plenty of potential, but he has not developed like Miami hoped he would. Last season, Winslow moved to power forward, and averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He still has yet to develop a consistent jump shot, although his three-point percentage jumped to a respectable 38 percent, up from 20 percent the year before.
Winslow remains a project at this point, and would give the Cavs a young player to build around in the future, but also someone who can contribute right now defensively. Winslow is a very good defender against both wings and power forward, as his 6-foot-7, 225-lbs frame allows him to play either position. Winslow will be a restricted free agent after the season, so Cleveland could retain him if they wanted.
The Cavaliers can always use more defense, and that’s what Josh Richardson would bring to the team. Richardson is one of the better wing defenders in the league, but he’s also a solid offensive player. Last season he scored 12.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting while knocking down 38 percent of his triples.
Richardson is also just 24 years old and is under team control through the 2021-2022 season at under $11 million per year. Richardson would be an upgrade over J.R. Smith in the starting lineup, and would deepen the Cavs’ guard rotation.
Without knowing the Heat’s intentions for the next three or so seasons, it’s hard to know who they would be willing to part with in a trade for a high draft pick. But something similar to this is beneficial for both teams:
Cleveland receives: PG Gordan Dragic, SG Josh Richardson, SF Justise Winslow, C Hassan Whiteside
Miami receives: PG Jordan Clarkson, SG J.R. Smith, C Tristan Thompson, 2018 eighth overall pick
The Cavs don’t get a star in return, but overall it’s probably better than only getting Kemba Walker. Losing Tristan Thompson would not be ideal, as he is a better matchup against the smaller lineups predominantly used in today’s NBA. However, Larry Nance Jr. can do essentially everything Thompson can do, and some of it Nance can do better.
Whiteside would be extremely effective against teams like the Indiana Pacers, whose big men the Cavaliers struggled to slow down in the playoffs. Whiteside would also eliminate the spurts of scoring that JaVale McGee was able to have in the Finals.
For the Heat, they save about $3 million this season, but J.R. Smith can be waived next offseason for only a fraction of his salary, which will help with Miami’s salary cap issue. The eighth overall pick can get them a good point guard prospect to build around, such as Collin Sexton, or a new big man like Wendell Carter Jr.
It may not be an ideal trade scenario for the Cavaliers, but it’s one they should consider nonetheless. One thing that the front office must keep in mind during trade negotiations is that simply getting another star is not good enough; Cleveland has to improve it’s overall rotation as well, and that’s what this trade would do.