It seems like just yesterday that the Cleveland Cavaliers were opening the 2013-2014 season with a thrilling victory over a Brooklyn Nets team expected to contend for the NBA title. Yet here we just over three weeks later and the Cavaliers sit among the most disappointing teams in the NBA with a 4-10 record. While they are currently just a game and a half behind the eighth spot in the East, they are also tied with Milwaukee and Boston for the most losses in the league.
Perhaps some of this should have been expected. The Cavaliers have eight new players on their roster as well as a new/old coach in Mike Brown who focuses on defense in a way not seen in Cleveland over the last three years. With the youngest roster in the league, many of the Cavaliers are learning to play defense in the NBA for the first time. They are also learning to play together on the fly as several key players missed much of training camp, including Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, and C.J. Miles. But there are questions about the team’s toughness, lack of veteran leadership, and whether or not there is a player on the roster capable of becoming the secondary scorer the Cavaliers need to take some of the pressure off of Kyrie Irving.
What has also come to light is that the players the Cavaliers have on their roster, while talented, may not fit together well on the court. While Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson are one example of this, Varejao coming off the bench has helped to control this issue. Both men are also energy players, capable of affecting the game without the ball (even if they also take rebounds away from one another). The larger issue is when to players who need the ball cannot figure out how to play together. Thus far that has been the case with guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
While Irving has already established himself as one of the NBA’s rising stars, Waiters has yet to have anywhere near that kind of success. That is not to see Waiters is not a talented player. He is an explosive athlete who can get to the rim almost at will. After being voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team last season, Waiters also received some consideration as the NBA’s best passer in a survey of the league’s General Managers for NBA.com. This season the young guard has shown an improved three point shot in catch-and-shoot situations. At just under 22 years old, Waiters has plenty of potential and time for improvement.
So considering his obvious talent, why can’t Waiters fit alongside Irving? In many ways it’s because both players are so similar. Both are scoring guards who are most comfortable initiating offense and creating for themselves and others. Their lack of chemistry has caused Waiters to be moved to a reserve role first behind C.J. Miles and then undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova. Neither player is comfortable playing off the ball though to be fair it took LeBron James and Dwyane Wade the better part of two seasons to become comfortable with this, and they are both veterans and two of the greatest players of this century. Almost anyone who watches the Cavaliers will tell you that Irving is the better and more valuable player than Waiters, so the question is should the Cavaliers trade Dion Waiters or give he and Irving more time to learn how to play with one another?
As we look at this situation, one team that the Cavaliers could use as a model is the Golden State Warriors. Like the Cavaliers hope to do this year, last season the Warriors made the jump from lottery regular to playoff team on the backs of players they have drafted including Stephen Curry, a supremely efficient scoring point guard who has battled injuries and was a poor defender at the beginning of his career (sound familiar?). The Warriors also pin their hopes for playoff success on the back of Andrew Bogut, a talented, but injury prone center (I know, right?). Finally, the Warriors were highly effective using a three guard lineup that allowed Curry and their backup point guard, new Cavalier Jarrett Jack, to play together.
There is one fundamental difference though is how the Warriors changed the balance of their roster when they acquired Bogut in 2012. Previously Curry had shared the back court with Monta Ellis, another ball dominant guard, albeit one not nearly as efficient as Curry. Because both players were at their best with the ball in their hands, they struggled to find a rhythm when playing together. Due partly to their lack of size Curry and Ellis also struggled defensively and often gave back on that end what they contributed on offense. After being traded for Bogut, Ellis was replaced by Klay Thompson, A larger point guard whose size allowed him to defend players Ellis struggled against, which more than made up for the loss of Ellis’ superior ability to create with the ball.
When looking at the combination of Irving and Waiters, size may not be the issue. After all, Mike Brown was able to have a top flight defense with the backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West, both undersized for their positions. The greater concerns are both players need for the ball in their hands, their lack of natural defensive instincts, and the backcourts lack of physicality, particularly on defense. Going back to the Golden State comparison, Waiters’ poor shot selection despite his explosiveness make him comparable to Ellis while the more efficient Irving is already compared to Curry as two of the NBA’s best offensive point guards. While it is certainly possible that Waiters can and will improve his defense and shot selection, he has shown little improvement thus far and almost no improvement playing off the ball. In fact, both Irving and Jack have shown to be more effective playing off the ball, but Waiters’ inefficiency with the ball also somewhat reduces the effectiveness of the Cavaliers’ three guard lineup.
So if the Cavaliers decide they’ve seen enough of the Irving/Waiters backcourt and think it’s time to move on, what are some moves they can make? The following trades (all approved by the RealGM trade checker) may be in the best interests of both teams involved. Note: any trades involving Earl Clark cannot be completed until after December 15 due to Clark signing a free agent contract with the Cavaliers this summer.
The Cavaliers trade Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee to the Milwaukee Bucks for Caron Butler and Brandon Knight.
It’s a well-known fact that Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl is no fan of tanking. While the motto around the NBA is basically “get bad to get good”, Kohl is fine with routinely competing for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference year in and year out. This time however, Kohl may have no choice in the matter. Injuries and lack of chemistry on offense have left the Bucks as arguably the worst team in the East, which is really saying something this year. One thing that would help the Bucks is a perimeter player capable of creating for both himself and his teammates, two of Dion Waiters’ greatest strengths. While Waiters has played shooting guard for the Cavaliers, he could easily shift to the point guard position for the Bucks and may be more comfortable there. Gee is a solid defender and a potential expiring contract (team option for next season) that would allow the Bucks to save money this season and have no effect on their cap space in the future.
The Cavaliers would benefit both this season and the next as well. Butler and Knight are both solid defenders who compete on both ends of the court. They also are both solid playing off the ball and shooting from the outside. Butler is nicknamed “Tough Juice” for a reason. The former All-Star is an intense competitor and leader who could add a lot to the Cavaliers both on and off the court this season and is also an expiring contract which means the Cavaliers upcoming cap space in the summer of 2014 would stay roughly the same. While trading Waiters for another combo guard with less upside in Knight may not make sense at first, Knight’s defense, outside shooting, motor, and ability to score off the ball may make him a far better fit with Kyrie Irving In fact not having to be the main creator on offense may be the best thing for Knight’s career. Picture a more talented and emotionally stable version of the previously mentioned Williams/West backcourt. There is a chance no picks would need to be involved due to the overall even level of talent for the players involved.
The Cavaliers trade Alonzo Gee, Earl Clark, Dion Waiters, and a future draft pick to the Boston Celtics for Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.
While the Boston Celtics currently have a better record than the Cavaliers, the general consensus is that they are building for the future. One of the problems the Celtics face in their rebuild is a lack of cap space for the next few seasons due to the contracts of Green, Lee, and Gerald Wallace. This trade gives them a pair of potential expiring deals in Gee and Earl Clark, a talented young player in Waiters, and an asset in a future first round pick (lottery protected due to the amount of money the Cavaliers would be taking on). Even if Waiters does not fit as part of Boston’s future due to the presence of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley on the roster, he is still an asset that could be used in a future trade.
While this trade would essentially use up the Cavaliers future cap space, it would give them a pair of talented wing players in Green and Bradley who are solid defenders and three point shooters who are at their best playing off the ball. Both players also fit the category of young veterans as Green and Lee are 27 and 28 years old respectively, and could hold down the wing positions for the next few years. Green would also be the closest thing to a second scoring option Irving would have played with (which isn’t saying much). If an elite free agent such as LeBron James would want to sign with the Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors have already proven than any contract can be moved to create cap space.
The Cavaliers trade Dion Waiters and a first round pick to the Utah Jazz for Gordon Hayward.
This trade would only happen if the Utah Jazz feel that Gordon Hayward is going to get an offer as a restricted free agent that they won’t be willing to match. An extremely talented offensive player who is more of a natural shooting guard than Waiters, Hayward would give the Cavaliers an excellent second scorer next to Irving and, at 23 years old, could grow along with the rest of the young Cavaliers. Hayward definitely has the potential to be an All-Star some day and the Cavaliers would have one of the best young tandems in the league. Utah would get a deal similar to the one that the Philadelphia 76ers got for Jrue Holiday, a promising young player who analytics experts liked (Waiters rated extremely well in John Hollinger’s 2012 draft rater), and a top 5-10 protected pick in a loaded draft. How much protection the pick would have would of course be part of negotiations, but this trade would help Utah in their quest to rebuild by acquiring young talent that would also be cheaper than Hayward.
The Cavaliers trade Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee/Earl Clark to the Philadelphia 76ers for Thaddeus Young.
As stated above, Waiters had many fans in the analytics movements prior to the 2012 NBA Draft. Sixers General Manager Sam Hinkie is a former assistant to Rockets GM Daryl Morey and a known proponent of using analytics to make roster decisions. There is a good chance that he would be interested in giving Waiters a chance to succeed in his home town of Philadelphia. Waiters was also a teammate of Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams when they were at Syracuse, which should help him make the transition of playing with a new point guard. Throwing in the expiring contract of either Gee or Clark would be necessary to match Young’s salary, as he makes over eight million dollars this season and is set to make over nine million in each of the next two seasons. While Young has played power forward for the majority of his career, he is very capable of playing small forward. An efficient scorer and solid defender who is still just 25 years old, the Cavaliers should be careful not to give up too much for Young as he is well (but fairly) paid, but unlikely to become a star.
The Cavaliers trade Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Earl, Clark and a future pick to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.
While acquiring Deng has been the talk of the town since Derrick Rose went down with a torn meniscus, it’s highly unlikely the Cavaliers will be able to acquire Deng. First of all, Bulls General Manager Gar Forman has already stated that it is unlikely the Bulls will overhaul their roster this season. This makes some sense as they are likely still one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference even without Rose. Second, due to both his ability and contract, it would require multiple assets to acquire Deng. It’s highly unlikely that a combination of young players and expiring contracts would be enough without a first round draft pick added as well. While the Cavaliers could switch out the players listed above for the likes of Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, or even Anthony Bennett, it is highly unlikely the Cavaliers would give up that much for a 29 year old who has played a ton of minutes the last few years. Even if that player might be the perfect small forward for this team.
At this point it seems inevitable that the Cavaliers will trade Dion Waiters before the end of this season. That being said, Chris Grant isn’t known for following the expectations of the public or media and it wouldn’t be all the surprising to see him give Irving and Waiters more time together to see if these two talented players can still gel to become the Cavalier’s backcourt of the future.