The Cavaliers seemingly spent most of the offseason not knowing what they’d do at point guard.
They rushed to sign Jose Calderon, learned Kyrie Irving wanted to be traded, saw Derrick Rose left disregarded, signed Rose to a minimum deal, agreed to trade Irving to the Celtics, determined Isaiah Thomas‘ injury was more severe than anticipated then finalized the deal with Boston.
Not bad for a team that appeared to be operating without a fully formed plan. But not as good as it could have been, either.
But new general manager Koby Altman still handled a star trade with Irving and came out well ahead – if Thomas is healthy, if Cleveland is willing to trade the Nets’ unprotected first-round pick.
A healthy Thomas is nearly as good as Irving right now, and the present matters so much for Cleveland with LeBron James propping its title window open. Jae Crowder – a versatile defender who shoots 3s will be essential against the Warriors – more than makes up the difference between the point guards this season. Again, if Thomas is healthy, and it’s a major question when that will be.
The Brooklyn pick is more valuable than any player in this trade, and the Cavaliers could use it to kick start a post-LeBron rebuild or trade it to improve their title odds this year. They can wait to decide, but both options should be on the table.
It’s so hard to build a team capable of winning a championship, and the Cavs are there. They shouldn’t waste any chance to maximize this opportunity. A better shot at the title would justify a longer post-LeBron rebuild, whenever that comes.
But which player worthy of that pick is available? Teams tend to hoard good players. Cleveland could always keep the pick and delay its decision into the offseason.
These are major questions – How healthy will Thomas be? What would the Cavaliers do with the Nets pick? – that make evaluating this offseason so difficult.
At best, Thomas is soaring by the playoffs, and the Cavs are even better than they were last year. They’d still have the Brooklyn pick in their back pocket to load up even more against Golden State or draft someone who’d infuse talent as this team ages. This could be the type of package that entices LeBron to stay in Cleveland.
At worst, Thomas never gets right. The Cavaliers, fearing LeBron leaving, refuse to trade the Nets pick then lose LeBron because of it.
With the specter of LeBron departing and the lackluster offseason that preceded it, the Irving trade is an all-timer. I think the Cavs came out ahead, but it’s tough to tell without knowing more about Thomas’ status, and they’re keeping that closely guarded. I am giving them full credit for the Brooklyn pick, because, whether or not they’re actually willing to trade it, they’re in position to.
Don’t overlook Crowder, an underrated player on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts (three years, $21,917,475 remaining). He’s a significant part of the package. The third player acquired from Boston, rookie Ante Zizic, isn’t nothing.
Neither is Cedi Osman, a 2015 second-rounder signed this year. Signing Kyle Korver to a three-year, $22 million contract (though just $3.44 million of $7.5 million guaranteed the final season) is probably an overpay considering he’s 36. I like Rose much more as instant offense during LeBron’s short rests rather than a starter who neither defends nor shoots 3s well. Calderon doesn’t have a place on this team if Thomas and Rose are healthy, and I’m not sure Calderon would have been signed if Cleveland knew the latter two would later be acquired. Jeff Green has continuously disappointed, so maybe a minimum contract is finally the right salary for him – though if the Cavaliers are expecting a versatile and effective defender, they too might be left unsatisfied.
That amounts to several minor moves until one huge move. The Cavaliers might have aced the big one, but uncertainty about Thomas’ health has me docking them a full letter. If he’s healthy long enough before the playoffs to establish chemistry with his new teammates, bump them up a full letter. If he’s diminished all season, dock them another letter.
Offseason grade: B