The Cavaliers’ trade for Luol Deng has many positives for the team. Deng brings tremendous production on both sides of the ball as one of the best two way players in the league. He is also one of the most respected players in the NBA and brings outstanding professionalism and leadership to a locker room filled with young players. However there is one potential negative in the roster change from Andrew Bynum to Deng that has largely been ignored; the loss of depth at center.
For all of Bynum’s flaws on the court this season (and there were many), one thing he did supply was depth at the center position as a rotation level big man. This helped the Cavaliers on several levels. By splitting the minutes at center between Bynum and Anderson Varejao the Cavaliers were able to keep both men relatively healthy. Having both big men also decreased the chances of the team having to start Tyler Zeller at center with little to no depth behind him, as was the case when Varejao missed most of last season due to injury. Now, if Varejao suffers a long term injury as he has each of the previous three `seasons there is only Zeller and the unproven Henry Sims behind him, hardly an ideal situation for a team hoping to contend for a playoff spot.
So where do the Cavaliers go from here? All fifteen players on the roster are now on guaranteed contracts for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean a move cannot be made. The Cavaliers could waive a player who is not part of the rotation or the team’s future. They could also make a trade for another big man, most likely one who would play sporadically behind Varejao and Zeller, health permitting. In either case the player most likely to be moved would seem to be Alonzo Gee. While Gee is a great story as a hard working player who found a spot in the NBA after starting out as an undrafted player in the D-League, he was out of the rotation even before the trade for Deng and is not a young prospect ala Sergey Karasev or Carrick Felix.
Current Free Agents
Below are some big men who may be available and could fit the Cavaliers’ needs. All three are in their early to mid-thirties and would probably have to take the veteran’s minimum to get a chance to play in the NBA again. Given the role available a veteran may be a better fit than a younger player looking for an opportunity to establish himself in the league.
Drew Gooden: After the Milwaukee Bucks decided to amnesty Gooden last summer, he has sat on the sidelines. However at 32 years old, he may still be able to contribute to an NBA roster. Always a solid rebounder and passer, Gooden’s midrange game would provide spacing on offense. He does still make the same mental mistakes on the defensive end that have frustrated fans and coaches for years. Gooden also has a solid reputation both in the locker room and the community. He is also familiar with Mike Brown’s defensive schemes from his earlier stint with the Cavaliers.
Chris Wilcox: Wilcox did a nice job as a big off the bench for the Boston Celtics last year, helping the team make the playoffs one last time in the “Big Three” era. Wilcox is an excellent dive man on the pick-and-roll and a solid rebounder. While he leaves something to be desired on the defensive end, Wilcox could give the Cavaliers a different look on offense when he plays.
Jason Collins: Collins’s reputation as a top flight defender and tremendous locker room presence are well documented. He would also likely be comfortable with his role as the Cavaliers’ third string center. That being said, it’s unlikely that we see him in Wine and Gold anytime soon. Fair or not, the Cavaliers don’t seem ready to deal with the inevitable media onslaught that will come to any team that signs the first openly gay athlete in a major sport. It’s also debatable whether or not Collins is still an NBA caliber big man at this point in his career.
It’s actually harder to find the kind of big man the Cavaliers may be looking for through a trade than on the waiver wire. Most teams are searching for size themselves, and the big men that are available typically have contracts that either pay them a high salary or multiple years. Neither of those work for the Cavaliers as Gee only makes about three million this year and the team is trying to keep as much cap flexibility as possible for the upcoming offseason. Nevertheless, here are a few big men who might work. (Note: I am sure a lot of Cavalier fans would love to see them trade for Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks. While I love Sanders’s game, he has had a down year, has anger issues on and off the court, and has a four year, $44million contract extension that kicks in after this season. Not sure the Cavaliers will roll the dice on that).
Ekpe Udoh: Unlike Sanders, Udoh is only signed through this season, and a Gee-Sanders swap works salary-wise. The Cavaliers would probably have to give up a smaller asset such as a second round pick to make this deal worth it for the Bucks, but Udoh is a quality defender and shot blocker who is well worth that price. While he is 26 years old, Udoh is just finishing up his rookie deal and would probably prefer to play somewhere where more playing time is guaranteed.
Brendan Haywood: Haywood was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2001 before being traded to the Orlando Magic and then the Washington Wizards before his rookie season even began, and it would make some sense for him to finish his career in Cleveland. While Haywood hasn’t played this season due to a stress fracture, he should be able to return to the court soon. While he doesn’t do much on offense, Haywood is a great post defender and solid rebounder and shot blocker. He is also smart enough to know that this kind of role could extend his time in the NBA. Jeff Taylor’s season-ending injury also means a trade for Gee would make some sense for the Bobcats. While Charlotte would have to add someone such as Jannero Pargo to the deal to make the salaries work, Pargo doesn’t see the court for the Bobcats and there are plenty of similar point guards waiting to hear from any NBA team. Pargo would simply be waived by the Cavaliers.
It’s also entirely possible the Cavaliers could decide not to make a move like this during the season. This is a team that is desperately searching for chemistry, and they may decide to not add any new voices to the locker room. In this case the Cavaliers could either add a free agent this coming offseason or fill this need through the draft. Besides their own picks, they also own the Orlando Magic’s second round pick in the upcoming draft. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Cavaliers use one or both of their second round picks in some way to add a backup big man who can rebound and play defense. Whatever the Cavaliers decide, how they add depth to their frontcourt is one of the most important, if underrated, storylines of this rebuilding franchise.