Maybe I’m just completely unrealistic, but it still doesn’t seem to me that this situation is completely beyond repair. I do believe, however, that if Chris Grant wants to be the guy making what appears to be another high draft pick in June, he needs to make a couple of bold moves between now and the trade deadline. What he has created thus far appears to be a dysfunctional, underachieving mess. If I were Dan Gilbert, what I would want to see from my general manager right now is a recognition of the scope of the problem and some semblance of a plan to make the situation better before the start of next season. This is not a time for patience, not with Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng making up their minds about their future with the Cavs, and with fans having now endured four consecutive years of atrocious basketball.
While the upcoming draft looks like it add a core piece to the roster, I would be hesitant to add another teenager to this mix. The guys at the top of this draft will likely bring the same sense of entitlement and poor fundamentals that the guys already on the roster already have, so my goal would be to set up my roster so that anyone I drafted would sit at the end of the bench until they were so ready that I had no choice but to play them. I would also look to shed as many draft picks as possible except for the highest one. Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix will essentially be rookies next year, and Anthony Bennett will still be a project. It would be counterproductive to add a bunch of kids to that, so let’s keep the best pick and trade the others for something down the road.
My gut feeling is that if you take a core of Irving, Deng, Varejao, and Thompson, and add a big and a shooter, you have a 45-win team. If Bennett and Karasev take a step forward next year and you can get a couple of veterans to fill out the bench, you might win fifty games. Now I’m not talking about going out and getting a couple of replacement level guys. I’m saying identify a couple of guys who can have an immediate positive impact on this team, and figure out what it would take to get them.
One such guy is Arron Afflalo of the Magic. He is a good defender, stretches defenses, and, from all reports, not a problem in the locker room. He also has a reasonable contract. The Magic have apparently decided that Afflalo is not in their long-term plans, and he may not be everything the Cavs need. But if he can step in for a couple of years and be a playoff-caliber shooting guard until Karasev or some future draft pick is ready to take over, the Cavs would fill a massive hole.
What would it take to get a guy like Afflalo? Well, first you would have to create some cap space. Trading Jarrett Jack would do the job; while he probably would not interest the Magic, he would have value to a lot of playoff teams. A three-team trade that got Orlando a couple of draft picks, including one down the road from the Cavs, would probably get it done.
Getting a big will obviously be more difficult. Anyone worth having will probably make more money than the Cavs can afford. If the Cavs were certain that an impact big will be available when they draft in June, I would be willing to wait and fill the hole then. However, the Cavs had made six first round picks in the last three years without getting a big who can be a core player (sorry, Tyler). In fact, you have to back to Zydrunas Ilgauskas to find a big that the Cavs drafted who made a significant contribution. So I would get somebody at the trade deadline, and if something popped up at the draft it would just be a bonus. The 76ers have been rumored to be willing to trade Evan Turner for Dion Waiters; I would see if they are willing to trade Spencer Hawes instead. Now I am not going to lie and say that Spencer Hawes is the piece that will bring the Cavs a title. What he can do is give you 20-30 minutes a game without destroying your chances of winning. At this point Tyler Zeller can’t do that. He is not a rim protector, but he is a wide body who can keep other centers from living in the paint and at least get in the way if opposing guards want to penetrate. Hawes is also able to shoot from outside, which no other big man on the roster can do at all except for Earl Clark. An interior rotation of Thompson, Varejao, and Hawes, with Zeller waiting in the wings and a high priority on finding another in the draft, is enough to be respectable.
So for the rest of the season, you have a starting lineup of Irving, Afflalo, Deng, Thompson, and Hawes. You have Varejao, Miles, and Clark as your first guys off the bench. Matthew Dellavedova is the only backup point guard, so you would probably want to add some depth there, but if Delly got fifteen minutes a game the rest of the season it wouldn’t be a tragedy. I’m not saying that lineup would rescue this season, but you have enough pieces in place for next season that you can talk about the playoffs without making people laugh at you. You also can go to Irving and Deng and say, look we have a plan.
The best thing about this plan is that you are not counting on either Anthony Bennett or next year’s draft pick to make a significant impact. I am still optimistic about Bennett, as well as Karasev, being core players eventually, and you have to hope they can get a stud from the next draft. If all that comes to pass, the Cavs have an abundance of riches that they can use to keep improving.