Well, the deadline has passed, and the only change was Spencer Hawes. Not that he is insignificant, but it’s hard to know what to make of the fact that Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, and Jarett Jack are still on the roster. It means, mostly, that the Cavs were not in fire sale mode, which is not surprising in the midst of a six-game winning streak. Hawes comes at minimal cost, and he’s a guy who can be a rotation player on a good team, so the Cavs get to test drive him for the rest of this season and decide if they want to offer him a new contract this summer. In the meantime he allows the Cavs to rest Anderson Varejao until his back is 100% and keep him at a reasonable minutes level when he is healthy. Hawes is shooting 40% on three pointers, which makes him the best shooting big man on this team by a wide margin. Having Hawes roaming around the perimeter will take at least one defender out of the paint, which should open things up for Kyrie and Dion to penetrate.
The only downside to this turn of events is that Tyler Zeller becomes the fifth big man, meaning he is out of the rotation except for injuries, foul trouble, and blowouts. It would have been nice if by the end of this season the Cavs knew whether Zeller was a keeper or not; now it looks like he will be a project again next year if he is still here. As the only center the Cavs have drafted during their rebuild phase, Zeller needs to develop into at least an average starter within the next couple of years or else the Cavs will need to find a young center in the draft immediately.
It’s hard to say how interested the Cavs were in moving Deng and Jack. While Deng has struggled somewhat thus far, he is still an above average NBA small forward on his worst day, and trading him would have put the Cavs back into the black hole at that position that they were in at the beginning of the season. If somebody had offered a real asset for Deng, David Griffin would have probably considered it, rather than risk losing him at the end of the season. Right now, however, the Cavs are a better team with Deng, so it makes sense to keep him unless a good offer came in. If Deng and Hawes do leave at the end of the season the Cavs are back to having 20 million in cap space, so the worst case scenario is not all that bad.
My theory is that all the Jack talk was just the Cavs doing their due diligence. They may have been more eager to move him if they had the results of Waiters’ MRI and CJ Miles had not turned his ankle, but Jack has played well enough that the Cavs had no incentive to give him away. If an opportunity had arisen to add an asset, they would have taken it, but most of the offers I heard would have made the Cavs worse without helping their cap situation. The fact that Jack was available does raise the question of why he is still in the starting lineup ahead of Waiters. As I have written before, the easiest way for the Cavs to get really good in a hurry is for Waiters and Irving to learn to play together, and the current rotation works against that goal.
There has been some angst in the media about the value of the second round picks the Cavs have given up to get Deng and Hawes. While it’s true that second round picks do have value, that value lies chiefly in improving a team’s leverage in making trades, which is what the Cavs did. They also used second round picks to move up and draft Tyler Zeller. While they may have nothing to show for those picks this summer if Deng and Hawes both leave, they have bought themselves a negotiating window with both players and can offer Deng more money than other teams if they choose to. If it turns out that they only bought thirty games with those draft picks, they still have more picks than they can possibly use over the next several seasons.
So would the Cavs be better off in the long run if they had gone into tank mode, and moved Deng and Jack just to improve their status for this summer’s draft? The talking heads will say that getting Hawes to improve their chances of getting the eighth seed so they can get slaughtered by Indiana or Miami is foolish, but I disagree. For one thing, there are already so many bad teams who have been tanking since December that the Cavs would be hard pressed to end up with one of the five or six worst records, unless they stripped the roster bare. So the real choice is probably between tanking and picking eighth; or trying your best and picking in the 12-15 range. The difference in talent in who the Cavs might draft in those two scenario is probably not enormous, and if the Cavs want to move up a couple of spots they have stockpiled enough draft picks that they can make a trade and do so. To me, the benefits of drafting a few spots higher are outweighed by the way the atmosphere around the team has improved the past two weeks, and the opportunity to keep that going and play games that mean something in March and April. Whether or not the Cavs make the playoffs, if their effort, execution, and teamwork over the next 27 games is as good as it has been the past six, they will have built a foundation that makes a bright future much more likely than any draft pick could.