The 2024 NBA trade deadline has come to pass, and the Cleveland Cavaliers remain unchanged after the buzzer for the second consecutive season. What comes next?
At the 2023 trade deadline, the Cavaliers stayed silent for the first time since 2017. Historically, the Cavs have often been active in midseason negotiations. In 2021, Cleveland became a last-minute addition to the James Harden blockbuster deal sending him from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets. In the trade, the Cavaliers added future All-Star center Jarrett Allen. One season later, Cleveland traded for Caris LeVert from the Indiana Pacers, a player who was also originally involved in the Harden deal.
Cleveland's trades over the recent years established what is now one of the best young cores in the NBA. Allen shifted the Cavaliers' identity into a defense-first powerhouse, and later draft selection Evan Mobley elevated that defense to another level. Caris LeVert is established as the team's go-to guy on the bench in a sixth-man role, offering a jolt of life every night.
While the Cavaliers have made plenty of improvements, including a 2022 offseason trade for this new era's leader Donovan Mitchell, they still appear a step behind the league's best contenders. One final addition or change could catapult the Cavs into this highest bracket, but instead they remind quiet two years in a row. Last year, their silent deadline ended in an embarrassing loss in the first round of the playoffs. With Mitchell's contract extension looming this summer, did the Cavaliers seal their fate?
Why the Cavaliers did not make a trade
The decision not to make a trade is likely two-fold. First and foremost, the Cavs are still adjusting from the horde of assets exchanged for Mitchell. Cleveland holds no tradeable first-round picks, leaving them with only second-rounders to offer in negotiations. The Cavaliers showed interest in acquiring another 3-and-D wing all trade season, but every franchise covets the best players in this role. This raised their asking price and pushed the Cavs out of the race.
The Cavaliers years-long interest in Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O'Neale ended today as the Phoenix Suns finalized a deal to acquire the veteran wing in a three-team deal. P.J. Washington, another player who piqued Cleveland's interest in the summer, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
As rival bidders quickly outpaced the Cavaliers, their options quickly shrank. Additionally, the Cavaliers are nearing the luxury tax threshold, meaning they can not take much extra money in any deal. With the majority of their cap space held by their current veteran stars, the Cavs would have needed to include numerous players for one in return. This is far from abnormal, but Cleveland's buyout agreement with Ricky Rubio earlier in the season took away a contract to add as salary filler.
Perhaps the bigger reason the Cavs were silent does not revolve around the luxury tax or the players available to add to the team. Instead, Cleveland may have asked whether or not they would have improved with a trade.
Currently, the Cavaliers have sole possession of the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a 33-16 record. With a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks, the Cavs' 15-2 record in 2024 leads the NBA. When Evan Mobley and Darius Garland returned from injury, Cleveland kept their pace and is currently on a seven-game win streak.
The team's recent success has not emerged from luck or unsustainable heroics from Donovan Mitchell. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff reinvented the offense and has gone 9-to-10 deep in his rotations since the mid-December injuries.
The squad's immense improvements in depth and three-point shooting have helped them become possibly the team with the best in-season growth already. When internal growth by role players and stars has skyrocketed the Cavs to the top of their conference and the Association, trading away rotation players for a chance at somebody marginally better seems ultimately useless.
In the end, though, the Cavaliers are surely not done building upon this roster before the playoffs. After Rubio's departure, the Cavs dipped to 13 active players, which put them below the league's requirement of 14 roster spots during the season. Once Tristan Thompson joined the suspended list, Cleveland fell to 12, meaning they will be forced to add more talent sooner rather than later.
With the deadline over, all eyes will turn to the buy-out market, where the Cavaliers will be a prime landing spot for any number of veteran players looking for an opportunity to join a contender. Under the NBA's new CBA, any team over the first tax apron will be restricted from signing any buyout candidate who was making more than the non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception at the time of their buyout. This eliminates the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and many more contending squads from negotiating and adding these players.
The Cavaliers' savvy financial navigation this offseason allowed them to build a contending roster without entering this restrictive zone. As the Cavaliers have risen the NBA power rankings (currently fifth), they established themselves as debatably the best non-tax-payer team in the league. With the buyout market approaching, the Cavs may eventually find their long-awaited 3-and-D veteran forward without surrendering any of their current talent or future assets.
In the words of Front Office Show co-host Trevor Lane, no trade is better than a bad trade. The Cavaliers navigated the trade discussions and determined there were no deals that would clearly improve the team. Their two-way dominance has inserted the Cavaliers into nearly every rival's board of teams they hope not to see in the playoffs.
As the postseason draws ever closer, the Cleveland Cavaliers are discovering the best version of themselves at the best time. Shaking things up is exciting in the moment, but the team seems prepared to take a calculated approach and trust in their offseason additions and in-season growth to guide them to a deep playoff run.