The 2024 NBA trade deadline has already seen numerous star players joining new teams, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to make any noise in the market.
All trades in the NBA must be closed by 3:00 pm Eastern Time on February 8, leaving less than a week for teams to make a transaction. With Pascal Siakam joining the Indiana Pacers and OG Anunoby joining the New York Knicks, some of Cleveland's top competitors in the playoff standings made headline deals already. Conversely, the Cavaliers have reportedly targeted 3-and-D wings without anything materialized thus far.
Over their last 21 games, the Cavaliers have gone 17-4 and are now in the midst of a multi-team fight for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. If Cleveland's trade deadline is a success, they can solidify their position as a leading franchise in the East by the time the postseason rolls around.
Cleveland has historically made trades most years since Koby Altman became the president of basketball operations. Last season was the first year the Cavaliers were silent on the trade front since 2017, suggesting the Cavs will welcome a trade if it is a clear upgrade and available. In a recent interview on ESPN Cleveland, NBA insider Brian Windhorst detailed the troublesome obstacles in the way of the Cavaliers' trade ambitions amid the final stretch to the deadline.
Why the Cavaliers might not find the right trade before the deadline
Windhorst noted the Cavalier's lack of tradeable draft picks as the primary cause of their quiet approach to the deadline. Cleveland has seven second-round picks available in trades, but they have no first-round picks to offer. Rival teams such as the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers have numerous first-round picks and large expiring contracts that are much more suitable for a trade.
The Cavs' ideal addition of a wing defender who can shoot is what every other franchise is prioritizing. Windhorst notes this and suggests other teams simply have more to get these players. The NBA landscape is filled with teams on the verge of taking the next step toward contention, making the bidding wars highly competitive. It is hard for Cleveland's depleted asset pool to win over one of the other budding contenders' wealth of options.
Additionally, the Cavs' core four is off-sale, meaning Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are safe. To add another rotational player, Cleveland would lose one or two of their own just to make a marginal improvement. Considering the team's recent success and leap in the standings, minimal growth from any trade could spell disaster if that player does not fit into the Cavs' new systems.
Windhorst also mentioned that Ricky Rubio's contract is no longer available as a salary filler after the two parties agreed to a buyout earlier this season amid Rubio's retirement from the NBA. While this has given the Cavaliers a bit more flexibility below the luxury tax threshold, they are only less than $3 million away from that line with two open roster spots left. The Cavs can take back salary in a trade and go over that threshold, but this will impact their free agency opportunities and would have to be in a trade that guarantees significant and instant improvement.
Considering the hurdles ahead, the trade market may not be the avenue for growth for the Cavaliers this season. Instead, Windhorst alluded that the Cavs do have a handful of "recognizable names" in mind for the buyout market. With little room beneath the tax apron and few trade assets, adding a veteran forward in the buyout market might be the best choice they can make.
Regardless of their trade deadline moves, the Cavaliers have shown arguably the best improvement in the season since opening night. Both ESPN Cleveland's Chris Oldach and Windhorst praised the surprise contributions from Cleveland's bench, including Sam Merrill who has lit the NBA world ablaze with his 43.3 three-point percentage this year. If a knockdown shooter is what the Cavs wanted to add to their team this season, they just had to look to the end of their bench from a year ago.
A trade is not a bonafide path to contention for the Cavs when they have already entered the highest tiers of Eastern teams. Merrill is only one piece of this puzzle, too, as Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade have thrived in their respective roles. New additions Max Strus and Georges Niang give Cleveland veteran leadership and depth that they desperately needed in the playoffs last postseason.
With a wildly success offseason and internal growth, the Cavaliers look to be on the precipice of Finals contention. Keeping their core together and healthy with a great supporting cast might be the recipe for success that they were looking to find.