Trade Rumors: New forward linked to Cavaliers ahead of deadline

De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

Only three weeks remain before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 8, which means the rumor mill has been cranked to full speed as teams call around the league checking the trade value of strategic targets while also offering their own expendable players up as tribute. The Cleveland Cavaliers are as involved as every team in looking for ways to upgrade their roster.

It's hard to sort through all of the smoke and know which rumors can be trusted. Some of the juiciest secrets float out from unknown or unverified locations; while tantalizing, they often lead to deception. Trust sources, however, with a proven track record of accuracy and professionalism, can provide insight into what a team is truly looking for.

Who are the Cavaliers calling about? We just got some reporting to clue us in.

Cavaliers have a new trade target on their list

The eminently plugged-in Marc Stein recently reported on the Cleveland Cavaliers in his substack trade rumor round-up. In addition to their previously-reported interest in Brooklyn Nets wing Royce O'Neale, Stein brought a new name into the fold as someone on the Cavs' list: De'Andre Hunter.

The Atlanta Hawks forward was originally drafted fourth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, a single pick before the Cavaliers selected Darius Garland. Could the Cavs be looking to team up the two players in Cleveland? It's at least an option the team is considering.

On paper, the fit makes sense. Hunter is a 6'8" forward who entered the league with an elite defensive reputation. During his five-year career he has frequently defended the opponent's best offensive player, taking on anyone from guards to centers. He is a career 36.1 percent 3-point shooter hitting 40.4 percent of his 3-point shots this season.

The last month playing without Evan Mobley (and Garland) has shown the benefit of having a player at power forward who can both defend and space the court. Dean Wade has locked down the position recently; the Cavaliers may be looking for an upgrade on Wade, or to get a second such 3-and-D forward for greater lineup versatility.

Why the Cavaliers should not trade for Hunter

If the on-paper fit explains why the Cavaliers may have brought up Hunter's name, the other facts of the case cast that action in a dubious light. For one, Hunter has ridden the wave of a solid reputation for five seasons, but the actual results have been a mixed bag. Only once in five seasons has Hunter had a positive Defensive Plus-Minus; that is partially hampered by playing most of his minutes with Trae Young, but it's still an extremely bad look and completely undercuts the idea of defensive excellence.

The other issue is Hunter's contract. He is playing out the first year of a four-year, $90 million extension that he signed prior to his fourth season in the league. He makes $20.09 million this year; to match that salary, the Cavaliers essentially have to trade one of their top-7 players, and likely two of them. Given what he has shown over the past few seasons, Hunter isn't better than any of those players.

Dean Wade is a better defender than Hunter and at least a similar shooter; moving multiple salaries to bring back an equal player who makes three times as much would be investigated for criminal negligence. If the Hawks were to attach an asset to Hunter in order to bring back a couple of players? Perhaps that becomes more intriguing, but it would have to be a significant asset, and it's unlikely the Hawks are ready to concede that Hunter's value has plummeted that much.

A player like Royce O'Neale makes a lot more sense. He is significantly cheaper, making $9.5 million this season on an expiring contract. He also happens to be close friends with Donovan Mitchell dating back to their time together on the Utah Jazz, surely something that hasn't escaped the notice of the Cavaliers' front office.

Other names that have come up recently, including the Nets' Dorian Finney-Smith or Gary Trent Jr. of the Toronto Raptors, make more sense based on cost, contract and ability. With that being said, the Cavaliers' role players are playing so well right now that finding an actual upgrade may be difficult.

One thing is for sure: De'Andre Hunter is not the answer.

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