First, before I dive into how I believe the Cavaliers can improve and make the moves necessary to save their season, let me clarify the headline, as long as you have LeBron James you are a contender. The Cavaliers will be in the thick of things come playoff time, but as long as they are ranked 29th in defense and unable to stop opponents on a nightly basis, they are unlikely to be able to return to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season. Especially with an improved Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors team.
The Cavaliers have plenty of offensive firepower with their king’s ransom of scorers and shooters all over the floor, what they lack is size, rim protection, youth, quickness and defensive ability. Finding a way to improve considerably on defense is the only way they are going to be able to return to the NBA Finals and have any chance of actually dethroning the Warriors if they get there and ultimately convincing LeBron James to return next season.
Many would argue it is irresponsible for the Cavaliers to deal their highly valuable Brooklyn Nets pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, as it is their greatest contingency plan to start a rebuild or retool if LeBron does leave this summer, but the reality is that you have to do whatever you can to compete for an NBA title while you have the best player in the NBA and in turn do whatever you can to convince him to stay.
Here is how the Cavaliers can become a championship caliber team again this season:
Trade Tristan Thompson, Brooklyn’s 2018 1st Round Pick and Cedi Osman to the Los Angeles Clippers for DeAndre Jordan and Jawun Evans
Some form of this trade has been rumored for weeks now and makes complete sense. The Clippers help kick start a rebuild with a couple of hustle players in Tristan Thompson and Cedi Osman and most importantly acquire a very valuable draft pick in what appears to be an incredible 2018 draft at the top. Also, Khloe Kardashian would probably be delighted to be able to live in Los Angeles again, which could spell trouble for Tristan Thompson, but I digress.
The Cavaliers would acquire one of the better rim protectors and defensive centers in the NBA who can dominate the glass and run a lethal pick-and-roll with either LeBron James or Isaiah Thomas. That would solve their size and rim protection issues in a big way. They would also acquire a young bulldog of a point guard in Jawun Evans, who could maybe crack the rotation and earn some minutes during their postseason run with his ability to defend.
Trade Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Protected 2020 1st Round Pick for Kent Bazemore
The Hawks get to clear more cap space for the 2018 off-season by acquiring Channing Frye’s $7.4 million expiring contract and receive another future 1st round pick (Korver trade) in the process.
The Cavaliers meanwhile acquire an extremely long and athletic wing player who can play and guard a variety of positions and be the sort of 3-and-D guy they desperately need.
The drawback is trading a great locker room guy and highly underrated and underutilized stretch big man in Channing Frye, but the price is worth it to get younger and more athletic.
A new starting lineup of Thomas, Bazemore, LeBron, Love and Jordan provides the Cavaliers with plenty of length and athleticism to cover up for Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love’s deficiencies. A smaller bench lineup of Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green will be able to keep up with the small ball lineups many teams are playing these days as well and minutes and rotations can be staggered to allow LeBron, Thomas and Jordan to be mixed in with the second unit.
This is the path for the Cavaliers to fix their issues and have a realistic shot of taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy again in 2018.