Look, at first glance, the last couple moves the Cleveland Cavs have reportedly made look sound. On Monday, they flipped Dion Waiters, who Kyrie Irving almost definitely hates, for JR Smith, who has at least proven he can contribute to solid teams. In that move, they added potentially good wing defender Iman Shumpert and a late first round pick from Oklahoma City. Still, in doing so, they put themselves in an even tougher position salary cap-wise if Smith exercises his $6.4 million player option (pretty likely) and they try to retain restricted free agent Iman Shumpert.
Today, the Cavs have reportedly acquired Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov for two first round picks. (Update: the Cavs also received a late second round pick from Memphis). According to Adrian Wojnarowski, those are the picks that belong to OKC and Memphis. The aforementioned OKC pick should convey this season in the 20s while the Memphis pick has interesting protections:
This is a massive haul for Denver. The Nuggets had recently begun giving the talented Jusuf Nurkic minutes over Mozgov anyway and have no chance at making the playoffs. Nurkic looks like a keeper, and the two picks will help them restock their roster.
For the Cavs, the trade is quite the risk. Some combination of Dan Gilbert, GM David Griffin, David Blatt (who coached Mozgov on Team Russia), and LeBron have decided that the need for a rim protecting center in 2015 is more important than flexibility and young talent in the future. This is a notable departure from the patience message that LeBron and Blatt have preached from the start. In James’ homecoming letter, he cautioned that this was a long process and he wanted to build something long lasting. Yet every move made by Cleveland screams out that they need to win NOW.
In October, Cleveland gave the oft-injured 32 year old Anderson Varejao an extension that guaranteed him two years and $20 million. He tore his achilles in December and is out for the season once again. He’s only played more than 31 games in one season (2013-14) since 2009-10.
It’s hard to blame the Cavaliers with the previously immortal LeBron missing extended time for the first time in his career after not looking like himself early in the season. But if LeBron’s body is breaking down they have far bigger problems than winning a title this season. It seems more likely that the Cavs simply want to win now far more than they’ve let on. But do they even have a roster capable of doing so?
While Mozgov adds some needed rim protection, the Cavs are still two or three players short of a full contender’s rotation. Furthermore, their defense has been a disaster that one solid defensive center can’t fix by himself. Kevin Love has looked disinterested and the James we saw early on wasn’t playing sound defense at all. When you consider all of the injuries the Cavs have already faced, it’s extremely tough to assume full health for them come playoff time.
It seems LeBron James returning to Cleveland wasn’t all they needed to return to contention. The role of owner Micky Arison, Hall of Fame executive Pat Riley and the underrated Erik Spoelstra were all integral parts of James’ success in Miami. While Cleveland undoubtedly has a playoff roster and the hint of a championship core, it’s utter lack of competent front office and ownership personnel is clearer than ever.