In many ways, the Cleveland Cavaliers loss of Kyrie Irving in the trade to Boston can be compared to the additions of Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Jeff Green and Dwyane Wade. While it can be argued that the Cavs clearly lost the best player of the bunch, the Cavaliers—specifically head coach Tyronn Lue—will be quick to tout the team’s depth and increased ability to decide his rotations based on matchups. You take a team that already has a starting shooting guard in J.R. Smith, and a player who could start at the same position on a handful of other teams in the league in Kyle Korver, and now Lue has a abundance of options to play at the shooting guard spot in addition to some creativity at the small forward when LeBron James is getting his much-needed rest.
“There’s gonna be some work. It’s going to be a process just trying to figure out who’s the most comfortable with who,” said Lue following Wednesday’s practice. “I think we have a lot of guys with a high basketball IQ who can play together. It’s just trying to figure out the rotations from that standpoint, but they know how to play the game and the good players that we have can make a lot of guys look better. We’ll just see how it all fits.”
On Media Day, Lue told WFNY that Rose would be the team’s starting point guard until Thomas returns around the turn of the New Year. Both Rose and Thomas are one-on-one threats who can get to the rim with the best in the league, but both also provide less in the way of floor-spacing skill sets compared to Irving who possessed a solid inside-outside game. In theory, surrounding these two guards with players like Smith and Korver (and, to a point, Jae Crowder) would provide the spacing needed to allow the point guards to get into the lane. With the addition of Wade, however, you have a player who played his best off of the ball alongside LeBron James in Miami, but also provides less in the way of three-point shooting1, providing Lue with some early season juggling as to how he can mix and match his back court to compliment Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson in the post.
Conversely, J.R. Smith told WFNY that he welcomes Wade with open arms, saying his addition will only serve to prolong his career in the NBA as he would—in theory—not be simultaneously tasked with chasing opposing shooting guards around on the defensive side of the ball.
“If you come into a situation and you want to win, if your goal is to win a Championship, everybody has to sacrifice,” said Lue of his guards. “There’s gonna be a lot of guys at [the two], which is a great problem to have. The minutes are gonna be sporadic. It depends on who’s playing well, how things are going… It’s gonna be my job to make sure we get all the people clicking on the right cylinders, the right rotations, the right combinations.”
At present day, the most collateral damage appears to be headed in the direction of Iman Shumpert, a player who has taken on every role—starter, sixth man, and DNP. Shumpert appeared primed to have the chance to step up with the injury sustained by Thomas, but the addition of Wade quickly changed the course.
Also on the outside looking in could be Jose Calderon, a player who went from the team’s first free agent addition of the summer to potential roster casualty as the team makes room for Wade’s fully guaranteed deal. Given the luxury tax implications of cutting a fully guaranteed player, it would be wise for the Cavaliers to attempt to trade either guard in hopes of obtaining relief. It is believed that Green and veteran forward Richard Jefferson could also be dealt given their team-friendly deals, with ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton asserting that the front office could add the 2020 second-round pick acquired in the Kyrie Irving deal as a sweetener with guard Kay Felder also having some trade value.2
To level set, the Cavaliers have effectively swapped Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams for Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose. Jae Crowder will soak up the minutes played by Richard Jefferson, with Jefferson sliding into minutes which were split by the likes of DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae and Derrick Williams. This leaves Lue with the decision on how to deploy Wade both while Thomas rehabilitates his hip and once he returns. While fans can argue that they lost the best player this offseason in the deal that sent Irving to Boston, it’s impossible to argue that Rose, Crowder, and Wade provide upgrades over the end-of-bench players who consumed those roster spots a season ago. Who Lue has to work with come the start of the season will be up to the front office.
How Lue uses them, however, will be the most important decision of them all.