Last week, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst discussed the trade landscape within the NBA heading into the February 8 deadline, it was nearly inevitable that Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert would be Sacramento Kings by Valentines Day. In a deal that felt like a wink-and-nod agreement while Koby Altman and the Cavaliers front office attempted to find a second deal that would allow the team to bolster their frontcourt after dealing Frye, George Hill was all but guaranteed to be a member of the Wine and Gold.
Fast forward to this week where Hill went on record to say he would not want to be bought out by the Cavaliers, a move the team would consider making in the event LeBron James were to not agree to an extension this summer, thus killing the deal. Alas, Frye and Shumpert remained in Cleveland, the former suddenly seeing an immense boost in value compared to a week earlier with news that Kevin Love will miss the next 6-to-8 weeks with a broken bone in his left hand.
Had the Kings (or Hill) been willing to pull the trigger, the Cavaliers frontcourt would consist of Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic. Sure, Ty Lue could get creative and run lineups with LeBron James or Jeff Green at the power forward, but this would be out of desperation, not some sort of outside-the-box thinking that could potentially spurn success. Frye, meanwhile, went on to drop 20 points on just nine shots on Tuesday, 14 more on Thursday, and is making fans throughout Cleveland wonder what the hell took so long to get him back in the lineup.
Heading into Wednesday night, the two best three-man lineups the Cavaliers have rolled out for more than 25 total minutes include Frye. The trio of Frye, LeBron James and J.R Smith have an offensive rating of 145.6 (17.3 net), while the trio of Frye, James, and Dwyane Wade are right behind with an offensive rating of 126.9 (27.5 net). If Lue has any saving grace here, it comes in the way of valuing Frye over Hill, saying he was not a fan of dealing the big man for a guard who would ostensibly come off the bench.
But where does this leave the Cavaliers at the deadline? This recent report from Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger doesn’t provide the kindest of light.
According to Berger, it’s Dan Gilbert calling the shots, and it’s Dan Gilbert who is the biggest supporter of Isaiah Thomas. They talk. They text. It was David Griffin who would put out team fires during previous January swoons, but now it’s Gilbert who’s in the corner of the worst defender (statistically speaking) in the entire NBA—over the last 25 seasons.
Isaiah Thomas currently has a defensive rating of 117.5 with the Cavs.
Not only is that the worst by any player (min 25 MPG) this season, it's in fact the worst by any player in the last 25 years. pic.twitter.com/z6GnkaxhGG
— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 31, 2018
Adding fuel to this fire is the recent ESPN report surrounding James and his willingness to listen to a pitch from the Golden State Warriors during his impending free agency tour this summer. It’s important to read beyond the headline and know…
1) Regardless of the third party, James will test the free agency waters.
2) This does not mean that James will leave Cleveland once again, but it does mean fans need to continue preparing themselves in the event it does.1
3) This is not simply a message to fans. It’s a message to the team—Gilbert, Altman, and Lue included—that this is very, very real and if they do not do everything within their power to make this team better before the deadline, these sort of stories are going to be popping up with more frequency between February 9 and July 1.
All of this is a long way to say: The Cavaliers have to do something. Not that it’s a guarantee that LeBron leaves Cleveland if they do not, but even if he stays, going to battle with this current roster—instead of maximizing the likelihood of success—is nothing more than wasting a year of James, a player who has already defied logic in his ability to play at an elite level in what is his 15th season within the league with a top-end minute load.
Trading Kevin Love is off the table. It shouldn’t have been on the table to begin with, but even in the event a star was for the having, dealing him before the deadline is simply unrealistic.
As I wrote earlier this week, the only true benefit of the Love injury—outside of now getting to see Frye flourish—is the fact that Isaiah Thomas is cemented as the team’s No. 2 option. Going 2-for-15 from the floor against the Miami Heat is not exactly capitalizing on the increased usage, but Thomas, who says he is only operating at 70-to-80 percent, has an unimpeded path to earn back the good graces of both fans and the team’s front office. Not incorporating Kevin Love in to the offense is something pundits should rightfully pan. As tough as it has been to watch Thomas clank open threes off the front of the rim, allowing him time to find his legs becomes much easier to stomach with Love unable to suit up.
One. More. Week.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “An Illusion of Unity” by Sam Borden (ESPN The Magazine)2
- “A Protest Divided” by Howard Bryant (ESPN The Magazine)
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “Why Teens Aren’t Partying Anymore” by Jean Twenge (WIRED)3
- “Behind the Scenes at The Puppy Bowl” by Meredith Blake (LA Times)
This Week in Bleacher Report:
With a huge shout out to the Cavaliers’ annual mid-season swoon, this week’s piece gets to trace back to the issues that many wanted to sweep under the rug in terms of importance this offseason: The firing of David Griffin and the six-week period wherein the Cavaliers did not have a GM. In need of a playmaker who can impact on the defensive side of the ball heading into the trade deadline, it could be argued that this has all been a butterfly effect of not landing George this past summer.
This Week in Unboxings:
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Have a hell of a Thursday evening, you guys.
- A quick note on this: “Preparing” doesn’t mean turning on him first. This isn’t a relationship where you catch wind that your girlfriend may be dumping you so you dump her first, or one of those ‘You can’t fire me; I quit!’ moments. Grow up. Preparing is simply thinking of what this team could look like in the event James uses his contractual right to go play elsewhere. Attempting to poke holes in his game as a way to self-justify why the team would be “better” without him (Spoiler: It won’t be.) is silly. When James leaves, this run is over. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent. The use of “generation” isn’t hyperbole. Don’t be mad that it’s over. Be glad that it happened, and you got to watch it unfold on a nightly basis for 11 years. [↩]
- There’s a crazy-low level of coverage about the upcoming Olympics thus far. This is one of the best pieces I’ve seen in the very short window leading into the Winter Games. [↩]
- Good news, bad news. [↩]