Saturday, February 15, 2014

How to fix the Cavaliers quickly... but not too quickly...

I think a proper goal for the Cavs this year should be to clean up the locker room.  Remove bad actors and flotsam, eliminate internal strife, and  build a roster with well-defined roles that might play well together down the road.    I think you want to see improvement this season, but not so much to screw up another high lottery pick in the next draft.

The goal should be to get a ton better next season.

I will list who should be traded, what the valuation should be in the trade, and then I will show the actual cap satisfying mechanics of the actual deals.  Finally, I will discuss in detail the most controversial target on my want list.

Trade Tristan Thompson

28 year old Omer Asik would be a smart target for the Cavs.

Asik for 23 year old Tristan Thompson and 24 year old Tyler Zeller would work for Houston's depth chart and hit the desires of the Rockets' leadership. Thompson was a #4 pick overall and Zeller was a first.  Zeller can give 10 minutes a game backing up at the center spot for the Rockets.  Thompson can deliver high level play for 35 quality minutes at the power forward spot.

For a team that hopes to be a contender like Houston, this kind of offer would be a difficult yield to pass up.  And there are reasons to think Houston's trade Asik poker hand is weaker than the Rockets pretend.

Houston wants a huge payout for Asik. Frankly, he is worth a pretty big payout.  Houston is not staggeringly better with Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, in the paint than they were with Asik. To me that says a lot about the things Asik does that do not show up in the stats (like constantly riding guys out of the paint) than how far Howard has fallen.

They want young players and draft picks, but no one has been willing to give that and the way Asik's contract is structured the chance for that becomes less likely, not more.   A team like Cleveland with a bunch of guys on rookie contracts can bear that Asik contract better than most.  There is a feeling among GMs that most owners would not take on a player that is scheduled to make $15M unless they can market that guy as a real star.  My thinking is that Dan Gilbert is a more insightful guy than that.

Thompson is a solid young, athletic starter and a likely 13/9 guy, but IMO the team needs to force the issue with 21 year old Anthony Bennett.

Thompson is a guy who can easily be a starter on a championship team, but he is more of a 4th guy.  Bennett is a much better scorer.  Bennett came to Cleveland out of shape, but has dropped 15 lbs and is now flashing very good small forward-like skills at the 4 spot. To me, it makes sense to give him a ton of playing time and see what you have.  Having Thompson around only limits Bennett's PT by giving a defensive minded coach a solid defensive option at the 4 spot.

Force feeding Bennett minutes and scoring attempts could either reveal a keeper or make him a tradeable asset again by draft day next year.

Asik would give Cleveland one of the best defensive centers in the league.  Although his offensive game will never make him a name, he could potentially make an all-star game in today's center-less NBA, based on his physical, relentless defense, shot blocking, and rebounding.   

Deal 1:  Tyler Zeller & Tristan Thompson to Houston for Omer Asik

Trade Luol Deng and Dion Waiters

Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area's Mercury News has a great idea to get his local Golden State Warriors over the hump that actually makes a ton of sense for the Cavs --- a pair of deals (to circumvent silly NBA trade caveats) that would send David Lee and Harrison Barnes to Cleveland for 23 year old Dion Waiters and 29 year old Luol Deng.  (Kawakami is not the first to advocate trading Lee...)

I think that is a great deal, if Golden State is willing.

Deng reportedly doesn't want to re-sign with the Cavs.  Waiters reportedly doesn't get along with all star PG Kyrie Irving while Harrison Barnes does.  That already improves the stink in Cleveland.having some teammates who really like each other and are among the best players on the team really would help.

Deal 2:  Harrison Barnes to GS for Dion Waiters

The Lee problem

While keeping Lee until a better deal comes around is an acceptable path, I would try to move Lee to the Knicks for Andrea Bargnani as part of the deal.

There are a number of reasons for the Knicks to consider such a deal (and one big one that may prevent it). The Knicks play worse with Bargnani on the court. Bargnani's primary attribute is his ability to score points. There aren't enough balls in NY for him and Anthony offensively.

Although he has some highlight film plays shutting down NBA stars like Dirk Nowitski and Dwight Howard, Bargnani has trouble executing team defense concepts and is a poor rebounder.  If this isn't bad enough, Barganani may be out for the season with the second season-ending elbow injury in his career.  These are huge issues as he is a key asset.  Anthony has to see a good enough core to chose to stay. 

Carmelo is the team. Bargnani is not doing a thing for the Knicks to convince Anthony to stay.

This is where it gets interesting.  Anthony is represented by the CAA (Creative Artists Agency).  The Knicks have brought in a top of CAA players and execs including Bargnani, presumably to keep the CAA happy and whispering happy words in Anthony's ears.  Ken Berger of CBS sports speculates that this is destined to continue for a while.

The thing is, what if after a year of seeing Bargnani on the roster, Carmelo is no longer on board with the Italian forward?  What if Carmelo comes to think Bargnani is not a championship piece? At that point, a trade becomes very possible. That is why it absolutely makes sense to push the issue right now when Bargnani's stock is at his lowest and NY's management is nervous about their future prospects.

David Lee is a huge fan favorite in NY and could be a 15/9 guy for New York.  An injured Bargnani in street clothes gives NY nothing.  Lee would improve that team this year and that might be enough to hold on to Carmelo.

With Bargnani potentially out for the season, Cleveland would lose a number of good player minutes.  This only ramps up their odds in next year's lottery.

Given his rebounding deficiencies, for Bargnani to be a positive,  he needs to have a defined specific role as a space opening scorer that generates be a 20+ PPG scorer on a team that lacks dominant scorers.  NY has bigger needs,  but a scorer who opens space in the paint is exactly what Cleveland needs.

It's one thing to just say, "I'd offer Lee for Bargnani".  I think New York may be vulnerable to a strong sales pitch that underscores the precarious position they are in with Anthony.  I think you have to plant the seed and talk to them over a series of days.

I think Cleveland has a lot of "somewhat interesting" assets --- guys who really aren't going to pull in a young star for Cleveland to pair with Irving.  To me, the best use for those guys is to pile them up and deal them to a team in cap hell for a good mid-career player and maybe an asset.  Bargnani, to me, is the right kind of target. I think these guys could be used to cook up a deal for Bargnani that is really hard for NY to turn down.

I'll discuss Bargnani further and what a proper role for him would be in Cleveland at the end of this editorial.

Deal 3: Luol Deng to GS for David Lee; David Lee to NY for Andrea Bargnani

Trade Anderson Varejao

I had on my list the idea of trying to move 32 year old Anderson Varejao for a young, athletic 2 guard who can defend.
I would trade 4/5 Varejao to NY for 23 year old shooting guard Iman Shumpert if it takes that to get the Knicks to surrender Bargnani for Lee.  That would give NY the best frontline in the east and would open more playing time for rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. 

Now there are a lot of negative opinions on Shumpert.  Shumpert is a flawed backup type to me --- an NBDL type --- but he does have defensive skills and some nice attributes.  He is a collection of skills, but not a player yet.  He can be a workable piece and, if utilized properly, can be a tradeable asset two years down the road, and potentially a much more valuable tradeable asset than he is today.  That said, I think he is working his way off of an NBA roster.  I do not think he is attractive trade bait for any NBA teams.

Varejao would be going to NY in the Bargnani deal.  Shumpert is merely a tip.

Shumpert is a solid defender who has the attributes (long arms, great lateral quickness, fast hands, and a great vertical) to be a stopper if he works at that part of his game.  Offensively his stats reveal that he is a better 3 point shooter than he is credited with being.  He is great at triggering, directing, and finishing the break.  He has very good ball handling skills as a secondary ballhandler but is no PG as he holds on to the ball too long.  He should get it out of his hands much quicker, especially if he is part of a starting roster with players with more developed offensive skills.  Really, the rest of his offensive game is suspect/ underdeveloped and more to the point ...may never develop. If he limits his play to what he can do, he could be a solid fifth starter on a championship team -- think a mostly sane DeShawn Stevenson with better ball skills. 

Capwise a straight trade like this won't work.  I have found a deal that would work --- although it will seem horrible to Cleveland fans until they think about it.

I would pull in two expensive backups, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack and send them with Varejao for Shumpert and Amare Stoudamire. 

Clark is a developing useful backup forward, but let's be honest --- He is just a guy. Jack is a decent backup point guard who could help in NY.  Stoudamire is just an OK backup 4/5 now who can score and rebound a little.  He is one of the 3-5 most grossly overpaid players in the NBA and becomes irrelevant in NY with Lee and Vaerjao coming in.  

The value for Cleveland is that Stoudamire only has 1.5 years left on his deal.  As soon as next season starts, the value of Stoudamire, the player, become irrelevant.  Stoudamire's contract becomes a very large ending contract --- a very valuable trade asset in the era of delusional free agent pursuits.

Deal 4: Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, & Jarrett Jack to NY for Iman Shumpert & Amare Stoudamire.

How that fits together

This year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team have some decent moments to finish out the year.  I think Mike Brown would likely coach himself out of a job this year, but that is a good thing.  There is little that suggests brown can develop a young athletic team or manage egos in a team-building manner.  A coach who can teach young players and play to this team's strengths will need to be hired.

We will talk about the starting five first, then Bargnani. 

Asik gives the team a 35 minute a game defensive spine.

In a good way, Bennett is a tweener 4-3 and Barnes is a tweener 3-4.  Both can score fairly well in a variety of ways and match up vs. a variety of players.  Some nights one will give you 10 points and the other 20.

Irving has flashed as one of the best point guards in the league.  He does have moments where he dominates the ball and takes ill-advised shots when he should be looking for his teammates.  Hopefully with a better scoring front line, those bad habits would disappear.   If Shumpert can play within his current skillset, the backcourt can be quite good.

That is a solid starting 5 that could put Cleveland into the playoffs in the weak east.  

Plus Cleveland will likely have a lottery pick next season and there is(/are) also the player(/players) Stoudamire's ending contract might secure to consider.  Those players could make the Cavs a seven to nine player deep, dangerous playoff team.

Bargnani is potentially a player who could make that playoff Cavs team a contender by adding some scoring to the starting 5 at times and being the offensive sledgehammer for the bench.


The idea of adding Bargnani is a pickup that will likely confuse readers.  Most would consider him a bust as a #1 overall pick.  Even most of those who like him would not advocate the kind of haul I am willing to surrender for a guy viewed as slightly caustic and moody.  I think you have to look at where the team is after all the trading and tune out what it took to get there.

Cleveland needs a player who can take over a game (or a series) offensively.  Without one, Cleveland will not be capable of hanging in offensively vs. a good team with a top scorer who gets hot in a series and throws down 30-40 points in multiple games.

There are a lot of teams that have talents are capable of those kinds of series. Miami has Lebron. NY has Carmelo.  OKC has Kevin Durant. Dallas has Dirk. Golden State has Step Curry.  Kevin Love is rumored to be on his way to LA to join Kobe.  James Harden of Houston. Indiana's Paul George, Blake Griffin of the Clippers, and LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland are on the fringe of that group.

Those guys who have the skills and mental makeups to buy into those "anything you can do, I can do better" shootouts do not come cheap.  Bargnani, knicknamed "The Magician", is the cheapest I could find of that sort of offensive machine.  Here is a game where he dropped 41 on New York.

Bargnani is an Italian Dirk Nowitski clone, in terms of skills.  If you think how the Cavs would utilize Dirk, you get a clear idea of why I would champion going after Bargnani.  That kind of player can wreck an opponent's standard defensive strategy.  I intend for him to carry the Cavs bench and to do a lot of his damage vs. backups.

Additionally, Bargnani was a former #1 pick overall because he blew the top off the Caliper Profile test.  It concluded that he had the kind of personality --- that supreme end of game confidence --- that superstars have.  To my way of thinking, Cleveland doesn't have that personality type.

Talent-wise, Bargnani is actually better than Dirk.  He has better speed and quickness and is a better shot blocker and man defender.

But unlike Dirk, Bargnani has a label of lacking the drive/work ethic that makes players elite. I think a good owner, a good GM, and a good coach can effectively dictate a team's workplace enviroment.  A culture that demands hard work can be mandated without robbing a team of the joy of basketball.

Unlike Dirk, Bargnani does not have refined go-to moves.  Unlike Dirk, he cannot routinely carve up good defenders.  His skills are simply not as developed.  As the man in Toronto, after his first elbow injury, he would have a big night and then a series of average ones.  As a starter, it has been much the same in New York.

I think the injury played a role, but a lot of that comes out of who he is and roles with his teams that are not tailored properly for him.

The difference between Dirk and Bargnani appears based in cultural differences.  Dirk is a technician, Bargnani is an artist.  In European circles, Germans as a people are seen as being very into systems and are well known for their work ethic. Dirk fits that caracture. Dirk can buy into the systems of Holger and Don Nelson and work like a dog to develop.  Having a "go to move"  would make sense to a German.  Germans aren't generally flashy, so making the flashy dunk has never mattered to Dirk as much as being effective does.

Italians are flashy and in European circles aren't known for their work ethic, but they are known for being very competitive. Bargnani has not been blessed with stable organizations, supportive fans, or a ton of clever coaches in his NBA career.  Offensively he is still a jack of all trades, master of none.  One could say that 20 year old Dirk and 22 year old Bargnani were very similar talents (Dirk says Bargnani was better at 21), but the paths both careers have taken are not very surprising.

Dirk is friendly, unassuming, soft spoken, tuned into the game, and quite candid. Bargnani is assumed to be shy or even aloof and assumed to be somewhat disinterested.  I think a lack of structure and some disappointment in Bargnani in Toronto and New York likely figure in there. One might speculate that Bargnani may think he is as good as he flashes and may resent whispers of him not delivering.  Given his Caliper results that is unlikely.  

Using him as a wrecking all on opposing benches lets him face much weaker competition and lets him live up to what I am assuming is his self -image.  Winning breeds a willingness to compromise and positive attitudes.  I think that could be the key to getting him to choose to buy into being a team member more.

Bargnani is 29.  Most teams win titles when their key players are in the 28-32 range.  Bargnani could develop into the second face of the Cavs franchise.  If you want to win now, having two key players like Bargnani and Asik entering the window would help a lot.  Plus when both are getting out of the window,  the young Cavs would be entering that window.

Bargnani would pick up the remaining 13 minutes at the center spot and another 13 or so at the power forward spot.  That is keeping his minutes much lower than most key players in the league.  The idea would be to structure things to keep him mentally and physically fresh to carry a heavy scoring load.

The goal would be to get as close to turning Bargnani into a point a minute guy as possible. If you can get him anywhere near that goal, you can focus on building a bench full of defenders. The idea is that with all the top picks on the roster, Cleveland's starting five is going to be more talented than most starting fives, so really the bench play is competitive, Cleveland should be very, very tough.

When Irving is on the floor, Bargnani would be a perimeter-in part-time player. Whenever Irving sits, the offense would run exclusively through Bargnani, with him at the high post.

With Bargnani at the high post, the team would put him into a simple offense that dictates specific options at any moment.   (If given structure, Bargnani usually makes very smart plays and passes.  If given too much freedom, he can make dumb plays.)  

I think it should allows him (in order of preference) to either 1) hit a jumper to create space next time down the floor, 2) drive by his man for a short jumper or lay in, 3) pass to a cutting forward or a posting Asik, or 4) step back to the 3 point line to shoot,  or 5) kick it around to a guard for an open 3 pointer. 

Bargnani can do anything offensively on the court.  That doesn't mean he should do everything.  While his dunks are sometimes very exciting, he has small hands and that makes his dunks an adventure and sometimes a little unreliable.  Plus every drive to dunk creates an opportunity for another elbow injury.  Any NBA player can dunk --- only a handful of big men shoot well enough to force an opposing big out to the 3 point line. The cost to reward ratio of letting him attack the basket is out of whack.

Better to generally keep him a little farther from the basket and leave the paint open for others.  His shooting is a far better attribute in his game, which only helps spacing.  Giving him guidelines (limits) --- which neither of his previous teams have done --- while forcing the ball into his hands would dramatically improve his results, IMO. 

Given that the small handed Bargnani is a crap rebounder, I would strongly recommend the offense keep him near the 3 point line.  That would likely pull an opposing big away from the paint as no team can afford to let a Bargnani with a green light to shoot, shoot unchallenged shots.  That would rob an opposing defense of a big.

Additionally if time runs low, the team can kick it to him --- the team's best shooter --- for a 3 point attempt.  There is little more damaging to a team's psyche than playing good defense and then giving up a three.

If a turnover should happen, his length could be a real problem for a team trying to pass the ball up the court.  That's my thought anyway.  We haven't seen it yet, but I am not convinced the guy is a finished project yet. Bargnani is a fairly good shot blocker --- a skill that involves reacting quickly to get a jump on the ball --- playing the passing lanes on a break is a fairly similar skill set and can be enhanced via coaching.

Keeping him out near the 3 point line also limits the amount of pounding he takes and cuts his numbers of steps, keeping him fresh for his scoring demands.  This should really help his offensive game.

Defensively, Bargnani has limited strength and lacks the quickness to cover fast small forwards.  Power forwards are usually the best players for him to cover.  In theory, if you play him in a zone when he is playing with Asik, you can cover his deficiencies a bit, but Bargnani struggles with anything defensively beyond straight man to man.

Bargnani does a good job of knowing where the ball is as he is defending a player.  He can stay with a center.  Here is Bargnani eating Dwight Howard for lunch.  He can also defend skilled power forwards quite well.  Here he is killing Dirk's go to move. Now this isn't every play, but that fact that he can do it sometimes is relevant.

As a man defender, he does gets in trouble vs. physical post players with developed low post moves.  Getting his body in better shape and adding another 5 lbs of muscle would help a lot vs. power forwards and backup centers, wouldn't compromise his offensive game, and isn't an unreasonable one season weight training goal.  

Bargnani is a fairly decent shot blocker.  This would add some value as a back-side shot blocker and as a backup for Asik.

While Bargnani is a conspicuously poor rebounder, he does a fair job blocking out.  That is pretty valuable  on a team with explosive forwards and a SG with long arms who jumps out of the gym.  With the defensive game plan limiting Bargnani's exposure, putting him on the least physical front court player when he has to play man, and allowing him to take advantage of his shot blocking, a team could actually turn Bargnani from a big negative to a neutral or even something of a positive.

The forward combo should be able to give an opposing team fits --- especially with Bargnani creating space and hitting them on cuts.

Looking forward

While lottery picks do not equate directly to NBA success, the Cavs would be starting 5 #1 picks (two #1 overalls, a #7, a #17, and a #26), bringing a #1 overall off the bench, plus they would have whoever they draft next year.  All of these guys would likely complement each other's game --- something that isn't the case with today's roster.

I have a hard time thinking that kind of team would not immediately be at least a second tier team behind Miami and Indiana in the east.  Frankly I think it would be in that top tier, although probably  a close third team in that tier.

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