Cleveland Cavaliers

Cavaliers’ Biggest Needs Heading Into Trade Deadline

The Cleveland Cavaliers appear adamant on adding another piece to an already stellar roster. In recent weeks, the team reportedly made inquiries about Washington Wizards forward Jared Dudley while also expressing interest in the New Orleans Pelicans’ Omer Asik, Atlanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver, Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza and Sacramento Kings’ Ben McLemore. The club would also welcome seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson if the Brooklyn Nets opt to buy him out, per’s Chris Haynes.

Despite an Eastern Conference-best 38-14 record, the Cavaliers’ eagerness to make moves before the Feb. 18 trade deadline speaks volumes about how they see themselves in comparison to the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Cleveland might also feel the Toronto Raptors breathing down their necks and are doing whatever they can to create some distance. The Raptors are just three games behind the Cavaliers and are expected to be active on the trade market, especially at power forward.

With a league-leading $109.2 million payroll and very few enticing assets beyond the core four (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson), Cleveland has very little wiggle room to make upgrades. Fortunately, the team doesn’t have many needs to address.

Frontcourt Depth

January 15, 2016: New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) is fouled going to the basket during the NBA game between the Charlotte Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA. (Photograph by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

The Cavaliers have one of basketball’s best frontcourt trios in James, Love and Thompson. The problem is there’s not much quality behind them. Former starting center Timofey Mozgov isn’t the same defensive presence he was last year. After averaging 1.2 blocks in each of the last seasons, he’s swatting away 0.7 shots per game in 2015-16. Cleveland is also allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions with Mozgov on the floor, which is 2.2 points more than in ’14-15. Beyond Mozzy, there’s Anderson Varejao, who is 33 years old and has played more than 31 games just once since 2009-10. Lastly, there’s 30-year-old rookie big man Sasha Kaun, who has just 42 minutes of NBA experience.

On the perimeter, 14-year veteran Richard Jefferson is a serviceable backup behind James, but he’s 35 years old and scoring just 5.6 points per game this season. Fellow journeyman James Jones is a dangerous shooter (career 39.7 percent shooter from three), but his skill-set doesn’t evolve much beyond that.

New head coach Tyronn Lue (as well as his predecessor David Blatt) have been vigilant in monitoring James’ workload to keep him fresh for the playoffs. The King is logging a career-low 35.9 minutes per game this season. Still, the Cavaliers could use a quality backup who can provide relief for the four-time MVP.

Cleveland should also look to add another power forward, especially after Love’s recent injury scare. Love managed to avoid dislocating his surgically-repaired left shoulder, suffering only a stinger in a recent win over the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Love’s durability concerns make finding someone who could step in a necessity.

Also, while finding a shot-blocker is more of a luxury than a need, the team would benefit from having someone who could make opposing offenses think twice about coming inside. The Cavaliers are allowing just 39.7 points in the paint per game (sixth in the NBA) but have just 195 blocks as a team. By comparison, NBA swats leader Hassan Whiteside has 175 blocks. By himself.

Outside Shooting

The Cavalierss are ninth in three-point shooting percentage (35.8 percent) this season, but their interest in marksmen like Korver and Dudley suggests they aren’t satisfied with that ranking.

Cleveland’s prowess from the outside is aided by the contributions of role players such as Matthew Dellavedova (43.2 percent from three), J.R. Smith (40.2 percent)and Jefferson (39.5 percent). However, two of the team’s biggest offensive weapons are struggling to find their shot from behind the arc. LeBron is converting just 27.7 percent of his trey attempts, the worst mark of his career. Irving is shooting 29.5 percent, also a career-worst. Even notable contributors like Iman Shumpert (32.2 percent) and Mo Williams (33 percent) are having a hard time finding the bottom of the basket from deep.

The Cavaliers would be wise to add another proven shooter (or two) to the mix, especially with Golden State or San Antonio potentially awaiting Cleveland in the Finals. The Warriors and Spurs are first and second, respectively, in three-point shooting percentage. If the series turns into a shootout, the Cavaliers will find themselves ill-equipped as they are currently constructed.

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