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They already have a small collection of talent to start with, headlined by No. 8 overall draft pick Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman and Rodney Hood (restricted free agent). These four should be retained no matter what.
From there, the Cavs have some attractive trade pieces who should interest contending teams. Kevin Love, an All-Star the past two seasons, is the obvious headliner here. Others like Kyle Korver, George Hill and Jordan Clarkson could help with a playoff push as well.
The Cavaliers would love to move Tristan Thompson and JR Smith, but their contracts and declining production shouldn’t interest anyone. Cleveland just needs to let those deals ride out rather than attach a pick for the sake of getting rid of them.
The Cavs also shouldn’t be in any great hurry to trade players, either. Letting someone like Love inflate his numbers and value during the regular season and moving him before the trade deadline would be a wise move.
To kick off the rebuild, here are five trades Cleveland can make to improve its future.
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Oklahoma City Receives: SG Kyle Korver
Cleveland Receives: F Kyle Singler, C Dakari Johnson, 2019 and 2021 second-round picks
After agreeing to sign Paul George to a new four-year, $137 million deal, the Thunder will add Nerlens Noel and agreed to re-sign Jerami Grant to help build their bench.
What they really need now is a shooter.
Korver is the ultimate teammate and dead-eye assassin, knocking down 43.6 percent of his three-pointers this past season, sixth-best in the NBA. The Thunder were 24th on threes in 2017-18, converting just 35.4 percent of their attempts. Korver’s making just $7.5 million this year and next, with about half of his 2019-20 salary guaranteed.
The Cavs should be in no hurry to unload Korver, given the influence he can have on a young team. When the time comes, however, OKC would be a perfect fit. Cleveland could potentially still get a first-round pick for Korver, the same price they paid for him a year-and-a-half ago. Given that he’ll turn 38 in March, a pair of seconds would probably be fair.
Singler is included for salary-matching purposes, and Johnson gives the Cavs a 22-year-old center they can mold in the G League with the Canton Charge.
Korver would be the perfect bench piece to come in and complement Russell Westbrook and George, and he would continue to see plenty of open looks like he did playing alongside LeBron James.
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Phoenix Receives: PG George Hill
Cleveland Receives: SF Jared Dudley, PF/C Dragan Bender
The Suns just agreed to sign Trevor Ariza to be their stopgap forward for Josh Jackson and TJ Warren. Now, they need a veteran guard next to Devin Booker.
After employing too many point guards on their roster just a few seasons ago, Phoenix is one of the most floor-general-desperate teams in the league. Hill isn’t the long-term answer, but the 32-year-old can help guide their youngsters for a year before the Suns likely buy him out of his $18 million contract next season for $1 million.
The Cavs could easily do the same, using Hill to mentor Sexton, but they’re getting a veteran point guard on the next slide. Phoenix shouldn’t want to give up any draft picks, but Bender could be in play.
The No. 4 overall pick of the 2016 NBA draft, Bender is a 7’1″ power forward/center who’s developing an outside shot. There’s definitely bust potential brewing, but at only 20 years old, he still has plenty of time to unearth his talent in a new environment.
The Cavs could keep Dudley around as a locker-room guy, as he’s well-liked throughout the league and is used to a mentor role coming from Phoenix. They could also buy out the remainder of his $9.5 million expiring contract and get closer to dropping underneath the salary cap.
Bender’s time with the Suns is probably up with the addition of first overall pick Deandre Ayton. Cleveland should give him a shot.
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Milwaukee Receives: G Jordan Clarkson
Cleveland Receives: G Matthew Dellavedova, 2020 second-round pick
Fact: The Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship without Dellavedova on the roster. Obviously, they need him back.
The Cavs refused to match Milwaukee’s four-year, $38 million deal in 2016, a deal Dellavedova has failed to live up to. He averaged a career-low 4.3 points on 36.2 percent shooting this past season.
As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor noted before the NBA draft, the Bucks are very much looking to move the 27-year-old point guard: “The Bucks are pursuing trades using the No. 17 pick to dump point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who has two years and $19.2 million remaining on his contract, according to league sources.”
The Cavs should be happy to take back Dellavedova, a fan favorite during his three years in Cleveland, so long as Milwaukee absorbs some money as well.
Clarkson makes sense here. He’s younger (26), had a much better season (13.9 points on 45.1 percent shooting) and would give the Bucks’ 16th-ranked bench scoring a nice kick. He’s owed just under $26 million over the next two seasons.
The Bucks get the better player in the deal, while the Cavs save some money and collect a future second-round pick. As long as Milwaukee stays out of the luxury tax (which may depend on Jabari Parker’s next contract), this deal works.
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Houston Receives: SF JR Smith, C Kendrick Perkins, SF Okaro White
Cleveland Receives: PF Ryan Anderson, 2019 and 2021 first-round picks (lottery-protected)
This is simply a salary dump for Houston, who still owes Anderson nearly $42 million over the next two seasons.
As Kelly Iko of Rockets Wire wrote: “According to two people with knowledge of the Rockets‘ thinking, the team’s general manager Daryl Morey is intent on moving Anderson in a trade. One person said the Rockets could pursue buyout options if no such agreement is met.”
Houston has yet to find a buyer for Anderson and is going to have to attach some heavy assets to move him.
Enter the Cavs.
Cleveland can package Smith, Perkins and White for a total of approximately $18 million this season. That gives Houston minor financial relief this year and opens up $17.4 million next summer. Perkins and White both come off the books, and Smith’s 2019-20 salary is only guaranteed for $3.87 million.
Smith’s best days are behind him, but he would bring championship experience off the Rockets bench for a playoff run. So long as he remembers the score, of course.
If the Cavaliers are willing to open up that much room for Houston, they better be nicely compensated. A pair of lottery-protected first-round picks should do.
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Minnesota Receives: F/C Kevin Love
Cleveland Receives: SF Andrew Wiggins
Well, well, well, how the turntables…
Nearly four years after being traded for one another, does a Love-Wiggins swap make sense again?
The Cavs and Timberwolves find themselves on opposite ends of the contender spectrum, with Minnesota coming off a 47-win season and Cleveland headed to the NBA’s basement.
Love desperately wanted out of Minnesota in 2014, but that team didn’t have Karl-Anthony Towns or Jimmy Butler. Love would once again be the third-best player on a contender, a role he’s gotten used to and thrived in.
It’s unclear how much the Wolves like Wiggins despite signing him to a five-year, $146.5 million extension. He hasn’t come close to reaching the level many thought he would after being Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick in 2014. Wiggins’ defense has been suspect, and he’s done little outside of scoring.
As Ben Beecken of Dunking with Wolves wrote: “Of course, now that the extension is about to kick in, the Timberwolves either have to live with it or find a taker on the trade market. There’s no telling if there would be much interest in Wiggins; there isn’t much precedent when it comes to trading a contract that massive with the ink barely dry.”
So why would the Cavs pay Wiggins $30 million a year in exchange for their best player? It’s all based on potential.
For all his flaws, Wiggins is still just 23 years old and a career 19.7 point-per-game scorer. He’s missed just one game in four years and is under a contract that should take him into the prime of his career. He fits the Cavaliers’ rebuilding plan and could still blossom into an All-Star-caliber wing.
The Cavs’ goal should be to acquire players with star potential. Wiggins still fits that description.
Greg Swartz covers the Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract numbers by Spotrac. Reported agreements to sign via NBA.com’s free-agency tracker.