With the NBA trade deadline only three weeks away, one of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ biggest looming questions centers around their starting small forward spot.
Anything can happen at this point of the season. For instance, the Cavs acquired Caris LeVert just days before last year’s deadline.
Could Cleveland seek an improvement at small forward by Feb. 9? Do the Cavs even have the means to do so? Or should they roll with their current group through the end of the season? There are a few factors influencing this conversation.
Let’s dive in.
The first factor we’ll examine is Cleveland’s finances. According to Spotrac, the Cavs are over the salary-cap max by $29.6 million and roughly $2.5 million below the luxury-tax line. If the Cavs go over the luxury tax, the repeat offender tax won’t be far away.
Cleveland also does not have much available in terms of first-round assets to use by the deadline. The team’s 2023 first-round pick is owed to Indiana due to the aforementioned LeVert acquisition. The Cavs have a 2024 first-round selection, but that pick can’t be moved until the night of next year’s NBA Draft. Their remaining first-rounders through 2029 were included in the trade for Donovan Mitchell as outright picks (2025, 2027, 2029) or selection swaps (2026 and 2028).
If rival teams make a first-round pick their price tag for a trade, Cleveland’s lack of such assets could prove an issue in sweetening a deal.
The small forward spot
The Cavs have tried multiple options on the wing this season, beginning with Caris LeVert, then moving to Lamar Stevens and Isaac Okoro. Dean Wade was also a part of that grouping but has dealt with injuries in the first half of the season.
LeVert won the starting job after an impressive training camp and preseason. However, following the Cavs’ five-game losing skid in November, there was a change to the starting lineup, with Stevens subbing in at small forward. It was a mutual decision between LeVert and coach JB Bickerstaff, as LeVert had approached Bickerstaff about coming off the bench to have the ball in his hands di lui more in the second unit to create for himself and his teammates.
“He’s been aggressive, and this is who we thought Caris was,” Bickerstaff said of LeVert recently. “We know he is a capable scorer, but he’s also a point guard. And I think he’s starting to find some comfort and find a rhythm, understand where his spots are coming from. ”
LeVert’s contract makes him a tradable asset, as he is on an expiring contract worth $18.8 million and will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Cavs, however, have expressed an appreciation for what LeVert brings to their group.
His role also doesn’t change much, even with Ricky Rubio back in the guard mix. Bickerstaff described Rubio’s presence as making LeVert’s job easier. Rubio can be the facilitator while LeVert can be aggressive, make a play or finish one-on-one.
When Stevens stepped into the starting lineup, he brought a defensive presence to that group. But in December, he missed three games with knee soreness, and Okoro was inserted into the starting lineup. The starting job has ping-ponged over the last month between the two, as Stevens re-entered the starting lineup for four games before Okoro started the last eight for the Cavs.
In this eight-game stretch, though, Okoro has looked strong on both ends of the floor. He’s knocking down 3s, cutting to the basket for layups and being physical on defense. Okoro has shot 60.9 percent from 3 and 58.7 percent from the field over those last eight games. His 17 points against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday marked a season high.
“I mean, it’s about earning what you get and fitting with the group that’s in front of you,” Bickerstaff said following Tuesday’s practice. “I think Isaac has done that. Again, we’ve talked about it time and time again. He’s a tireless worker, and he’s a great teammate. All he wants to do is help the team win and support people the best way he possibly can. So, to me, it’s like you want guys like that to be rewarded, and I think he’s done that. You watch him, his shooting numbers have continued to improve, his aggressiveness has improved. Again, we’re trying to figure out the best piece for this team, and we’ve put a ton of time with Isaac, and we believe in Isaac and just want to give him an opportunity to be successful.”
The other option the Cavs have had at small forward is Wade. The 26-year-old was working his way back from a shoulder injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 2 when he suffered an ankle injury when he stepped on a player’s foot at practice a week and a half ago, a league source told The Athletic.
“He’s not [doing] five-on-five yet,” Bickerstaff said following Tuesday’s practice. “Again, because of where he was before, it won’t need as much to get him back to going because it wasn’t as big of a setback.”
Wade agreed to a contract extension in September and, by league rules, cannot be traded for six months after signing an extension. But the Cavs like what Wade brings to the table with his size, length, great feet, floor spacing, perimeter shooting and defense.
Cleveland has multiple options at small forward, and all have seen time in the starting lineup during the first half of the season. Is there a player out there in the trade market Would Cleveland consider a better fit?
Potential trade targets
As the deadline approaches, other names could arise as the landscape changes. Here are two recently reported names the Cavs are connected to in some fashion.
The Athletic‘s Shams Charania reported on Tuesday that the Cavs are among teams registering interest in Detroit’s Bojan Bogdanović. The veteran forward, who signed an extension with the Pistons in October and is under contract through 2025, could bring floor spacing and perimeter shooting. He is shooting 41.5 percent from 3 this season.
NBA correspondent Marc Stein also reported recently that the Cavs have considered a three-team trade involving the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks in which the Cavs would acquire Malik Beasley from the Jazz, the Hawks would ship John Collins to Utah and LeVert would be headed to Atlanta.
(Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today)