If you are not moving forward, then you are going backward. And if you stand still, you will get run over. Those are two of my “Gonzoisms.”
We are one month into the NBA season, and in my opinion the Cleveland Cavaliers need to take some risks and make a move or they will not get where they are trying to get. You want to win a championship in that town for the first time in any sport since 1964? You need to make more moves than the big ones you have already made.
Remember who put Miami over the hump when LeBron James was there for four years? It was “The Birdman,” Chris Andersen. Yes, James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were an awesome Big Three. But that team needed a glue guy and a rim protector, and Birdman provided that when they finally became good enough to win a championship.
James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love is a nice threesome, too. In fact, it’s better than nice.
But as Chris Bernucca detailed in his column Monday, the Cavs have a ton of issues that need to be addressed. They are not a good defensive team. They are not a deep team. They are stumbling through David Blatt’s NBA learning curve. They are not just fragile. They are flawed.
Monday night’s blowout victory over an Orlando Magic team playing without Tobias Harris really proved one thing that most people already knew: When the best player on the planet decides to really get focused, he is very capable of putting his team on his back and winning a game on any given night. The problem is going forward is that James may get better but they will not win it all as currently constructed.
General manager David Griffin did a nice job pulling off the Love trade (hard to give him credit for the LeBron move, because that was LeBron’s decision no matter who the GM was), but he has unfinished business. He had a chance to pick up a number of backup point guards with more experience than Will Cherry, but he did not. He has been trying to make a trade for a rim protector, but he has been swinging and missing.
Doing this in the current climate, with salary cap restrictions and a dearth of future No. 1 picks, limits what kind of moves the Cavs can make. But Dion Waiters and Brendan Haywood (because of his contract, which jumps from $2.2 million to a non-guaranteed $10.5 million over the summer) are the trade chips at Griffin’s disposal. And let us not forget that teams can make deals without having the salaries match if they include a third team, such as Philadelphia, whose GM Sam Hinkie has a payroll of only $34 million and thus can be a facilitator for just about any deal imaginable.
But for now, I am going to concentrate on players that Griffin should be targeting who can be acquired without having a third team involved. As I have learned through my many years in coaching, chemistry and intangibles are tricky and very elusive commodities. Once you get three big superstars at their respective positions, now the challenge becomes finding and keeping the other right pieces of the puzzle needed to compete for the championship.
To examine two different extremes, look no further than the incredible job that the Spurs have done with R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich in identifying the right players – think Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard – to fill out their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Or you can try to blow it up like the 76ers and build through the draft, perhaps getting a Jahlil Okafor of Duke and hope he, Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and Joel Embiid will amount to a homegrown Big Three – all while hoping your fans have the stomach to last long enough to go through such an ugly and painful process.
Here is my list of things I believe the Cavs might be able to get done before the calendar year ends to see if they can add or change what’s needed for their Big Three to thrive.
Get a rim protector. As I mentioned above, Miami was in some trouble until Riley added Andersen to the mix – a guy who didn’t need the ball to be effective and was actually able to guard other teams’ big men adequately to go with blocking some shots. Blatt loves Timofey Mozgov, but would JaVale McGee be an acceptable alternative?
Acquire a backup point guard. No disrespect to Australian Matthew Dellavedova, who’s hurt, but I don’t think he’s the answer. In hindsight, should they have kept A.J. Price? Yes, but maybe they can target a Cory Joseph, who moves to the third backup spot in San Antonio when Patty Mills comes back.
A tough intangible energy type of guy, an enforcer if you will, or just a glue guy who makes plays. DeMarre Carroll from the Hawks would be an ideal fit . He brings toughness and defense and energy — all things every team needs, especially the Cavs. If they want to go bigger, Jeff Adrien is out there as well.
Find a big guard. This is Cleveland’s biggest need. The Cavs have two 6-foot guards in Irving and Waiters trying to defend the perimeter and not get crushed with dribble penetration. As the Raptors showed in getting 79 points from guards Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams in their victory over Cleveland last week, this is a recipe for disaster in this league. Shawn Marion is nice, but small forward types like Mike Miller and James Jones don’t shoot like Ray Allen and cannot defend shooting guards.
Who might be the answer?
O.J. Mayo, Milwaukee. A big wing who can definitely score and is in my opinion a better defender than he gets credit for. He is in shape – unlike last season – and his trade value is good right now.
Randy Foye, Denver. I had a chance to coach Randy to a gold medal for USA Basketball at the World University Games in Izmir, Turkey. He is a big, strong Robo-type guard who can score and would give the Cavs some physicality. He can rebound from that spot and is a veteran different than Waiters still trying to find his niche. And the Nuggets have Arron Afflalo and rookie Gary Harris at the position.
Iman Shumpert, New York. A little inconsistent as a shooter but a great athlete who is a good defender. I have to believe that as bad as the Knicks are, they would be all ears to most any deal put on the table as they need a ton of different things. Shumpert also is entering restricted free agency, and the Knicks have J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. at the 2-spot.
Gerald Henderson, Charlotte. The Hornets have an abundance of big wings, and Henderson is another athletic big wing who is a pretty good scorer and defender who has become expendable since the arrival of Lance Stephenson. The Hornets also have Gary Neal and drafted P.J. Hairston.
Corey Brewer, Minnesota. Another big wing who is one of the top steals guys in the NBA and an underrated scorer in an up-tempo scheme.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento. I know he is young and has been a little up and down thus far, but he has shown flashes and I love his upside. He would be great for the Cavs in the open court to give them another young athletic wing who can get out on the break. James would be ideal guy to take this kid under his wing. Plus, the Kings just drafted Nik Stauskas.
Mo Williams, Minnesota. I know he’s also a little undersized combo guard, but he is a cagey veteran who once was very good and very well liked in Cleveland. He probably wouldn’t be available until Ricky Rubio returns, however.
What I can tell you is the best teams I’ve ever coached or been around, you never have everything you need. No team is perfect. You always need another shooter, more leadership, an extra point guard or big guy, more athleticism, another defender, etc.
The bottom line is putting together a team is not easy. And Griffin’s job in Cleveland is far from complete.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former Division I head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March.