The Cleveland Cavaliers might not be the favorites to win the East anymore, but after making some trades, they might be a decent NBA pick after all. That’s if you don’t believe in the second-tier contenders.
Jason’s record as of Jan. 6: 22-21-1 ATS, 2-4 Totals
Just a few days ago, it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers were toast. Their new-look lineup with LeBron James and Kevin Love simply wasn’t producing; the veteran players that were brought in to support James weren’t effective, and the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao took away what little rim protection they had. People started ripping into head coach David Blatt. And James himself is out of action for two weeks.
Thanks to all these issues, the Cavaliers are no longer the favorites to win the NBA title as we go to press. In fact, they’re not even favored to win the Eastern Conference – that honor goes to the Chicago Bulls, who are pegged at 8-5 on the NBA odds list at Bovada. The Cavs have slipped to 9-5. But fear not, Cleveland fans: The cavalry is coming.
In with the New
On Monday, the Cavaliers addressed their thin bench by swinging a three-team deal with the New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s slightly complicated, so let’s break it down from Cleveland’s perspective:
Cleveland sends to New York: Louis Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 second-round draft pick
Cleveland sends to Oklahoma City: Dion Waiters
Cleveland gets from New York: J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert
Cleveland gets from Oklahoma City: a protected 2015 first-round draft pick
But wait, there’s more. On Wednesday, the Cavaliers flipped that OKC draft pick, plus another protected 2015 first-rounder that they had acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in the Jon Leuer trade (remember that one?), to the Denver Nuggets for Timofey Mozgov. Now things are getting very interesting indeed. In a vacuum, these are very expensive trades for Cleveland, both in terms of draft picks lost and contracts gained. But for a team trying to win a title, they might be exactly what the Cavs need to beat the NBA odds.
From Russia with Love
The key players here are Shumpert and Mozgov – Smith (11.7 PER) is basically an older and more expensive version of Waiters (12.1 PER) at this point. Shumpert (plus-0.7 career DBPM) is a promising perimeter defender who’s currently on the shelf with a dislocated shoulder, but he should be back later this month. And Mozgov (plus-1.2 career DBPM) is a capable rim protector who can also grab offensive rebounds (3.5 per 36 minutes).
Both players should be excellent fits on a team that went into Wednesday’s action ranked No. 23 in the league in defensive efficiency at 105.4 points allowed per 100 possessions. Mozgov is particularly intriguing; Blatt coached him on the Russian national team at the 2012 Summer Olympics, as well as other international competitions. Once Shumpert and James are back in action, the Cavaliers should be in much better shape to reach their lofty goals.
We Are the Famous Five
But will it be enough? The Bulls are moving quickly toward the top of the Eastern standings now that both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are relatively healthy. And there are three other rising powers in the East who deserve a place in your NBA picks: the Atlanta Hawks, the Toronto Raptors, and the Washington Wizards. Atlanta and Toronto are pegged at 11-2 to win the conference, while Washington is close behind at 7-1.
It might be a five-team dogfight for the Eastern crown, but at least all these contenders have the luxury of playing in a tremendously weak conference. Nobody else is a serious threat, which gives the top teams the chance to fine-tune their rosters, bring along their injured players at a leisurely pace, and give their veterans as many maintenance days as required. Let’s not forget about guys like Ray Allen, either. He could end up hitting some key buckets for the Cavaliers – or someone else – this spring and summer.