Friday, July 9, 2010

One potential Cavs quick turnaround scenario

By Rick Morris

UPDATE: In this fast-changing world, two big developments happened after this column was posted. The Cavs made a sign'n'trade deal with Miami for LeBron, bringing back draft picks and cap considerations that could perhaps be used in lieu of some of the pieces-parts laid out below. Also, word came out that Chris Paul has signed with LRMR, LeBron's marketing company. Now, this could certainly make CP3 less likely to want to reunite with Byron Scott, but since Dan Gilbert knows where the bodies are buried regarding #23's time in Cleveland, methinks he can send word down south not to even try to poison Paul's mind.

In the past 24 hours, I have joked with FDH Lounge Dignitary Nate Noy that he is still stuck in the bargaining phase of grieving about the LeBron departure, while I passed through to acceptance in May (when I actually wondered to myself if the team could be OK signing Joe Johnson in free agency instead!!!). He has tried to rationalize how the Cavs could get back to legitimate contention (meaning a legitimate chance to go deep into the playoffs every year) quickly, while I have been resigned to the tear-down/rebuild through draft picks and salary cap room.

But ... there is an exception to every rule. I do believe that if you can get players capable of becoming megastars that you have to do so at all costs in the NBA. That is why I defended the Memphis decision to give Rudy Gay a max contract; sure, he's been a tease (I won't say a Gay tease!) pretty much ever since UConn, but we all know the insane upside he possesses at age 23 and he started to flash a bit of that last year. You either acquire such a player or you develop one if you are going to win titles, period.

With word that Minnesota and New Orleans are among the franchises suffering the worst through the financial crunch, rare opportunities could be in place. Sure, the Cavs weren't able to trade for Chris Paul in time to keep LeBron in Cleveland, but CP3 has made no secret of his desire to play for Byron Scott once again and he can leave the Bayou in 2012. If he forces the issue with management, there is no way management lets him play out the string. But it must be strongly emphasized -- this deal does not get done without Paul taking the initiative in that way and forcing his team's hand. The Hornets really want to move Emeka Okafor's monster contract, so Cleveland would have to swallow hard and accept it -- which they almost assuredly would in the overall context of the deal.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Wolves are actively dangling Al Jefferson because of their frontcourt logjam and financial situation.

I worked Oklahoma City into the deal, figuring that if they could acquire a talented veteran to add to their core like Antawn Jamison without adding too much salary that they could fill out the multi-team mix.

I ran this scenario through the ESPN Trade Machine and it hung up the few times I tried to enter it -- I did not get a definitive answer. However, it did reject some of my versions that involved teams other than Oklahoma City, so my belief for right now is that the objections were limited to the fourth team being over the cap (which the Thunder is not). Regardless, this structure should serve as the foundation for a possible deal even if a few tweaks would be necessary here and there.

Al Jefferson (from Minnesota)
Chris Paul (from New Orleans)
Emeka Okafor (from New Orleans)
Nick Collison (from Oklahoma City)
Nenad Krstic (from Oklahoma City)

2012 #1 pick (from Cleveland)
2014 #1 pick (from Cleveland)
Anthony Parker (from Cleveland)

Delonte West (from Cleveland)
JJ Hickson (from Cleveland)
Mo Williams (from Cleveland)
Anderson Varejao (from Cleveland)

Antawn Jamison (from Cleveland)
Leon Powe (from Cleveland)

It should go without saying that the Cavs would be doing sign-and-trade extensions with Paul and Jefferson as a part of this mega-deal.

So if you're the Cavs, here's what the lineup looks like after the wholesale roster reshuffling with this deal.

C - Emeka Okafor
PF - Al Jefferson
SF - Jamario Moon
SG - Rashad McCants (veteran minimum signing, on summer league roster)
PG - Chris Paul

Wow, Jamario Moon as the only player off the '09-10 roster to be a starter -- and he didn't even start last year, backing up #23!

The rest of the rotation would be as follows:

C - Nenad Krstic
PF - Nick Collison
SF/SG - Danny Green
SG/PG - Boobie Gibson
SG/PG - Sebastian Telfair

Remaining roster spots could go to:

C - Nathan Jawai (veteran minimum signing, on summer league roster)
PF - Maciej Lampe (veteran minimum signing, on summer league roster)

Moon and McCants would be fairly marginal starters, with Okafor being fairly functional if (relatively, which may be the best you can expect) healthy. The bench would be decent, with Gibson as a pretty good sleeper scoring option given his sharp-shooting abilities.

But the CP/AJ combo is the centerpiece of this new roster, with Paul clearly one of the five players in the league capable of anchoring a championship roster and Jefferson comprising the best "Pippen" not named LeBron this side of South Beach. Could this team win a title? Realistically, you'd still need at least a year to gel and allow the $12.5 million in merely functional salaries acquired from the Thunder to expire and be used for another upgrade.

But compared to the half-decade at best in the wilderness that faces the Cavaliers otherwise? Get to it, Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert!

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