The Cleveland Cavaliers made a big free agency splash on January 7th by announcing that the team had acquired sharp-shooter Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks for Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, and a 2019 first-round pick.
This move is widely viewed as a score for the Cavs. Dunleavy played his way out of the Cav’s rotation early in the season, and the Cavs needs some scoring help with JR Smith going down to a thumb injury.
Yet, it remains to be seen if Korver will benefit the Cavs come May and June in the playoffs. Lebron James likes to play with 3-point specialists, even if they are defensive liabilities. Mike Miller and James Jones are prime examples. Both helped Lebron with the Heat, and both joined the Cavs when King James returned to the Land.
However, Mike Miller’s defensive shortcomings resulted in his departure from Cleveland. James Jones has not been a consistent contributor off the bench.
Now, critics wonder if Korver will have a renaissance in Cleveland. Or will Korver turn out to be more like Miller, Jones, and Dunleavy — more barbeque chicken on the perimeter?
BIG MEN NEED NOT APPLY?
When Kevin Love misses a game, Cleveland’s lack of frontcourt depth becomes readily apparent. Chris Anderson is gone for the season, leaving Richard Jefferson and James Jones the only “bigs” (both are small forwards) on the bench when Channing Frye is inserted into the lineup.
The Cavs’ frontcourt depth is not a problem when playing against teams that have embraced the analytics of small ball. But big teams have caused problems for the best small ball teams. This is evidenced with Memphis beating Golden State and the Chicago Bulls beating Cleveland when Kyrie and Kevin Love were both out.
But Lebron James, the acting-General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is not publicly clamoring for frontcourt help. Lebron has made it abundantly clear that he thinks Cleveland needs to add a back-up point guard, not a big man.
At first blush, this seems like it makes sense. Mo Williams and Matthew Delladova are both gone. Both played big roles during the regular season for the Cavs. But both disappeared from the rotation last year as Coach Lue went with Lebron James as the de facto point guard with the bench unit when Kyrie was off the floor. This added defensive flexibility to the Cavs by increasing the effectiveness of the Cavs’ ability to switch off of high screens. With Lebron running the point-forward, spacing and shooting is key with the second unit on offense.
Deandre Liggins and Jordan McCrae fit within this model of defensive efficiency while Kay Felder is a legit scoring option, even if he is a rookie.
THE USUAL (FREE AGENT) SUSPECTS
Who would GM James acquire to play point guard off the bench?
Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, former players, are both candidates. Chalmers just came off an ACL injury. Cole can be signed on the cheap. Both have had trouble sticking with a team that didn’t have Lebron James on the roster.
Rajon Rondo may be available. However, he has been a disaster everywhere he has played since leaving Boston. Fred Hoidberg reportedly called Rondo slow just before benching him. Rondo has been a historically poor 3-point shooter.
Kirk Hinrich is also rumored to be on the Cavs’ radar. Perhaps Hinrich and Dunleavy could pair to form the Cavs senior league premier team. Not everyone has Richard Jefferson’s old man river juice.
If last year provides any indication of what Coach Lue will do in the playoffs this year, we should expect the Cavs’ rotation tightening down to 8 players with additional roles for specialists to step in as needed. With McCrae, Liggins, and Shump, James has the defensive wings his second unit needs on defense. All of them can bring the ball up the court, and James can create at will.
What do the Cavs do when Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, or Channing Frye get in foul trouble in a game against San Antonio, Memphis, L.A. Clippers, or Chicago? The Cavs have no big-man backup and will have to live and die by three-pointers in those scenarios.
KEEP KING JAMES HAPPY!
All this being said, Cleveland’s focus should always be on keeping Lebron James happy. The question is whether winning is enough for GM James. Does he need GM power, too?
So, is GM James right when he declares the team needs a point guard? Or should they be looking for a back-up big?