Just as the Cavaliers were being written off, they pulled off two savvy deals to bolster the roster for a finals run.
Just this past weekend I penned a pessimistic analysis of the Cleveland Cavaliers odds of winning the 2014-15 NBA finals. Online sportsbooks in the US, Canada, and UK almost without exception tabbed the Cavaliers as the favorite after Lebron announced his return. Bringing Kevin Love into the fold only increased the exuberance that oddsmakers, bettors, and everyday fans felt about the Cavs.
Almost at the season’s midway mark, the Cavaliers at 19-17, in fifth place in an abysmal Eastern Conference, and recently lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, a club frequently called the “worst team in NBA history.”
Yes, Lebron is currently out with lower back and knee strains, but this team has deep-rooted problems. They are in the bottom half of league rankings in both scoring offense and defense. Their lack of athletic wing players means they have to play at a slow pace. Their lack of a rim-protecting center means they struggle playing half-court offense.
Oddsmakers have already slightly tempered their expectations on the Cavs—their current 6.5/1 odds put them behind the Spurs and Bulls, both at 5.5/1—and I advised bettors to wait until next season to place a big wager on the Cavs. They could make a few moves over the offseason to upgrade the wing positions and invest in a true defensive stalwart to replace Anderson Varejao.
Just after I LITERALLY wrote the Cavs off, they pulled off two savvy moves that just might be enough to get them over the hump once Lebron gets healthy.
What Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith bring to the Cavaliers
On Tuesday the Cavaliers swung their first big deal of the week, trading shooting guard Dion Waiters for fellow shooting guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith in a three-way deal with the Knicks and Thunder. Giving up a young talent like Waiters hurts, but he was a hardheaded, coddled player that wasn’t doing much to help the Cavaliers win.
• The Cavs currently sit at fifth place in the East
• They bolster their defense with Mozgov and Shumpert
• Odds of the Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals currently sit at 6.5/1
Bringing in Smith in exchange for Waiters is an interesting move. The 29-year old gunslinger has been around for a long time, and has never been more than a streaky shooter and mercurial scorer. In a sense, he’s an older version of Waiters. Bringing him in doesn’t make the team a lot better, but he will provide scoring punch off the bench.
Iman Shumpert is the real prize, however. The 24-year old will never be mistaken for an offensive talent, but he brings the fresh legs and defensive acumen that the Cavaliers desperately need. He’s currently out two weeks with a bum shoulder, but should immediately become the starting shooting guard upon his return. He’ll help cover for some of Kyrie Irving’s defensive shortcomings.
As if those two players weren’t enough, the Cavaliers also received a conditional first rounder from the Thunder as part of the deal.
How Timofey Mozgov helps the Cavaliers title aspirations
The Cavaliers center situation has been terrible all season long. They’re depending on the 32-year old, oft-injured Anderson Varejao to man the middle, something which hasn’t worked well this season.
Even worse, the lack of a backup has forced Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson to play minutes at center, something neither is well-suited for.
My previous article suggested that the Cavaliers could make a run for Brandan Wright during the offseason. I was completely wrong. Not only did they choose to pursue a different player, they also decided not to wait that long.
On Wednesday the Cavaliers traded two future first round picks (the pick acquired from the Thunder and another pick originally belonging to the Grizzlies) to Denver in exchange for Timofey Mozgov, a 7’1, 250 brute of a center.
Nothing about Mozgov’s game is glamorous, but he’s exactly the guy to patch up the Cavs horrid interior defense. He averaged 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game for the Nuggets, and will provide an adequate 1-2 punch with Varejao. The Cavaliers instantly go from horrid to above average at the center position.
Where the do the Cavaliers stand now?
The latest odds from Bet365’s mobile betting app have the Cavaliers just behind the Spurs and Bulls. BetVictor and Bovada have similar lines. The Cavaliers certainly made their team better. But do they stand a good chance of winning the title?
That will come down to chemistry. If Lebron, Irving, and Love learn to play like a well-oiled machine and Mozgov and Shumpert fill their roles expertly, this team stands a strong chance. The Cavaliers talent matches up with anyone.
The Cavs will face the most trouble when going up against deeper teams, such as the Bulls, Spurs, Mavericks, and Warriors. None of those teams is so reliant on such a small core. The path to the 2015 NBA Finals is shaping up to be a five-team race (don’t take the Raptors, Hawks, Wizards, or Grizzlies to be serious title contenders), and the Cavaliers have as good a chance as anyone in the league.