Cavs' dilemma: Deal or no deal?
The Cavaliers have the assets to make a big move by the Feb. 19 trade deadline
It's no lock that the NBA-leading Cavs would shake up their team at midseason
More topics: Gilbert Arenas' waiting game; rookie Brook Lopez's rapid progress
You could make a rather convincing argument that the Cavaliers are the deepest team in the NBA despite the fact that they may end up with only one All-Star selection. But that's not all that makes rival coaches and general managers nervous. No, what's really scary to them is how good Cleveland (30-6 through Wednesday) could be.
With the Feb. 19 trade deadline five weeks away, the Cavs possess two enormously attractive assets in swingman Wally Szczerbiak (who is being paid $13 million this season in the last year of his contract) and forward-center Ben Wallace (who has one year and $14 million remaining on his contract after this season). That is $27 million in salaries that expire before the anticipated summer of 2010, when a free-agent bonanza is expected to hit the market.
Those assets put the Cavs in position to significantly upgrade an already impressive roster and, with the right move, position themselves as the clear favorite to win the NBA title this season and perhaps in 2009-2010, too.
Certainly there are question marks. For one, how much is owner Dan Gilbert willing to spend? The mortgage magnate already oversees the third-highest payroll in the league ($90.3 million). Would the Cavs be willing to take on a long-term contract via trade in addition to re-signing free-agent-to-be Anderson Varejao to a lucrative deal when he becomes a free agent this summer?
And what about Danny Ferry? The Cleveland GM has the opportunity to be a player on the trade market, but he could also choose to conserve his own cap space. With Szczerbiak, Wallace and Eric Snow coming off the books before 2010, the Cavs could wait and see if they can lure a first-tier free agent that offseason. Do you think the prospect of playing alongside, say, Chris Bosh for the next five years would be incentive for LeBron James to stay in Cleveland?
But let's assume for the sake of argument that Cleveland will be active in the trade market this season. What does a team with the NBA's best record really need? Based on conversations with NBA coaches, scouts and general managers this week, here are three possible targets.
1. Michael Redd, SG, Milwaukee
Why it could happen: John Hammond has done a masterful job retooling the Bucks and changing the culture since taking over as GM last April. Hammond has always spoken highly of Redd publicly, but if one thing is clear it's that the personnel boss has no allegiances to any of the players he has inherited. Like most teams, the Bucks are trying to create some financial flexibility, and unloading Redd (who is owed $17 million next season and has an $18.3 million player option for 2010-2011) would go a long way toward accomplishing that.
Why it should happen: "The one thing they could probably use is a big guard," an Eastern Conference scout said of the Cavs. "Mo [Williams] and Delonte West are great, but they are on the small side." At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, Redd is a prototypical shooting guard with a jump shot that ranks among the best in the league. With Redd spotting up on the perimeter, James would have wide lanes to penetrate and teams would be forced to defend Zydrunas Ilgauskas one-on-one on the block lest Redd beat them from the outside.
Redd would probably welcome the move. A Columbus native and Ohio State alum, Redd was close to accepting an offer to play with the Cavs in 2005 before signing a bigger contract with the Bucks. Free from the pressures of being a team's No. 1 option, Redd would thrive as a complementary scorer.
Why it might not happen: Money, specifically Gilbert's. By taking on Redd's contract, Gilbert effectively guarantees paying an eight-figure luxury-tax bill every year there is one. Gilbert hasn't been shy about shelling out cash -- and he's been rewarded for it with loyal fan support -- but this kind of money might be too much.
2. Vince Carter, SG, New Jersey
Why it could happen: "I think if New Jersey was offered an enticing package for Carter before the season, they might have taken it," an NBA source said. "Now, I'm not so sure." Any deal that involves Carter and Szczerbiak or Wallace would not be a basketball decision for the Nets; a seemingly rejuvenated Carter has been stellar this season in averaging 22.2 points and 4.8 assists in 39 games. But New Jersey is considered to be one of the teams most interested in clearing cap space for 2010, and keeping Carter (who has two years and $36.6 million remaining on his contract) doesn't jibe with that plan.
Why it should happen: Like Redd, Carter would probably be happier in a supporting role. "When has Vince ever led a team to anything in the playoffs?" one of Carter's former teammates said. Criticism aside, Carter is still a dynamic offensive player capable of scoring inside and out, and he wouldn't have to work as hard to score while playing alongside James. With Carter complementing James as a starter and leading the second unit for stretches, the Cavs would put constant pressure on opposing defenses.
Why it might not happen: The Nets didn't anticipate being in playoff contention this late in the season, and Carter's play has a lot to do with it. Paired with Devin Harris, Carter has helped the Nets become a dangerous offensive team. Coach Lawrence Frank has effusively praised Carter's leadership, too. Trading Carter would be a blatant salary dump. Such a move would completely turn off an already alienated fan base that the Nets, with the move to Brooklyn looking more like a dream every day, might need to reclaim at some point.
3. Earl Watson, PG, Oklahoma City
Why it could happen: Watson has been on the trade block all season. A deal seems inevitable given that his contract expires in 2010 and that the Thunder are committed to rookie Russell Westbrook at point guard. Watson's price tag isn't hefty: He's owed the balance of his $6.2 million salary this season and $6.6 million next season.
Why it should happen: "I think Mo Williams could be even better if he were playing off the ball," another Eastern Conference scout said. "What Cleveland needs is the Eric Snow from five years ago. They need a guy who can put the ball in LeBron's hands at the right time and doesn't need a lot of shots himself."
Watson, obviously, is not on Redd's or Carter's level, but his presence would occasionally free Williams to concentrate on his own offense.
Why it might not happen: Oklahoma City is shopping Watson around the league and might be presented with an offer better than Cleveland's. What's more, the rebuilding Thunder might insist that a young talent like rookie forward J.J. Hickson be included in any deal. Any trade involving Hickson is a non-starter for Cleveland, according to sources.