Get Off David Blatt's Back, LeBron's Jock; Let's Talk About Getting More Talent

It’s been a gossipy New Year already for the Cavaliers, with content-hungry scribes turning what they picked up while eavesdropping into “breaking news,” and then in one case, had the temerity to suggest, when LeBron corrected this misperception, “if you believe him.”

When did sportswriters fashion themselves muckrakers? Hey, I get it, he left once, but like a girl who gets her heartbroken and turns it into a chip, you need to let it go and trust the man’s word. (Four years and two championships have had a profound effect on his manner.) Of course, this is standard fare for those embedded in the King’s surroundings like moths about the flame. Need to justify their check somehow, right? Especially if your job title is explicitly tied to The King.

Meanwhile, the big boys are salivating for news on Coach David Blatt’s firing. Someone inside the Cavaliers has suggested to an ESPN reporter the fear that the team is tuning him out. And that LeBron isn’t with him. They kiss the ring of Pat Riley and genuflect on how much better Miami’s front office has been than Cleveland. (He sure didn’t help the Knicks, huh?)

Save it for the history books fellas, we live in the present. Meanwhile, everyone on the network and beyond uses that shred of rumor as a pretext to say Blatt’s under fire, or there’s a storm about him. It’s known as tail-wags-the-dog.

For all we know, their source is someone on the Cavaliers staff with something to gain from Blatt’s departure like Tyronn Lue. It’s pure hearsay, and only a step above political rumors. No one’s going to put their name to it, so it’s best taken with a grain of salt.

It seems a bit odd that in the midst of a run of horrific injuries the front office would decide to kick Blatt to the curb. It may be true, but placed on Occam’s Razor, I find it more likely that there’s some headline/drama hunting going on, notably by LeBron’s former reportorial shadow Brian Windhorst.

Not that there couldn’t be some smoke at some point there. Lue is being paid $1.4 million to be an assistant, more than anybody in the league. Then again, coaching staffs are peppered with former coaches who could potentially step in, like last year’s Bucks Coach/Cavalier assistant Larry Drew. Indeed, experienced NBA coaches were brought in specifically to help Blatt with the transition as well as to provide a potential succession policy. A former Doc Rivers assistant, Lue was in demand and needed to be paid like it. Nothing to see here.

Indeed, one could speculate that the decision to sit LeBron for a couple weeks to recover from his present set of maladies is as much to cool the tension around the team. Hard to fire a guy who just lost his starting center and the best player in the world for two weeks just ahead of a brutal West Coast road trip, right? And why not sit him? Gregg Popovich sits guys all the time, and he plays in the Western Conference where 11 teams are fighting for 8 spots, unlike the East where Boston is in the playoff hunt at 11-18.

The feeling could be that LeBron could adapt to the team, but the team was having a trouble developing an identity away from LeBron. Like the boring girl/boy-friend who revels in their exceptionally hot/cool significant other, the team needs a life of its own.

Getting Kevin Love significant touches outside the first quarter would be a start. Much of the year, Love’s scored 60-75% of his points in the first quarter. (I’d love to see a breakout, but can’t find one.) When LeBron and Kyrie get driving in the second half, Love watches from the backseat.

The team could do more pick and rolls on the side using Love but for whatever reason, both have tended to preferred to work the pick and roll with the center in the middle of the floor, be it Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao. It’s worth noting both had played with their respective partners (Ky, LBJ) for several years developing chemistry that those outside the team seem to expect to develop quicker than it generally does.

With LeBron in true “chill mode,” which in this interpretation means “street clothes,” the team will have more time to work together and hopefully become a more cohesive, energized defensive team without always relying on “Poppa” to carry them.

Maybe Mike Miller will use the occasion to shoot, though he is a fine passer, of which the Cavs could surely do more. Miller subscribes to the school that if you move the ball willingly, it will come back to you. However everyone has to buy in for that to work, which is why Miller doesn’t shoot very much.

He’s going to need to do something because the Cavaliers are lacking in real wing depth. Sure they can play three guards, but they’re already lacking size upfront, and they don’t play with enough pace (or ball security, truth be told) to truly bring off small-ball.

Apparently most reporters have been too busy playing telephone and stoking the rumor mill to bother checking out who might fit into the $4.9 million disabled exemption the Cavaliers got after Varejao’s season-ending injury. The exemption has a number of complications to its usage, but given the Cavs’ depth needs, they can’t afford not to use it.

The deal’s this: It can not be combined with another player or exception (such as their $5.3 million trade exception from the Keith Bogans deal) to take back a player with a larger salary than the exemption. The player must also be in the last year of his contract – a true replacement for the injured player and nothing more.

There aren’t many players like that on teams that aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Now, it’s possible that the exemption could be part of a larger deal with other pieces, but the Cavs don’t really want to trade anyone. The most they’d like to offer is some draft picks. They are sort of short on that account, but do have a first round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies with some interesting protections that make it more valuable.

They could send the Grizzlies #1 to a team for players that fit into both the trade and disabled player exemptions, or they could send it to one team and get some seconds back which they then send to, say the team filling the disabled slot.

That’s more likely since a player on a one-year contract isn’t nearly as valuable as a guy signed for next year. Boston, for example, has stockpiled numerous seconds which they could send to the Cavs in a deal for big man Brendan Wright. (Sadly Wright’s one-year $5M contract is just a smidge too big to fit in the disabled slot.)

We gathered some names. It’s not a great array of players, but when you consider you’d probably be getting them for a second round pick, it’s a bit more palatable.

PF Darrell Arthur, 6’9”, 235, 26, Denver, $3.4M. Shooting 3 threes a game (29%), and a steal in just 18 minutes/gm. Strong FT shooter (80%). Solid fundamental player with range in 6th year out of Kansas. The player he defends has a 1.2% lower FG% from within 6 ft, and 2.8% lower from beyond 15, showing his ability to play the perimeter.

PF Jonas Jerebko, 6’10” 231, 27, Detroit, $4.5M. 38% 3pt shooter, 47% FG and 89% FT shooter in his fifth year out of Sweden. More of a stretch 4, he add 3% to opponents’ FG%. He’s a decent rebounder, but his defensive stats (.5 stl, /3 blk) leave a lot to be desired.

SF/PF Luc Mbah a Moute, 6’8” 230, 28, Philadelphia, $4.3M. Shooting 2.6 threes/gm (27%) on a bad team, career 45% shooter, quick, long-armed defender and strong rebounder. Average 1.4 steals .3 blocks and 5.1 boards (1.4 offensive) in 28 minutes/gm.

C Sam Dalembert, 6’11”, 255, 33, New York, $4M. He’s like a (3 years) younger Brendan Haywood. Career 52% shooter (44% this year), 70% FT, who has 1.3 blocks, .4 steals and 5.3 rebounds in 17 minutes/game. Not much offensive ability which can bog down that side, but fine shot-blocker with some size.

Bismack Biyombo, 6’9”, 245, 22, Charlotte, $3.9M. A former 7th pick overall who’s in his 4th season with the Hornets out of Zaire, he’s as unpolished as they come offensively, making Dalembert look like Kareen Abdul-Jabbar. Starting with Jefferson down, so might not trade him, though their season looks lost. Gets 1.3 blocks, 5.3 rebounds (2.1 offensive) in just 14.4 minutes, but 48% FT shooter.

Mo Williams, 6’1, 198, 32, Minnesota $3.75M. Williams doesn’t make much sense on face, but if you trade Dion, Williams could fill his role nicely. He’s a fine playmaker and scorer in spurts, reminiscent of Jason Terry in his hey day, and would bring more veteran leadership, plus he’s a former Cav. Having off-season shooting with 39% FG and 32% 3pt (career: 44%/38%), but 6.5 assist/2.3 turnovers, and .7 steals in 26 minutes

My gut tells me that they’re looking to put someone like Denver’s Timofey Mozgov (cheap 2-year contract, which is why Denver’s hesitant), Boston’s Wright or Phoenix’s Miles Plumlee (2 years left on rookie contract, clogged frontcourt) into the trade exception, meaning they might try to target a wing defender with the disabled exception. But it would be a lot easy to do the reverse (if you can live with Dalembert or Biyombo).

Wright, Mozgov, and Plumlee have more upside than the aforementioned half-dozen (and they’ll need size next year too). Also, Williams would be a nice steadying hand with the ball on offense compared to Waiters’ freewheeling ways. (My gut also tells me they’ll try to hold on to Waiters until the off-season when they might expect to get more flexibility and greater value.)

But who knows? That’s part of the fun. And it sure beats speculating on whether a guy is getting fired less than halfway through the season, or malingering in fear that LeBron’s going to leave.

I’ll be live tweeting tonight with video from the game @CRS_1ne, and look for my column on the game tomorrow on the Scene blog.
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