Within hours of Blake Griffin’s injury, rumors began to swirl about the Clippers trading DeAndre Jordan. Among those rumors is one involving the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson. There is some logic to this. Jordan is a free agent with a player option after this season, and the Clippers seem headed for a rebuild. He would be an upgrade for the Cavs over Thompson and would provide a defensive anchor and a lob partner for LeBron James as the Cavs chase the right pieces to stay ahead in the East and match up with the Warriors in the Finals.
There are other reasons this makes some sense. Besides having a likely lottery pick to dangle, the Cavs have ridiculous depth on their roster. When Thompson and Isaiah get healthy, the Cavs’ second five will be Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Green. That leaves out Iman Shumpert, Jose Calderon, and Derrick Rose (if he should decide to return). It also excludes Cedi Osman, the youngster who isn’t playing this year but has shown enough potential that he will be mentioned in any trade rumors that pop up for Cleveland. So the Cavs can give up a package of players for Jordan and still have enough depth to weather most circumstances.
Let’s address two questions pertaining to a deal like this. The first is how much should the Cavs be willing to give up? The Brooklyn pick will be what makes any Cavs fan’s sphincter tighten up when pondering this trade. The idea of giving up a shot at a franchise player for a guy who shoots foul shots so badly he inspired a strategy and who could leave after this season is scary. But a starting lineup with Jordan, James, Thomas, and Kevin Love is even scarier. A trade of Jordan for Thompson, Shumpert (for salary purposes) and the pick gives the Cavs a starting lineup that stacks up well with the Warriors, while not impacting their depth.
The scarier aspect of giving up the Brooklyn pick is that James, Thomas, and Jordan could all leave after this season. Keeping all of them might cost so much that the Cavs can’t afford anyone else. That hasn’t been an issue for Dan Gilbert so far, but even he has a limit. It’s hard to imagine any of them going someplace where they would have a better shot at winning and make similar money; they will probably find a way to make it work. If I was GM Koby Altman, I would offer Thompson, Shumpert, and Osman and hold firm. There aren’t many teams that have the pieces and the motivation to make this deal. No reason for Cleveland not to drive a hard bargain. With that said, if the Clippers balk, I may consider adjusting the deal to include the Brooklyn pick.
There’s another thing to consider before the Cavs make this deal, especially if the draft pick is involved. That is this: they will only make one trade. Even if the Brooklyn pick isn’t involved, Jordan’s salary precludes them from adding another impact piece this season. So the second question Altman has to ask himself is whether Jordan is the best trade he can make. That’s not as clear-cut as it seems. Oklahoma City is 8–11 and Paul George is a free agent. If the Cavs aren’t in position to make a play for him at the trade deadline, one of their rivals might. Memphis might make Marc Gasol and Mike Conley available if their season falls apart. There’s no guarantee that DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis will ever really click.
Is Jordan better than any of those guys? Don’t know. What I do know is that all of those other deals are hypothetical. Unless the Clippers are delusional, Jordan should be available today. And like I said, the Cavs can offer a package that the Clippers should take seriously, with or without the draft pick. Holding off on this trade because Paul George might be available later is a strategy that has left many without prom dates. Cleveland may very well become dateless.
Beyond all of that, Jordan seems to fit the Cavs. He has a career shooting percentage of 67.6, which means his game consists of dunks and put-backs. With LeBron, those opportunities will be even more plentiful than they were with Chris Paul. Jordan is as good on the offensive boards as Thompson and more effective with the ball after he gets it. Furthermore, he’s as good on the defensive boards as Love. Jordan is also a rim protector, which this team hasn’t had since Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Cavs have tightened up their defense even with Thompson hurt, but they are still nowhere near elite. Jordan gets them closer.
There is a chance that come July, Cleveland’s core could be Kevin Love, JR Smith, and Cedi Osman. And if they trade the Brooklyn pick for Jordan and he walks along with James and Thomas, then what? That’s not a promising core. But the front office can’t be guided by that sort of thinking. The LeBron window will close one way or the other, either when this contract ends or when he finally becomes mortal. Cavs fans know what life without LeBron looks like, and it probably won’t include playing in June, no matter how carefully the front office plans for it. The window to win titles is now, and getting DeAndre Jordan makes that window a bit easier to open.
Los Angeles Clippers