Since the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been searching for a big man. The team realized early on that they needed to add an interior presence and general manager David Griffin and his staff have been working the phones ever since.
Cleveland’s big men have left a lot to be desired, as the Cavs rank 26th in rebounds per game, 22nd in blocks per game and 22nd in overall defense. Teams often dominate the glass and get easy baskets in the paint against Cleveland, and the team’s frontcourt just got even weaker now that Anderson Varejao has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
What options do the Cavaliers have as they look to add a rim protector? Here are 10 big men whom Cleveland should target:
Brandan Wright, Boston Celtics – The Boston Celtics just acquired Wright as part of the Rajon Rondo trade with the Dallas Mavericks, but reports have suggested that the 27-year-old big man could be dealt again before the February 19 trade deadline. The Cavaliers have already expressed interest in Wright, according to reports, and he would seemingly be a perfect fit for them. Wright is a good interior defender, averaging 1.4 blocks in 17.7 minutes, and he leads the league in individual defensive rating. He also thrives in the pick-and-roll and is one of the most efficient players in the NBA, shooting an NBA-best 73.2 percent from the field to average 8.2 points per game. Boston is loaded with frontcourt players, which makes Wright somewhat expendable, and it seems that they’re open to flipping the veteran big man to acquire other assets that would help them rebuild. Wright is making $5 million this season, so his salary would fit into Cleveland’s $5.2 million traded player exception.
Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets – The Cavaliers, and other teams, have reportedly been trying to pry Mozgov away from the Nuggets for some time now. He has proven to be a starting-caliber center, averaging nine points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes per game. Because Denver has a number of quality big men (including JaVale McGee, Jusuf Nurkic and J.J. Hickson), it’s possible that they would consider moving Mozgov if the right offer presented itself. They have previously rejected overtures for Mozgov, but that could change, especially if the Nuggets continue to struggle and sit outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. The 28-year-old Mozgov, who is 7’1, would be an excellent solution for the Cavaliers’ interior issues and it seems he is one of their top targets at the moment.
Kosta Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies – Koufos is another player who has been linked to the Cavaliers throughout this season. He would be a perfect rim protector for Cleveland, as he averages 4.2 rebounds and one block despite playing only 15.1 minutes per game on the Grizzlies. He averages 3.3 blocks per 48 minutes, which ranks 10th in the NBA. Because he plays behind Marc Gasol, Koufos’ minutes are limited in Memphis, and his camp has reportedly voiced their displeasure with his diminished role. They would likely be open to a trade to Cleveland since it would allow Koufos to play more minutes and shine on a national stage in a contract year. At only 25 years old, it’s possible that Koufos’ best basketball may still be ahead of him and an increased role could allow him to take his game to another level. Koufos is making just $3 million this season so he’s an excellent bargain and would fit into Cleveland’s $5.2 million TPE. While the Cavs would love to acquire Koufos, Memphis hasn’t shown a willingness to part ways with him, as he’s the only backup center on their roster and there’s really no reason for them make any drastic changes considering they’re one of the best teams in the NBA.
Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers – With the Lakers struggling and sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, many executives will be calling Mitch Kupchak in an attempt to steal away some of his veteran contributors. Moving some of their best players, like Hill, could make sense for the Lakers in the long run as they need to land a top-five pick in order to keep their lottery selection, otherwise it’ll go to the Phoenix Suns due to the Steve Nash trade. While the organization has insisted that they won’t tank, trading away veterans for picks and prospects would seemingly be best for the franchise since they’re rebuilding. Hill is an attractive asset, as he’s having the best year of his career. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and one block – all of which are career-highs. He has been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers this season and many teams will likely be calling to express interest in the big man, who has a $9 million team option on his contract for next season. He’d be a very good pick up for Cleveland. Fellow Lakers big man Ed Davis could be an option as well, since he can test free agency this summer by opting out of his bargain contract. L.A. may trade Davis rather than risk losing him for nothing in the offseason. The Lakers just claimed center Tarik Black off of waivers, so they have plenty of big men and just may be willing to part ways with one of them.
Emeka Okafor, Free Agent – The only reason Okafor isn’t already on an NBA roster is because he is still recovering from a herniated disc in his back. There have been quite a few teams expressing interest in Okafor’s services, but he’s still recovering. However, some reports have indicated that he could be ready to play sometime in January, so he could emerge as a serious candidate to join the Cavs at that time. Other teams will likely call too, but few will be able to offer the significant role and chance to contend that Cleveland can. Okafor is a very good rim protector who has been a starting-caliber big man throughout his career. He has never averaged less than a block per game in any of his nine NBA seasons, and he last averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and one block during his stint with the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. Okafor would make a lot of sense for Cleveland since he’s the type of big man they’re searching for, and they wouldn’t have to part ways with any assets since they could sign him outright.
Jermaine O’Neal, Free Agent – If Okafor isn’t healthy or chooses to sign elsewhere, O’Neal could be an option for the Cavs. He hasn’t decided if he’s going to play this season, but many people around the NBA expect him to sign with a team and suit up for one final season. He has said that he’ll choose one way or the other in early January, so an announcement is likely coming from him very soon. O’Neal obviously has a lot of wear and tear on his body after playing 18 seasons in the NBA, but he has held up pretty well. After a rough two-year stint with the Boston Celtics in which he struggled, O’Neal bounced back with two solid seasons – one with the Phoenix Suns and one with the Golden State Warriors. O’Neal is a solid rebounder and interior defender, and when pressed into the starting lineup due to injuries last year in Golden State, he came through by averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. He’s obviously not a long-term solution for Cleveland, but he could help them this year. Some reports have indicated that O’Neal is leaning toward signing with the Dallas Mavericks, which could rule him out as an option for Cleveland.
Samuel Dalembert, New York Knicks – The possibility of Dalembert landing in Cleveland was recently tweeted by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. He said that if all of their other options fall through, Dalembert is available and could be a last resort for the Cavs. The 33-year-old is averaging four points, 5.3 rebounds an 1.3 blocks in 17 minutes for New York this season. While he’s not the most productive big man, he does rebound and block shots, which is all Cleveland really needs from their center. It’s worth noting that Dalembert is making $4,051,527 this season, so the Cavs could acquire him using their $5.2 million TPE. With New York struggling and sitting at the bottom of the standings, it’s possible that they’ll look to trade away some of their veterans in order to acquire assets that will help them rebuild.
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets – Biyombo is the youngest and rawest player on this list, but he could be an interesting option for Cleveland. The 22-year-old was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Instead, he has settled into a role as a reserve center for Charlotte, playing limited minutes behind Al Jefferson over the last two seasons. Still, he’s a solid shot blocker, averaging 1.3 blocks in 14.2 minutes and never averaging below 1.1 blocks in a season during his four-year career. He is second in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes (4.24) and he would likely be one of the better shot-blockers in the league if given more minutes (and if he learns to limit his fouls). He’s not skilled on the offensive end and can’t do much aside from block shots, but that’s the main thing Cleveland needs since they don’t have a rim protector on their roster. Also, Biyombo could becomes a long-term answer for Cleveland as he continues to develop. It remains to be seen if Charlotte would part ways with Biyombo, but they have reportedly been active in trade discussions as they look for ways to shake up their roster to salvage their season after a rough start. Moving Biyombo for a veteran who could help them win now may interest them. Biyombo also fits into Cleveland’s $5.2 million TPE since he’s making just $3,873,398 this season. This wouldn’t be as ideal as acquiring a veteran like Mozgov or Koufos who’s already fully developed, but it could be an option if those players aren’t obtainable.
Jeff Withey, New Orleans Pelicans – Withey hasn’t played much since being drafted by the Pelicans in the second round of last year’s draft, but he’s a 24-year-old rim protector who could be available. Withey is barely playing for New Orleans this season, appearing in just 17 games and averaging 6.7 minutes since he’s buried on the depth chart behind veterans Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, but that just means it’d be relatively easy to pry him from the Pelicans. Unlike most second-year players, Withey is ready to contribute right now since he spent four years in college, where he emerged as one of the best big men in the nation while at Kansas. Remember, as a senior he averaged 3.9 blocks per game and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year. Last year when he got the chance to start four games for New Orleans, he averaged 2.8 blocks. Many NBA fans have no idea who Withey is, but a move to Cleveland could give him the chance to display his skills and he could be exactly what the Cavaliers are looking for from their center. Withey is the cheapest option on this list, making just $816,482 this season.
Willie Reed, Grand Rapids Drive – Reed is the lone D-League player on this list, but he warrants a mention since he has been one of the top centers in that league this season. The 24-year-old has significantly improved the Grand Rapids Drive since joining the team and he has filled the stat sheet, averaging 12.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He has been incredibly efficient as well, shooting a ridiculous 70.4 percent from the field. Reed is a high-energy player and rim protector who would be perfect for Cleveland. He has had previous stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets, so he’s no stranger to the NBA. If the Cavaliers can’t trade for a big man, calling up Reed or another top D-League big man could be a solid back-up plan for Cleveland and one that wouldn’t require them to part ways with any of their assets.
Harden, Butler Named NBA Players of the Week
The Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 22, through Sunday, Dec. 28.
Butler led the Bulls to a 4-0 week behind averages of 23.0 points (seventh in the conference), 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 blocks. His 40.2 minutes per contest led the league. On Dec. 22, Butler went 11-for-11 at the foul line en route to 27 points, and added 11 rebounds, five blocks and four assists during a 129-120 win over the Toronto Raptors.
Harden helped the Rockets to a 2-1 week, which included wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged a league-best 34.7 points and added 7.3 assists (eighth in the conference), 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. On Dec. 22, Harden posted 44 points, seven assists, five steals and three rebounds during a 110-95 win over the Trail Blazers.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.