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Another week, and yet another mountain was conquered by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland only played two games this week and went 2-0 in the process, with a gritty win over the New York Knicks and a statement win over the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavaliers have cracked 30 wins, something they haven't accomplished since LeBron James was still in town and are currently on pace to win 53 games his season.
At this point, Cleveland feels like a shoo-in to make the playoffs, something they haven't done without James since the 1997-98 season. But, there are some noticeable cracks forming around the foundation of their style of basketball. Especially with Darius Garland's back starting to become a recurring issue. Sure, Garland, J.B. Bickerstaff and nearly anyone else in the Cavaliers organization will try their best to quell any concerns about his back.
But, ever since he tweaked it when Cleveland was in Golden State, more often than not an issue has flared up once or twice a week for Garland. With him having to play more and more minutes, mostly due to the Cavaliers having no other reliable source of offensive creation at the moment, it becomes clear the team needs to make some kind of move. Today we'll talk about that, along with the latest on the Ricky Rubio injury exception and more in this week's takeaways from Cavaliers basketball.
Cleveland could use Collin Sexton or at least someone like him right now
In a happier development, Cleveland scoring dynamo Collin Sexton was back on the bench while the team wrapped up their three-game homestand. Sexton, who has been rehabbing after his season-ending meniscal tear in Atlanta, was in town to do some pre-All-Star promotional events on behalf of Mountain Dew, one of his numerous sponsors. It was also an opportunity for team doctors to evaluate Sexton's rehabilitation since they were unable to do that in mid-December due to COVID-19 ravaging their roster and delaying their game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Sexton did tease to some reporters that when Cleveland makes the playoffs, there's a chance he would play. But, according to sources, the Cavaliers would love to have the morale boost from Sexton on the floor but, they also don't want to compromise his long-term recovery. Cleveland doesn't want Sexton at only roughly 70% of his physical capabilities and trying to add him back into the fold while preparing for the playoffs could be a bit clunky. So, more than anything, Sexton will likely be in street clothes acting as both a coach and a cheerleader for his teammates.
Whether Sexton returns to the Cavaliers next season with a newly-signed extension remains to be seen and that isn't what we're here to talk about today. Just go look up some of his most manic fans flooding my mentions and satiate their unhealthy obsession. He isn't part of the current plans with this team and isn't what's going to make or break this season. It's been said in the past and it should be said again – the Cavaliers are not a Collin Sexton away from winning a championship.
But, seeing Sexton on the bench really did put into perspective how badly Cleveland could use a player within his archetype. The Cavaliers could desperately use someone that can generate easy offense, provide some tertiary playmaking and, most of all, relieve opposing pressure on Garland on a night-to-night basis. They were able to maintain some of that with Ricky Rubio coming off the bench. But, Rubio has done for the year with a torn ACL and, in turn, is why Cleveland has had to lean so heavily on Garland to create easier offense for the entire roster.
Sure, that might work in the short term but it just isn't tenable over an 82 game season, especially if Garland's back continues to be an issue. That's why the Cavaliers should turn to the trade market and, thankfully, there so happens to be a solution out there in Indiana Pacers swingman Caris LeVert. According to sources and numerous reports, LeVert coming to Cleveland is one of the worst-kept secrets around league circles. Those same sources said that LeVert is unhappy in Indiana and would be open to an opportunity for a fresh start with the Cavaliers, alongside former teammate Jarrett Allen.
The only issue at this point is how much the Pacers want for LeVert. League sources say that the cost would be either two first-round picks or a first-round selection along with a young, high-impact player. But, a lot of that could be posturing on Indiana's part, who could be trying to aim high but, in the end settle on a more realistic trade package.
With less than two weeks to go until the trade deadline, don't be surprised if LeVert eventually becomes a Cavalier. He would be able to soak up a lot of what Sexton provided this year and could be a solid rotation piece next season when Cleveland is fully healthy. The Cavaliers need to do right by Garland, and this team and find a way to acquire LeVert or someone that possesses a similar skill set. If they do, the playoff push won't be as hazardous long-term.
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After losing backup point guard Ricky Rubio for the season the Cavaliers were granted an injured player exception to soften the blow.
What can the Cavaliers do with the newly-acquired Ricky Rubio exception?
But, that likely won't be the only move the Cavaliers make at the deadline. According to sources, Cleveland was granted by the league an $8.9 million disabled player exception after Rubio went down for the season with a torn ACL. It's a useful asset to soften the blow from losing the Spanish guard but, there are some tricky rules that the Cavaliers have to follow:
- The player, whether signed or traded for, can only make up to $9.0 million dollars.
- If traded for, the player has to be in the last year of his contract.
- Cleveland must have an open roster spot in order to sign or trade for a player.
- The player for who the exception is granted must be on the roster when used.
- Exceptions cannot be combined with players but they can be with picks.
With that in mind, the Cavaliers' roster is currently at its limit with 15 players. Granted, they could always waive a smaller contract like Kevin Pangos but that's where things can get tricky using this exception.
If they were to do that, they could be in business to make a deal with a team like the Boston Celtics, who, according to sources, is looking to offload salary and get underneath the luxury-tax threshold. A player like backup point guard Dennis Schroder, who could be easily had according to sources makes a lot of sense. Acquiring Schroder would further bolster what was lost from Sexton and Rubio's injuries and would be a more reliable option compared to Rajon Rondo. All it would take is for the Cavaliers to send the Rubio exception along with a second-round pick, which seems doable.
But, where it gets tricky is trying to make a move using Rubio's expiring $17.8 million contract as well. If Cleveland were to trade Rubio tomorrow, then they lose the exception they were granted. But, if they were able to trade for or acquire a player and then move Rubio, then both transactions would be legal under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. That means the Cavaliers would have to do the following if they wanted to acquire Schroder and LeVert leading up to the annual trade deadline:
- Send to Boston: $8.9 million DPE, second-round pick via Houston for Dennis Schroder
- Send to Indiana: Rubio, Dylan Windler a top ten protected 2022 first-round pick and a second-round pick via San Antonio for Caris LeVert
If Cleveland were to stack it this way, then they would be clear on all fronts under current rules and guidelines. It's going to be tricky but the Cavaliers have created opportunities to carve a path towards remaining in contention for the remainder of the season.
The vibes are so good that even Kevin Love can't be grumpy about it.
The vibes around the Cavaliers this season are immaculate
To be frank, this Cavaliers team is fun – no ifs, ands or buts about it. Even if they weren't in the fast lane to be a legitimate threat when the postseason rolls around, Cleveland has become a fun group just because of their cast of personalities. The way the coaching staff and the players speak about one another is refreshing and you can feel how much they care about one another, which makes them even more endearing.
Even veteran forward Kevin Love, who has been a bit of a grump the last few seasons, has fully bought into this year's squad. In a recent win, Love jokingly called Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, "fucking annoying" because Osman is attached to his hip when the team is on the road. But, without even hesitating Love then immediately turned and heaped praise on Osman.
"He's one of those guys that he's really hard not to like," said Love. "When he's hitting, we all get excited. It's not only the whole crowd, it's the bench, the coaching staff, it's everybody. I love Cedi. I mean, he's one of my favorite teammates and one of my better friends in the league."
It's not just Love either that's bought in. Like the most tenured Cavalier said, it's from the top-down and the entire organization is supporting one another. This is something that Cleveland never had when LeBron James was here during his second stint. It's new, uncharted waters and it's also exciting.
This is a team that all Cleveland fans should get behind, especially with the football team in Berea regaining its status as the model of dysfunctionality. Sure, they're young and inexperienced and will have nights where that comes to bite them. But, they're also flat-out fun and there's something in that alone that makes them endearing. So now is a better time than any to get on the bandwagon.
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