By all accounts, the Cleveland Cavaliers have begun to get serious about trading Zydrunas Ilgauskas. I don’t think there’s a single person in the Cavaliers organization, and precious few individuals in the fan community, who wants to see Ilgauskas play in another uniform. All things being equal, we all would love to see Big Z play his entire career for this franchise. Having said that, though, the reality of the situation is that this is a business, and Big Z’s status as an expiring contract has made him an NBA commodity.
This trade deadline could be the Cavaliers’ final chance to make the needed improvements to make a Championship run. Without getting too deep into this summer, I’ll just state the obvious that nobody knows what LeBron is going to do, and so this is the last year Cleveland is guaranteed to have the game’s best player on their roster. This is why it is imperative that the Cavaliers make their move and turn their commodities into Championship caliber assets.
I’ve been extremely eager to see the Cavaliers not wait around this year, but to be proactive and to go out and make the first big move and force the other teams in the league to react. I’ve also made no secret of the fact that, much like he is for the Cavaliers’ front office, Antawn Jamison is the player that I covet and want to see on this team. Unfortunately, for me, I get the impression that I’m going to have to be a little more patient if this is going to happen.
In order for the Cavaliers to acquire Jamison, the Washington Wizards are going to have to decide what they are going to do about their future. Any such decision obviously hinges on what happens to Gilbert Arenas, so until the Wizards know where they are going with that situation, any trades for Jamison are going to have to wait.
I had thought that perhaps the quickest move for the Cavaliers would have been to try to get David West from the New Orleans Hornets. Bob Finnan mentioned over the weekend that an added bonus of getting West is that the Cavaliers would then be less dependent on getting Ilgauskas back via buyout because West’s game is more of a post game than Jamison’s is. Therefore, with Andy backing up Shaq at center, you’d still have some depth at PF with West, Hickson, Powe (eventually), and even LeBron when needed. However, according to Finnan’s article, that doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen:
“Hornets coach/GM Jeff Bower told New Orleans writers that he has no intention of breaking up their core to get under the luxury-tax threshold. Teams are also inquiring about point guard Chris Paul.
“The foundation of our plan has always been to maintain our core group of players and to look at ways that wouldn’t affect our overall basketball team on the court,” Bower said.”
Never say never, of course, but I don’t get the impression the Hornets are looking to blow up their team just yet. They already traded away Hilton Armstrong to free up some space and they are so close to the tax threshold now that trading a big money player isn’t needed.
Assuming that Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster (also mentioned in Finnan’s article. Hooray!) are merely failsafe options, that leaves Jamison as still the most likely target. The timing is going to be a little tricky, though.
According to Sam Smith (yes, I know….it’s Sam Smith, so take this with a gigantic grain of salt), the Wizards may not be so likely to trade Jamison if they can get out from under Arenas’ contract. He writes:
“Most GMs say the most active team trying to deal has been the Cavs in offering Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ expiring contract of $11.5 million in trying to get another scorer to give them a chance to make the Finals and hang onto James. The Cavs have long had eyes for Washington’s Antawn Jamison. The Arenas imbroglio has left many believing the Wizards will break up their team and trade their stars, Jamison and Caron Butler.
But there’s an interesting angle to this. Several teams with big time free agents have questioned the league about Washington’s ability to void Arenas’ contract. Because if the Wizards can void it, they suddenly become a player in 2010 free agency and another team that can steal a free agent by getting well under the salary cap. In that case, you figure they’d keep their two best players and not risk going all the way to the bottom.”
Again, this is the same Sam Smith who has in recent years proclaimed that LeBron to the Lakers was possible and even hinted that he was hearing a Larry Hughes return to Cleveland might happen. Obviously both of those scenarios are ridiculous and are just a couple examples of Smith’s recent rumor mongering. However, I must admit the logic on this Arenas story is sound. If the Wizards really can shed Gilbert’s contract, then why not hang on to Butler and Jamison and see if you can lure a big free agent in 2010 to go with them?
On the other hand, there’s some really question as to whether or not any of this is going to happen. The Wall Street Journal’s David Biderman wrote a brief paragraph on this today, saying:
“Gilbert Arenas and his former agent are discussing how to proceed if the Washington Wizards try to void the remaining $80 million on the suspended guard’s contract, people familiar with the matter say. Mr. Arenas, who pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge, split with Dan Fegan in 2006 and currently has no agent. Mr. Fegan says he doesn’t expect the Wizards to void the contract. The Wizards declined comment.”
Much like with Sam Smith, you obviously need to take Dan Fegan’s comments in stride as he obviously has an agenda here. The point of all of this, though, is that the Wizards truly have an enormous mess on their hands, and until they can figure out how they want to proceed, the Cavaliers’ trade options are going to be put on the sidelines. Brian Windhorst tweeted the following last night:
“To satisfy all trade Qs, before bed here’s your update: Cavs having lots of discussions but aren’t close to anything right now.”
So it sure sounds to me like we are not anywhere close to the point where any deals are going to be made.
There are a couple different ways to assess the value of trading now vs waiting. The benefits of trading now are that the Cavaliers would have more time to get used to playing with Jamison and Mike Brown would be able to play around with his rotations a little bit to find out the best units for Jamison. Furthermore, the sooner the Cavaliers make a trade, the sooner they can possibly get Ilgauskas back should he succeed in getting his buyout.
On the other hand, trading Ilgauskas now leaves the Cavaliers’ post game with a gaping hole beyond Shaq. With Jamison as a wing player and with Hickson’s lack of post presence, the Cavs would be filling one weakness but creating a new one until Leon Powe can return. If the Cavaliers are forced to wait until the trade deadline to make their move, then at least Leon Powe will (hopefully) be back and able to step up and fill that need as much as possible with his solid post game.
So while I am eager for the Cavaliers to make a move sooner rather than later, it feels to me like patience is going to have to be the name of the game. There are some benefits to having to wait, and I will have to look at those as the bright side. However, nothing is ever definite in the NBA, and I worry about the Wizards cooling on the idea of trading Jamison and leaving the Cavaliers stuck where they are. Not that this team isn’t great as it is, but when there’s a chance to make the kind of improvement that Jamison represents, it would be a bitter pill to swallow to have to settle for the likes of Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster.