The first half of the NBA season is now complete for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They now will enjoy a nice 5 day break (except for Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who will partake in some of the festivities in Orlando) for the All-Star Break. When they come back next Tuesday, they will play two games back to back nights, and then that is it for February.
It’s hard to believe March is right around the corner already, but even more surprising is how quickly the NBA trade deadline will be here. March 15 is just 21 days away, which means Chris Grant and company have just 21 days to decide the future for several players.
We’ve already debated trading Anderson Varejao, and Antawn Jamison is an obvious trade target due to his contract status. But the one player who the Cavaliers absolutely must trade is Ramon Sessions. It’s just too bad they have to do so.
There are actually a few decent reasons not to trade Sessions. The Cavaliers will probably never find a better backup PG than Sessions. You want to know a big reason why the Cavaliers are such a competitive team this year? It’s being able to have a player like Sessions fill in for Kyrie Irving when he goes to the bench. The losses of Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson would have been much more brutal for the team if they didn’t have a versatile PG who could also coexist in the backcourt with Irving to trade off PG/SG roles.
If the Cavaliers traded Sessions, and the highly likely scenario of Parker and Gibson both being hurt again comes to fruition, the Cavaliers would be left with one true guard they would feel comfortable playing. Manny Harris could play SG, and Alonzo Gee can fill in minutes at SG as well, but the Cavaliers would have to make D-League call-ups to play minutes with Irving. From a developmental standpoint, putting your rookie cornerstone in a position where he is the only guard on the roster healthy and playing is probably not a great idea.
Furthermore, Sessions is just a great guy to have on the team. He doesn’t complain about his situation even though you know he wants to be starting. He works hard, displays leadership, and you never hear anyone say a bad thing about him. In a perfect world, Ramon Sessions would stay in Cleveland, re-sign with the Cavaliers, and backup Kyrie Irving for years to come.
We don’t exist in a perfect world, though, and the reality is that the Cavaliers absolutely must trade Sessions before the deadline.
First of all, it would seem highly unlikely that Sessions would re-sign in Cleveland. He wants to be a starter. He deserves to be a starter somewhere. Some team will sign him with an opportunity to be their starter. The Cavaliers are set at starting PG and having a backup like Sessions is a luxury most bottom half teams just can’t afford. So the Cavaliers need to maximize return value now while they can.
As rumors continue to swirl that the Lakers are getting more and more desperate for an upgrade at PG for their playoff push, Sessions’ value is rising. Steve Blake and Derek Fisher currently sport PERs of 9.22 and 8.82, respectively, good for 53rd and 54th among all qualifying PGs in the NBA this season. Kyrie Irving and Ramon Sessions have PERs of 20.74 and 16.03, good for 10th and 28th among all qualifying NBA PGs. Chris Grant has an opportunity to get what he wants for Sessions. And the Lakers don’t even have to be the team. But they serve as the baseline for any team that needs a PG. The opportunity to trade Sessions is there.
Yet there’s a bigger reason why the Cavaliers must trade Sessions. The biggest reason is simply that Ramon Sessions is in the wrong role in Cleveland. Sessions plays better as a starting PG and plays better without deferring to Kyrie Irving.
In his time with Cleveland, Sessions averages 14.8 pts, 3.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game as a starter and 11.1 pts, 2.9 reb, and 4.6 ast as a reserve. This season he has averaged 18.3 points and 12.3 assists in his 3 starts. Those don’t tell the whole story, though. In playing more minutes as a starter, of course his averages will be higher. But if we look at his Per-36 minutes splits this season, he averages 16.9/2.8/11.4 as a starter and 14.4/5.0/7.2 as a reserve.
None of this is to say he’s a bad backup PG. I’ve already stated that he’s really the dream backup PG for the Cavaliers. But to be fair to Ramon, that’s not the best role for him, personally. It’s not a coincidence that his two best Efficiency Rating seasons are ‘08-‘09 and last season, the two seasons he started the most games.
Beyond the stats, though, just use the eye test. Sessions is a different, more effective player when he is the starter. As a reserve he plays more like a steward, or one of those seat fillers they use at award shows when presenters and performer are on stage. As a starter, he is even more aggressive and shows more confidence and effectiveness. It’s a role he would have a chance to thrive in if he joins a PG-lacking contender.
Above all else, the Cavaliers need to remember they are a rebuilding team. Whether they somehow sneak into the playoffs or not, that fact won’t change. The Cavaliers need to continue to stockpile draft picks and assets while being mindful of how players fit into their future. While Anderson Varejao would likely bring a higher return than Sessions, there’s a role for Varejao on the Cavaliers going forward. Antawn Jamison doesn’t have a role in the future, but he also isn’t likely to bring a high return to the Cavaliers in a trade.
Ramon Sessions is the perfect mix of having trade value for the Cavaliers and not having an ideal, clear role on the team going forward. This is why it makes no sense whatsoever for the Cavaliers to hang on to him unless Sessions is telling the front office he 100% wants to stay and is ok with taking a lesser role to be a professional backup. Of course, even then, the Cavaliers know first hand how those promises to re-sign work out. Not that Sessions would necessarily go all Carlos Boozer on the Cavaliers, but regardless, this is a business and needs to be treated as such.
From the fans’ perspective, sports are a tough business. We value qualities like loyalty and commitment when neither players nor teams have much of either. But fan loyalty tells us we would like to keep guys like Ramon Sessions. We ask questions like ‘is it really worth giving up Ramon Sessions for the Lakers’ late first round pick?’. The real question, though, is ‘Isn’t any first round pick better than losing Sessions for nothing?’
The All-Star break is a break for the players, but it is anything but a break for GMs. Chris Grant should be on the phone all break long trying to procure the highest return for Sessions that he can. The upside of the slight chance Sessions stays in Cleveland after this year doesn’t outweigh the risk of losing him for nothing. He has demonstrated value this season and timing and circumstance demand he be traded.
Now it’s just up to the Cavaliers to get a deal done.
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