CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman pulled off the seemingly impossible Thursday. He completely retooled the Cavs’ roster while holding onto his trump card for the future, Brooklyn’s first-round pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
With that said, there’s still a whole lot of basketball left to play this season for the 31-22 Cavs, so let’s take a look at how the new additions will likely fit in, and who’s likely to start for the Cavaliers until Kevin Love returns from his broken hand injury, likely in April.
PG – The biggest upgrade of the day, Isaiah Thomas was sent to Los Angeles and Derrick Rose to Utah (he’s expected to be waived.) The Cavs recouped Jordan Clarkson from Los Angeles, who can handle point guard duties but is really more of a combo or off-ball guard. But the three-way deal with Utah and Sacramento netted Cleveland George Hill, who may be the ideal starting point guard on a LeBron James-led team.
Hill is a career 38% 3-point shooter and he’s shot 45% from long range this season, averaging 3 attempts per game. Hill doesn’t need the ball to be effective, he’s a facilitator and spot-up guy. He will likely start at the point, backed up by some combination of Jose Calderon and Clarkson. Two-way player PG London Perrantes will likely dress for Thursday’s game at Atlanta since the trades likely won’t be finalized in time for the new guys to be able to play in that game. Our first glance at the new-look Cavs will likely be Sunday in Boston. Juicy.
SG – While fans will likely clamor to see Rodney Hood, the sharpshooter acquired from Utah, in the starting lineup, I think JR Smith will maintain his role in the starting lineup. Smith has come alive of late, shooting 41% on 3-point attempts in his last 5 games and chipping in 20 points during Wednesday’s win over Minnesota.
Ty Lue likely attempts to keep some sense of continuity with Smith in the starting lineup, which allows him to bring Hood off the bench in a sharp-shooting second unit that will likely also feature Kyle Korver. Hood is a career 37% 3-point shooter and he’s at 39% this season, with 6.7 3-point attempts per night. He’s an assassin. He was available largely because of Donovan Mitchell’s emergence, coupled with the fact that he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. The Cavs have given themselves a window to evaluate Hood, and they’ll have the right to match any RFA offers this summer, of which there will be plenty.
SF – This is where it gets interesting. When Kevin Love returns, he and Tristan Thompson likely start together on the front line and James is your starting small forward. But until then, this will be the biggest question mark. With a player like Jae Crowder playing alongside James, Lue had 2 fairly interchangeable players defensively, allowing him to switch on screens and play the matchup game on the defensive end as much as he could.
If he wants to maintain that, and if he’d like to keep the starters largely a group that’s familiar with each other, Jeff Green makes the most sense as the new starting small forward. Korver is certainly an option here, especially until Love comes back, but I’d imagine Lue likes the idea of a solid perimeter defensive player to slide in between Smith and James, and Green has been fairly solid all season. I also think Green makes the most sense when Love returns. But there’s not really a wrong answer here. Korver gives you more shooting obviously, Green better athleticism and defensive presence. This may take some tinkering on Lue’s part.
PF – LeBron. When Love comes back, James will likely be the SF. Really, Lebron is his own position. There’s a slim chance Larry Nance Jr. becomes your starter with James at SF until Love returns, in which case Love either replaces Nance or Thompson (we’ll get to him,) but the likely scenario is James at PF for the time being.
C – Thompson. The Cavs will be thin on the front line until Love returns, which is why Kendrick Perkins is likely to make the short drive up I-77 to rejoin Cleveland’s roster. Thompson will start at the 5 at least until Love returns. And I assume he’ll stay there even after, with Love sliding to PF. But playing Love at the 5 at that point and bringing Thompson off the bench is certainly a possibility.
My best guess is the starting lineup will look like this until Love returns: Hill, Smith, Green, James, Thompson.
Bench: Clarkson, Hood, Korver, Osman, Nance.
What a difference a deadline makes.