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Monday, December 11, 2017

Four moves the Cavs should consider this offseason

LeBron James

There was once an emperor named Humayun who reigned supreme over the Mughal Empire (what we now know as the Indian subcontinent) in the mid-16th century. His reign ultimately proved brief however, as he and his army were defeated at the Battle of Kannauj in 1540, barely ten years after his ascension to power. Humayun’s vanquisher was a stronger and more powerful rival named Sher Shah Suri, who himself became the new Mughal emperor. But hellbent on reclaiming his rightful throne, Humayun regrouped by taking refuge in Persia and forming an alliance with the locals. In 1555, he returned to the mainland and won a decisive victory over Suri’s army at the Battle of Surhind to regain his empire once and for all.

After his NBA Finals defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors earlier this week, LeBron James has become the NBA’s Humayun: a mighty king embarrassed and dethroned by a more formidable foe, forced into exile to plan his next move. Knowing our resident hardwood monarch, he won’t be laying low for long. But just as Humayun needed the Persians to take back what was rightfully his, so too will James need some reinforcements.

Here are four moves LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers could make to help him overcome those fearsome Warriors and reclaim that basketball-encrusted throne.

1. Flip Kevin Love for a two-way star

All you need is love, but is Love really all you need?

The four-time All-Star is an enigma. He’s an elite stretch big. He gets buckets in the low post. He crashes the boards hard. Those outlet passes are absolute heaven. But his defensive limitations cap his ceiling, and that’s not ideal for a guy who is making the most guaranteed money on the Cleveland roster.

In fairness, Love was at least passable defensively in this year’s Finals. He averaged 3.2 combined steals and blocks per game and held his own on some switches. But there’s a reason why he’s almost unanimously viewed as the most expendable member of the Cavs’ Big Three, even in spite of his strongest statistical season in Cleveland to date. Do the Cavs pursue a better third cog next to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, particularly of the two-way variety?

The oft-whispered Paul George rumor is fun, but that may require Love plus young assets the Cavs don’t have right now. Ditto for Jimmy Butler, who has the higher offensive upside and is under contract for longer. Beyond that, maybe Cleveland says “ahoy hoy” to New Orleans and inquires about the price tag on DeMarcus Cousins. Whatever the case, they’re not selling off Love without getting a home run package in return, but perhaps it’s time for them to hunt like holy heck to find it.

2. Package Tristan Thompson for a more complete big man

Let me preface this by saying that Thompson is a delight. He’s great in the pick-and-roll — both as a rim runner and a defender — he’s a vacuum cleaner on the glass, and he bears the fruit of a thousand Kardashian memes. But after multiple years of Thompson-induced anguish in the Finals, the Dubs finally figured out how to play the ex-No. 4 pick off the floor in Round 3 this year.

Thompson was held to 5.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a night against Golden State and was essentially Houdini for the first three games of the series.

Now the question becomes whether or not Thompson has worn out his usefulness in Cleveland. Today’s Golden State-driven league will make a dinosaur of any versatility-challenged big, and Thompson is no exception. But the difficulty here may be finding a fit who is both better and attainable.

Andre Drummond, who is just as fiendish a rebounder, is certainly available, but his warts may actually be more glaring than Thompson’s. Dwight Howard is another option, especially now that he’s apparently migrating out to the three-point line, but can he really be counted on with his age and injury history? Float around the Brook Lopez and Greg Monroe-types, and you get a well-rounded offensive threat, but one with fatally slow foot speed. Truth be told, there may not be a perfect answer. But to overthrow the tyrannical rule of the Warriors, the Cavs are for darn sure gonna have to start searching for one.

3. Gauge the trade market for JR Smith and Iman Shumpert

As much as this pair of New York Knicks refugees is universally loved, the Cavs have to explore all possible avenues for improvement. Smith is a game of Russian roulette: he morphed into the Human Torch in Games 3 through 5 of the Finals series but imploded just as spectacularly in Games 1 and 2, not unlike the pattern of feast or famine he has been following for much of his career. Meanwhile, Shumpert remains an OK perimeter defender, but his total lack of offensive polish became a major liability for the Cavs down the stretch.

Smith is owed roughly $44 million over the next three years, while Shumpert could collect nearly $25 million over the next two if he picks up his 2018-19 player option. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is in a fiery luxury tax inferno without much of an ability to upgrade the roster other than via trades, February buyout guys (how did Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut work out for them?), or taxpayer exceptions. Thus, it may be time for the team to consider moving one or both of their wing duo in exchange for more cost-effective assets.

4. Assemble the Banana Boat Crew

[toots feverishly into a dilapidated conch shell]

[roars like a savage into the pale evening sky]

“BANANA BOAT AVENGERS … UNITE!!!”

Chris Paul is set to become a free agent, Carmelo Anthony is still navigating precariously through Phil Jackson’s tower of terror, and Dwyane Wade, who will be blowing out 36 candles soon, recently posted this interestingly-timed throwback image of the banana brothers to Instagram.

If there was ever a time for the cavalry to come together and rally around their fallen leader, this would be it. The crew is collectively aging, championship windows are rapidly closing (if they haven’t already been violently and emphatically slammed shut by the Warriors), and legacies hang delicately in the balance. So let’s not run away from fate for any longer.

Pull the trigger on the Melo-for-Love swap. Throw Irving into a sign-and-trade with the Clippers for Paul. Use the Force to convince Wade to come aboard for the veteran’s minimum. We deserve this. The basketball world deserves this. Let us fulfill our ultimate destiny, the only timeline that ever made sense: The Golden State Death Trap vs. The Banana Boat Expendables. Coming to a theater near you in June 2018. Take that for data, Marvel.

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