The Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks surprisingly agreed to a deal that isn’t likely to alter the landscape of the Eastern Conference, but could shift the balance of power in the Finals back to the defending champs. With J.R. Smith recovering from thumb surgery for the foreseeable future, potentially until the playoffs, Cleveland needed a shooter and got one of the best ones in the league in Kyle Korver. And they didn’t pay much of a price to do it either.
As of this writing, the exact parameters of the deal are still being worked out, but the principal terms are set. Atlanta will acquire Mike Dunleavy Jr. and a future first round pick from Cleveland in exchange for Korver. The Hawks may move Dunleavy to a third team, as they have no real need for him, and the exact pick and protection terms Atlanta is receiving is still in question as well.
It makes sense to start with what Korver will bring Cleveland. He’s not the shooter who hovered around or over 50 percent from behind the arc for a lot of years, but he remains one of the best in the league. He had a down year for him last year at “just” 39.8 percent. This year, he’s back up to over his customary 40 percent on five attempts per game. Even at Korver’s lesser rates, he’s still a feared shooter on the perimeter that defenders cannot leave open.
The one place where his age is starting to show is in his defense. Never a great defender, Korver has slipped just a bit further defensively. This is likely what led to the Hawks moving him to a bench role recently. Korver could either start or come off the bench for Cleveland, with matchups likely dictating his role. Either way, Korver’s major impact will come on offense, playing off LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Much like Channing Frye, who has seen an uptick in his shooting since coming to the Cavs at last year’s Trade Deadline, Korver could see his already good numbers jump even more. Because James and Irving draw so much attention, and Love attracts a lot of gravity too, Korver should see wide open looks. Tyronn Lue is sure to already be dreaming up a lineup that features James, Irving, Love, Korver and Frye. That grouping is a defense’s nightmare. Swap out Love or Frye for Tristan Thompson and you’ve got Thompson doing work inside and on the glass. Korver is only one player, but his impact is huge, especially with J.R. Smith out. If Smith can return, the Cavs now have wing depth beyond anything they had the last two seasons and the versatility is astounding.
Beyond acquiring Korver, the process to get there was just as interesting as the trade itself. Going all the way back to year ago, David Griffin set in motion a chain of events that led to this trade and may lead to yet another deal beyond this one.
Last January, Cleveland and Orlando linked up on the first of what would be two trades between the teams before the deadline. The first was a rather inconsequential deal that saw the Cavs trade Joe Harris to Orlando. Harris had no place in Cleveland, or Orlando for that matter as the Magic waived him. But the deal helped Cleveland clear a roster space and save a little money.
The second deal, which happened in part because of that roster space and the teams’ willingness to trade together, saw Orlando move Frye to Cleveland. In that deal, the Cavs also traded (salary dumped) Anderson Varejao to Portland. In doing so, Cleveland created a Trade Exception of $9.6 million.
Fast forward to this past July: The Cavaliers wanted to acquire Dunleavy from the Bulls, but didn’t want to give up the valuable Trade Exception they had created in the Varejao deal, so Griffin got creative and started to work some magic. The Cavs already knew they were losing Matthew Dellavedova to Milwaukee as a free agent. Instead of losing Dellavedova for nothing, Griffin convinced the Bucks to make it a Sign-and-Trade deal instead. Dellavedova was traded to Milwaukee, creating another Trade Exception, which the Cavs then used to acquire Dunleavy. This preserved the Varejao Trade Exception to be used at a later date.
Now, we have this trade to deal with. Instead of using the Varejao TPE, the Cavs flipped Dunleavy, who wasn’t playing for them anyway, for Korver. Essentially, with a series of moves, the Cavaliers turned Anderson Varejao and Matthew Dellavedova into Kyle Korver and, very likely, another player TBD, by using the Varejao TPE. Given that the Cavs still have need for another big man, that $9.6 million will go a long way towards acquiring a player.
If that wasn’t enough, Cleveland is a bit hamstrung by the Stepien Rule, which says teams can’t trade future draft picks in back to back years. In another creative move, Griffin appears close to working with Portland to swap picks for the pick he previously traded them to take on Varejao’s contract, to free up a pick for trade under the Stepien Rule.
In a series of masterstroke moves, David Griffin has put the Cavaliers in a better place to defend their title than they ever could have hoped for. And all it cost Cleveland was a little extra Luxury Tax for the difference between Korver and Dunleavy and a late first round pick.
Grade for Cleveland: A
As for the Hawks, this move signals the intent to rebuild. Paul Millsap is also reportedly on the block and likely to be moved, as the Hawks move further away from the good, but not great group they built around for years. The Hawks don’t have much use for Dunleavy and are looking to move him, so it hard to grade them fully at this point. Acquiring a future first round pick for Korver, who was playing out his final year in Atlanta, was a solid value. Given that the Hawks don’t seem likely to tank anytime soon, they can use that pick to get another player, as they rebuild on the fly around Dwight Howard, Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore.
Grade for Atlanta: B