The Cavaliers must decide whether to keep the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick to help for a rebuild or trade it to get LeBron James more help this season.
When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick was reportedly the key to the deal.
While Isaiah Thomas was the big name in the Cavs' return, the Nets pick, surrendered to the Celtics in the disastrous Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade, was what got the deal done.
The Nets picks have long been perhaps the NBA's most coveted assets. Brooklyn traded three unprotected picks to Boston and subsequently slid into a long and ugly rebuild, giving Boston annual high lottery picks. With the Irving deal, the Cavs got their hands on one of the most useful assets in the league.
With rumors circulating that LeBron James could leave Cleveland in free agency this offseason, the Nets pick is a safety net. Though the Nets have been better than expected this season — the pick would currently fall around ninth in the draft — it would still help the Cavs begin a rebuild or re-tool if James were to leave this offseason. And if James does stay, then the Cavs can add a talented rookie to a core that ranks as the oldest in the NBA this season.
Conversely, there is also pressure on the Cavs to use that draft pick as a trade asset. On Wednesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on "SportsCenter" that thus far, the Cavs have not offered the Nets pick in trade talks. However, if the right player became available, the Cavs would consider trading the pick.
This is the Cavs' current conundrum. That draft pick represents a first step in a rebuild if they need it. However, the Cavs are clearly a tier below the Golden State Warriors this season and their own dominance in the Eastern Conference has been questioned. The Nets pick is an easy starting point in a trade for a star player that could help push the Cavs back toward the top.
There is also the question of how using that pick to improve the team now would affect James. Would he be more likely to stay if the Cavs swung a trade for a star player that helped them reach a fourth consecutive NBA Finals? It could solidify to James that the Cavs are focused on improving as he long as he's on the team.
With the trade deadline a month away, it appears as though there are fewer star players on the trading block than last year when players like Paul George and Jimmy Butler were mentioned in trade rumors. However, if a name does come up — Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has been mentioned — the Cavs can almost jump to the front of the line because they own the Nets pick.
Few contending teams have ever been in the Cavs' shoes. They could lose the best player in the NBA this offseason and immediately start a re-tool with a potential top-10 draft pick. They could also swing that draft pick for a current star to help continue to build a super-team around the NBA's greatest player. How the Cavs handle the next month will be interesting to watch.