Fortunately for many of us reeling from the inevitable Warriors victory, late night Bovada logins revealed “scheduled site maintenance” acting as a sort of proverbial savior from drained checking accounts and credit card fraud emails. Finally, after a 5 game series that seemed to last a hopeless eternity, Kevin Durant and his second edition of super friends hoisted the trophy he, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka could not in Oklahoma City. This, however tempting as it is, is not meant as an indictment of the 2017 Finals MVP. Durant was undeniably spectacular throughout much of the series, namely in a soul crushing second quarter avalanche during Game 5 where poor Richard Jefferson probably decided correctly on his needed retirement. Instead, I found myself wondering the purpose of the 2018 NBA season, with the modern day Monstars comprised of super teammates primarily in their 20s, and enough salary cap flexibility to subject the rest of us to another half decade (or more) of Golden State dominance.
Then it hit me. I turned to my similarly remorseful, and penniless, friends and exclaimed “they just need to trade for…”
“Yea dude, we know. Paul George. Everybody is saying it already.” Donnie said meekly through what looked to be welling tears.
“No, fuck him. What they really need is Mr. Isolation himself. The greatest one on one scorer since Kobe had both his achilles. The headband. The sleeves. The first round exits. This team needs Carmelo.” I slammed the remote control to the ground. “And I cannot wait to buy that fucking jersey.”
Now, before regaling me with tales of my biased ineptitude, hear me out. Trading for Paul George is nice, no doubt, but the cost will be steep, the risk extraordinarily high, and the salary cap ramifications disastrous. George is entering the last year of his deal and his intention to sign with the Lakers is about as well kept of a secret as Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. Is it possible George will value riding out the last few years of LeBron’s prime in Cleveland before heading to Hollywood? I guess. But with a trade without an extension the Cavs will not hold Bird Rights for George, meaning they cannot offer the hometown exception of the new collective bargaining agreement, and the Lakers will be able to offer the same maximum deal.
With James nearing 34 by the time George will be negotiating next summer, does it really make sense for PG to lock in to living in Ohio for the foreseeable future as James inevitably (we think?) declines at some point? I don’t know. He could pull a LeBron and sign one year max deals each off season, but for a kid that has missed almost half of the Pacers total games over the last four seasons, that’s a hell of a risk, and a pretty unnecessary one. Actually acquiring George would likely force the Cavs to move Kevin “1 for 9” Love, an asset with a reasonable contract by today’s standards and three more years of roster control, while also placing the Cavs in salary cap purgatory allowing for the addition of only a veteran level exception and minimum players. Does that really move the needle against the big bad Warriors? I don’t know.
So, here is how I get to Melo. This season without LeBron the Cavs went 0-8. Since his return to Cleveland they have won a Browns level 9 percent of games that James has not played in. During the Finals, the Cavs “retooled” bench put forth arguably the worst effort in NBA history. With James on the floor the Cavs actually outscored the Warriors during the series, and 3 of the 5 games individually. Without him? The Cavs lost by a shocking 2.4 points per minute. Think about that for a second. When Cleveland attempted to go big with Love and Tristan Kardashian, the Warriors countered with a new version of the “death lineup” featuring Durant at center and Green at power forward, resulting in the largest point differential of any lineup combination of the series, and one of the best scoring 5s in league history.
Long story short: when LeBron was out, the Cavs got killed. When Love and Thompson played together, the Cavs were obliterated.
Enter a motivated Carmelo fresh off his divorce with La La and…former All NBA First Team Defense Joakim Noah. Yes, that Joakim Noah. I propose Cleveland reunited perhaps the league’s two best superstar pals James and Carmelo in exchange for Thompson and Shumpert, with the 4 combined salaries of Noah, Melo, Shumpert, and Thompson passing the league’s salary balancing requirements and the Knickerbockers eager for a return to the glory days of the Shump Man in NYC. In all seriousness I believe Phil Jackson would trade Carmelo for a bag of sour skittles at this point, so the offer of Thompson and Shumpert (which are basically just needed for cap purposes) is a major windfall for the beleaguered triangle loving executive, and would allow his lone building block Porzingis to play away from the basket at the 3/4. For the Cavs, Melo in my opinion could become one of, if not the best, 6th men in league history. Instead of Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson eroding what is left of Cleveland’s championship hope 8 minutes a game, Carmelo would give Cleveland an elite playmaker and ball stopping scorer to grind out those minutes Kyrie and LeBron absolutely must rest to compete with the depth of Golden State. Noah, provided he can get back to even a shell of his former self, can still be a 20-25 minute per game rim protector and general disrupter, and after the horrible performance of Thompson in this series, he really can’t be much worse.
Where I really love this lineup is late in games when the Warriors prefer going to Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, Green. Currently, the Cavs have to counter by going small with worthless players like Korver and Richard Jefferson being abused by Durant and Thompson in isolation, and crafty Warriors screens exploiting Kyrie’s size and Korver’s total lack of athleticism. Watching KD back down Kyle Korver is something I pray to never see again. I think my eyes are still bleeding. With Carmelo, the Cavs are far more versatile, just as long as the Warriors, and have even more playmakers. A lineup of Kyrie, Jr Smith, LeBron, Carmelo, and Kevin Love is a nightmarish matchup for the juggernaut out West, with shooting at all 5 positions and plus rebounders at all three forward positions. Defensively Carmelo has shown an ability to play at a high level but, similarly to Jr Smith prior to LeBron forcing him to try, a great deal of laziness. LeBron will have to pull the same sort of effort out of Melo, which should in theory be easier in this scenario in which he is only playing 20-25 minutes per game. That 5 actually sports a higher 3 point shooting percentage than its Golden State counterpart, is almost two inches longer on average, and bigger by nearly 20 pounds. In other words, this is a combination that in theory should be able to stand toe to toe with the almighty champions.
While I do not believe such a move would make the Cavs favorites to defeat KD & Company, it is a measured approach to challenging them, and one that allows the Cavs both greater roster flexibility now, and security in the long run compared to a trade for George. Here, the worst case scenario sees both LeBron and Carmelo leave Cleveland, but with both Kyrie and Love under team control for the foreseeable future, making for what in theory should be an attractive situation for upcoming free agents, and only one star short of the formation of a new, and in theory formidable, Big 3 as both Irving and Love remain in their prime.
Hey, at least we’re only 81 days from football season..
Image via Shutterstock