The Cleveland Cavaliers made no trades today at the NBA deadline, and that is the right move. You could argue that last season when they stood pat it was a mistake and a first-round flameout provided the evidence.
But today as the best team in the league since mid-December and now fully healthy, there wasn't anything to add that wouldn't have cost the Cavs somewhere else.
This Cavaliers team, which enters the game Thursday night in Brooklyn having won 15 of its past 16 games, is complete. It’s not a perfect roster, but it’s difficult to see where upgrades could have been made.
In today’s NBA, there are a few reasons to make trades. Certain rosters need upgrades, but where would that be on this roster? There’s not a team in basketball that wouldn’t like more shooting from the outside, certainly, but the Cavs already rank in the top half of the NBA in 3-point percentage while letting them fly at the second-highest volume in the league. There wasn’t a player available that the Cavs could afford that would have improved upon what they’re currently working within that department.
“I think we've shown that we had this year and last year was able to compete with the best teams in the league and we're doing that now,” says President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman. “We feel we're right in the mix of some of the best teams in the world right now and we're going to continue to compete for that.”
Good teams can grow stale and need to shake things up just for the sake of shaking things up. That’s far from the case here. The Cavs have been the best team in basketball since December 15, a stretch in which they have outscored teams by 11 points per game. The Cavs are past the point of it being a hot streak, this is who they are. There’s no reason to change that.
“I think we've always been hyper-focused on us ever since the offseason. I think for us the bulk of the work was done in the offseason and we really wanted to address our shortcomings we felt from last year's playoffs,” Altman says. “While those aren't acquisitions at the deadline, there's certainly really important parts of our roster and we're really, really happy and pleased with how we've been playing. And sometimes, you know me, I'm very active and do a lot of volume, but sometimes you don't want to mess up a good thing.”
Last season when the trade deadline arrived the Cavs were 35-22. They were winning games with the NBA’s best defense and the spectacular play of Donovan Mitchell. It felt last year that the Cavs were going to go as far as Mitchell could take them, as long as they played great defense. When April arrived, that resulted in a five-game loss to the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. It wasn’t that Mitchell wasn’t good enough, it’s that the rest of the team had significant holes that weren’t filled during the season. If anything, Mitchell was so good last season he masked many of the deficiencies during the regular season.
That hasn’t been the case this season. It’s not because Mitchell isn’t playing as well. He spent last season on the fringe of the league’s Most Valuable Player discussion and finds himself in the same spot this year. He’s been fantastic, averaging a career-high in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. The difference is the rest of the team around him, even during prolonged absences by Evan Mobley and Darius Garland, has been better. Mitchell has been great when he’s needed to be this season. Last year he was great because the Cavs needed to be. He’s still the one who raises the team’s floor, but others have helped to raise the team’s ceiling.
The difference there is in the rest of the roster. The offseason additions of Max Strus and Georges Niang have been a big boost. The play of Dean Wade, Isaac Okoro and Sam Merrill off the bench has been a huge part of the success for the Cavs. All three of them are having their best individual seasons from beyond the 3-point arc, in addition to Wade and Okoro being defensive stoppers on the wing. Jarrett Allen has been an All-Star caliber big man. He’s been better on both ends of the floor this year than he was last season.
As last year’s roster went into the playoffs, the ceiling looked to be reaching the second round. That group failed to get there. Now, the ceiling looks to be higher than that. As the Cavs sit in second place in the Eastern Conference at the time of the deadline, the floor for this group appears to be last year’s ceiling. There’s an argument to be made that the Cavs are the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. They’re at worst second in that category.
Sometimes, things need to be changed. Sometimes, it’s best to not mess up a good thing. Thursday was an example of the latter for the Cleveland Cavaliers.For more updates about Cleveland, sign up for our Cleveland Magazine Daily newsletter, delivered to your inbox six times a week.