As the year’s tankers zoom in on Joel Embiid as the likely number one pick in the draft, three particularly bad teams in the eastern conference find themselves at an important crossroads. Since Cleveland fired Chris Grant, their general manager, the Cavaliers have been forced to correct mid-course, requiring them to make major decisions about the future of a number of important pieces. When Detroit fired head coach Maurice Cheeks, the Pistons essentially admitted fault with their plan of integrating three star bigs into a team with weak guard play. Lastly, Philadelphia has to figure out just how bad they are willing to be. Surely the 76ers will listen to offers on Thad Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, but what kind of haul could they get?
Cleveland has basically been a complete disaster this season, lacking cohesiveness on and off the court. Jarett Jack appears to have checked out, Kyrie Irving asked for a trade, Dion Waiters fought Tristan Thompson, and now general manager Chris Grant is gone. In the short run, Grant’s sacking has appeared to have reinvigorated Cleveland. Yet even if a sudden sense of accountability has managed to permeate the locker room in Cleveland, it is unlikely that it will change the long-term outlook in Cleveland on its own.
This leads the Cavs to a number of questions about the future of the roster. Obviously, Anderson Varejao and Luol Deng are possible trade pieces, although it is not clear exactly what Cleveland could hope to get in return. Since both players are well into their primes and on expiring deals, neither would garner assets that would change Cleveland too much. The new management has declared that Kyrie Irving is untouchable, at least for the rest of this season. While Anthony Bennett is in the fold for a quite a while, Cleveland will have to make a major choice about Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters in the near future. Thompson will be up for restricted free agency after next season, and Cleveland will be in a tough position if he cannot prove himself to be a reliable option at power forward.
While Thompson has plenty of NBA talent, it’s unclear if he will ever become an efficient and above average starter. Waiters is a much tougher question for Cleveland. The general perception is that Waiters and Irving have not gotten along well, and one must leave if the ever is to stay. Obviously, if one man is to leave, it will be Waiters. It’s not likely that Cleveland will rush into a trade of any of its youngest players, but Daniel Gilbert must regret that his former general manager hadn’t pursued a trade for James Harden when he likely had the chance.
The problem in Detroit is significantly more straightforward than the problems in Cleveland. Joe Dumars’s apparent free agency whiff on Josh Smith, who is a good player in the worst possible system, will put into question his long term job security. In the meantime, Detroit fired its horribly unimaginable and mismatched coach, Mo Cheeks. Cheeks will get blamed for the debacle in Detroit, but he was really not meant for such a challenging job. Cheeks is not a bad coach, but lacks the tactical sophistication to reinvigorate a lineup as poorly put together as Detroit’s. The result has been a flurry of ill-conceived Smith jumpers and a lack of crunch time burn for Monroe. Unfortunately for Dumars, there is no obvious answer to the straightforward problem. Josh Smith will be almost impossible to trade without giving up a significant asset, and no gm in the league would trade Andre Drummond. As a result, it appears as though Detroit will have to look to shop Greg Monroe, a valuable commodity headed for restricted free agency. Detroit may not have much of a choice here, with limited cap flexibility and limited assets. That being said, it seems hard to believe that Josh Smith and Andre Drummond alone could form a legitimate championship core.
Philadelphia is in one of the more enviable positions of the three organizations, since it is not really obliged to win for the foreseeable future. Philly has effectively collected assets, even turning less enviable assets into quite tradable ones. Former laughingstocks Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner are some of the hotter names on the trade market, and Thaddeus Young has become an above average NBA player who can help out almost anyone.
Despite a hot start and decent counting stats, Evan Turner has become the same old player he always was. It seems hard to believe that any team would be particularly interested in taking on his services as a player on an expiring deal. Yet he is still not without value. Hawes would be a valuable piece for any team looking for an extra scoring big, although it is hard to imagine that a team (like the Clippers) would have the draft picks or assets to make it worth Philly’s time. In the case of Young, it appears obvious that he might actually be too good to simply trade. He is a young player on a team friendly deal, and it would appear peculiar for Philly to trade him now. Yet at the same time, Philly is so committed to systematically making their team worse, one would have to believe that general manager Sam Hinkie would be looking to shop all of these guys.
While these are complicated problems that will in the long run define the Hinkie tenure, they are in many ways enviable compared to what Cleveland and Detroit have to deal with. For Cleveland and Detroit, instead of dealing with the open hope of Philadelphia, they are stuck picking up the pieces from experiments that haven’t gone as planned.