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Forget the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers Can Do Big Things

Today, ESPN’s John Hollinger and Chad Ford came out with the first part of their now regular Future Power Rankings where project success for the next few seasons based on factors such as players, management, and draft picks. Unsurprisingly the Cavs did not fare too well, ranking 28th, ahead of only Minnesota and Charlotte. Obviously losing LeBron James is going to haunt this team and city for a long time, but the long term future of the Cavaliers franchise does not need to be so depressing – GM Chris Grant is in a position where he can put the Cavs back in the playoffs with a solid young core in just a couple of seasons.

One thing that Hollinger and Ford missed the boat on is the Cavs trade assets, saying that they were lacking. This is simply not the case. They have the massive $14.5 million dollar trade exception (TPE) which is good until next July. The Cavs can use this TPE to take on salary from other teams without giving up much of anything in return (per CBA rules, both sides must give up something in a trade, but it can be a conditional 2nd pick). Now, the Cavs wouldn’t just take on bad contracts just for fun, but rather as a price for taking a bad contract off the hands of a team strapped for cash they would also get first round picks or prospects.

Oklahoma City has done one sided trades like this on numerous occassions, however they used cap space instead of a TPE. One prime example is when they traded a conditional 2nd round pick to Phoenix for PF Kurt Thomas and two future 1st round picks. One of those picks turned out to be Serge Ibaka, a very promising young PF. The Cavs are in a position to make numerous one sided deals just like this – they probably won’t happen until either the trade deadline or close to the draft because that is when teams will start to freak out about losing money. And trust me, even with a lockout looming, teams like Indiana, New Orleans, Memphis, Denver, and others will worry about either getting under the luxury tax or shedding as much unnecessary salary as possible. Normally, TPE’s this large are rare since max contract players aren’t normally traded, but Toronto and Minnesota both have equally large TPE’s and other teams like New Jersey have significant cap space as well. This will make it harder for the Cavs to pull off trades using their TPE, but if they are aggressive, they can get it done. They don’t need to use all $14.5 million in one trade, but rather use it in a succession of trades. Even if a trade is for a player with 2 years on his deal and we get just future first round pick, that is OK. Its all about asset building at this point in time, and the Cavs are in a position to acquire significant assets.

Additionally, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are indeed trade assets, despite what Hollinger and Ford might say. Jamison in particular will not yield much (consider that the Cavs only gave up the 30th pick in the draft for him), but that it is highly probable that a contender will look to add him just like the Cavs did last season. Would it surprise you if Oklahoma City or Chicago determined that they needed one more player to make a real run at the Finals? Maybe not those teams but other teams will try to be bold and make a move. As for Mo, trading him will be easier because of he is just 27, there is a chance he will opt out of his deal after next season, and teams like Portland, Indiana, Atlanta, and Charlotte are looking for long term solutions at PG. Mo also would not bring in much, but just clearing his playing time for younger players would be a positive outcome in a trade.

Trading Mo and Jamison would obviously make the Cavs very bad next season, but in order for the Cavs to move forward they will need to move backwards first. Put simply, if the Cavs get a top 3 pick in the draft next year, their Future Power Ranking suddenly becomes a lot better. Look at how Kevin Durant changed the course of the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, or how Derrick Rose put the Bulls back on the map. All it takes is one superstar to change everything, and you usually only get those types of players when you draft in the top 3 or 5. SF Harrison Barnes out of North Carolina is a player all Cavs fans should watch closely, as well as Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic or maybe even OSU freshman Jared Sullinger. Yes, this stinks for the immediate future, but holding out hope of being the 8 seed in the playoffs is not worth it.

It is not even certain that the Cavs will have to be bad for very long – the Bulls went from first overall pick to 7 seed in the East in Derrick Rose’s rookie season. The Cavs turnaround wouldn’t have to last multiple years like OKC’s because there are already some good players in place for the long term in JJ Hickson, Anderson Varejao, and even Ramon Sessions. That is why ESPN’s Future Rankings are faulty: all the Cavs need to do is turn their TPE and veterans into assets – young players or draft picks – and then get that one difference maker in the draft. Yes, this is much easier said then done, but the Cavs have an owner who is willing to spend, a talented basketball operations staff, promising young players, and a head coach who demands greatness. The pieces are in place, the Cavs just have to utilize them correctly.

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