With LeBron James leaving Cleveland, it seems that the Cavaliers will hit the reset button. But which assets should the Toronto Raptors target?
LeBron James has left the Eastern Conference. Phew, what a relief. James’ decision to sign with L.A on a four-year, $153.3 million contract has sent shock waves across the league. The Cavaliers time at the top of the Eastern Conference looks over for now, and an impending rebuild looks likely. The Raptors should look at picking up a few pieces, but who would fit the bill?
First of all, let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Without the LeBron James the Cleveland Cavaliers are not contenders. Mot even close. Moreover, it is unlikely they are a playoff team. If LeBron does in fact leave the Cavaliers then the face of the franchise becomes either, a) Kevin Love or b) Collin Sexton. Both solid players, yes. But capable of leading an ageing squad to the promised land? I’m not so sure.
Known as a rebounding specialist, Tristan Thompson has an innate ability to clean the glass. More importantly, the offensive glass.
Since entering the league in 2011, Thompson has averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds per game in the NBA. Despite averaging his lowest minutes total since entering the league - at 20.2 MPG - Thompson still managed 2.4 offensive boards per game in 2017-18. Providing an impressive combination of speed, size and energy at the center spot, Thompson has all the tools to be a menace on the glass. His strength allows him to comfortably box-out smaller players, while his speed helps him get into position quicker than players bigger than him.
Thompson is also one of a few NBA big men who have the nimble feet to comfortably switch positions 1-5. Having Thompson on the Raptors would give them an option they don’t have with Valanciunas at center. The Raptors struggled at times with their rotations after switches. Thompson would instantly become a defensive anchor for the team, a role he was used to in Cleveland.
Offensively, Thompson isn’t a player to get excited about. His points usually coming from an array of tip-ins and put-backs. His value as a player, especially for the Raptors, would be on the defensive end of the court. He does set a hard screen, though.
If this doesn’t really make the mouth water, to make this trade work the Raptors would probably need to ship Ibaka out to Cleveland to balance the salaries. Bam! Now you’re listening.
A decidedly cheaper and younger option, Cedi Osman is a versatile swingman with time on his side. A second-round pick back in 2015, Osman’s first season with Cleveland was a mixed bag. He was featured in 61 games and started 12 of them, averaging 3.9 point and 2 rebounds on 48-percent shooting from the field. He also knocked down just shy of 37-percent of his threes on just over one attempt.
Osman is a strong wing defender, who's length allows him to disrupt passing lanes and cause havoc on defense. While we haven’t seen his defensive ceiling fully realized yet, Osman definitely has the potential. Pairing another talented wing defender alongside OG Anunoby would give the Raptors a solid defensive core on the perimeter.
A gritty defender and an even hard-worker all over the court, he can fly in transition. The Raptors averaged 1.13 points per possession in transition (8th in the NBA) and adding another effective cog in that area would do wonders. Osman can drive at the rim on the fast break or serve as an option to kick out to in the corner.
Adding another wing who can defend and comfortably stretch the court is usually at the top of the list of most NBA teams. Osman hasn’t even reached his full potential yet, and playing in Toronto might just help him do that.
Drafted by the Celtics 23rd overall in the 2016 Draft, Zizic was part of the deal that took Kyrie to Boston. Though his playing time last season was scarce, Zizic did impress when given the opportunity.
Zizic averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds through 32 games, in just 6 minutes per contest. He did shoot a highly efficient 73% from the field, but it's important take into account the small sample size.
In the final game of the season, Zizic played a career-high 27 minutes and his impact was obvious. He went 7-9 from the field, scoring a career high 20 points. His ability to rebound in traffic is key and he showed some nice footwork in the post too. He showed the tenacity to create and shake off contact when in the post too, and went to the line nine times for his efforts.
At 6’11”, 240 lbs, Zizic is a monster who can dominate in the paint. His defense does need some adjustment but at 21 years old you can expect room for improvement. He wouldn’t command a starting role at the moment but with Lucas Nogueira hitting UFA status there is currently a spot for a 3rd center on the team.
With LeBron out of the picture, Kevin Love is now the big man on campus. The Cavaliers are his team, for now. If Cleveland were thinking about trading Love, Toronto should be on the phones immediately.
If the window is still well and truly open for the Raptors, Love could be the final piece of the puzzle. A great offensive threat who can play inside and out, Love would be an instant upgrade at power forward. Love can also play meaningful minutes at center.
Despite only playing 59 games this year due to injuries, Love averaged 17 points on 45% shooting. Also proving to be a sniper from behind the arc, Love shot a wholly impressive 41-percent from three. These are stats the Raptors could andshould live with.
It might mean giving up a younger player or 1st round pick, but this is something the Raptors should definitely consider. Especially while Lowry and DeRozan are still performing at such high levels.
Perhaps the Cavaliers will stay pat. Dan Gilbert will want to prove to both fans and those around the league that one player is not the only reason the Cavaliers were relevant. However, if they do decide to strip it down, there are some intriguing options available.