How bout Brook Lopez?

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As long as we’re throwing out trade target names — Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh (?!) — let me add my pick.

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Three year plan? Ok, three year plan.

One of the main takeaways from the Cavs’ draft lotto was that Gilbert & co. don’t want to be in Secaucus next year.  He tweeted as much and I’m pretty sure there were post-draft quotes to that effect.

Pretty bold talk for a 24-58 team.

If we take those quotes at face value and if we look at last year’s performance, it’s hard to see how a 200 pound slender 6’11” 19 year old coming off ACL rehab and projected to see the floor in December (~20 games in) will contribute enough to add 20 wins to last year’s team.

Yeah, yeah, sure sure:  KI missed 23 games last year, AV 57.  TT took major steps forward last year and I’m very optimistic that will continue.  Waiters will get better.  We’ll get a full year from Ellington versus the 38 last year.  No doubt the Cavs are better next year just by standing still.

But if we’re on year three of a three year plan, that’s a flag to acquire an immediate impact player in 2013.

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Cavs have ammo.

Hardly a laughingstock.

Chris Grant has assembled an embarrassment of trade-able assets for use this offseason.  The draft picks are #1, #19, #33, and #35.  They’re 28th in current player salaries and under the cap.

The Cavs can trade high and multiple picks and the Cavs can take on contracts.

There’s no other team that can do this.

Among the teams under the cap, you could look at Houston and Portland and say they’re looking to be in the playoffs next year.  But they don’t have the draft picks to send back to teams in cap jail.   Portland has the 10th pick and a bunch of second-rounders.  Houston doesn’t pick until #34.  The view from here is that the Cavs are where you shop if you’re looking to straighten out a cap mess and the storefront is open.

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What’s the Cavs’ need?

If we’re in it to win it; what piece offers the greatest upgrade to the roster?

  1. Point guard, KI/??:  good, but a reliable backup is a need;
  2. Shooting guard, Dion/Ellington:  good;
  3. Small forward, Gee/Miles/Walton:  need… but this will be filled in 2014 free-agency by a notable Bath Township resident (But if you want to tend to this without handcuffing the future, @ClevTA offers an interesting take here.);
  4. Power forward, TT/AV:  good;
  5. Center, Zeller/??/AV:  need.  Speights likely leaving; you can’t rely on AV here and it’s not his position anyway.

So, to me, this isn’t even a question.  The Cavs have needed a prototype NBA center for years.  It reminds me of the Browns’ right tackle wars where then tried to patch Ryan Tucker’s retirement with Shaeffer, St. Clair, and Pashos before committing to fixing it with a smart investment.  The difference is that the Cavs’ Ryan Tucker retired in 1994.

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Can you identify the center to match up with 7’1″ 270 lb. Marc Gasol? Me neither.

When I say “prototype center” I mean I center who lives on the block, down low, in the paint.  Zydrunas always seemed like a really tall shooting forward.  AV lives down low, but doesn’t have the mass of the prototype.  That could be why he’s only played 81 games in the last three years (32.9%).  Besides he’s always seemed more power forward and shoehorned into the center position.

(Off topic:  when you have holes, you draft for need.  That’s why the Rams didn’t draft RG3; it’s why Detroit wouldn’t have taken Noel.  You draft high first rounders to play not backup your best players.  The best player available business is way too simplistic.)

So we have our mission:  a good center added to this lineup will yield the greatest upgrade over current position holders.

Who are the best centers and what teams might be willing to move one?

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Who’s a good center and might his team need to move him?

This question is how I became enthralled with Brook Lopez.  The first stop was to mosey over to basketball-reference.com’s Player Season Finder and did a find of last year’s centers sorted by PER.

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“In the regular season; in 2012-13; played C or C-F; requiring Games Started >= 20; sorted by descending Player Efficiency Rating.”

Hmm.. Brook Lopez.  I didn’t even think of him.  He’ll be 25 next year.  He’s under contract through 2015.  He fills up the lane, a true big man.  20 PPG last year.  Not so great with the rebounds but that’s ok because we’ve got TT.  72 games so even though he had a foot problem and only played five games in 2011, he seemed fairly durable last year.

There’s really no question that Lopez (healthy Lopez) would contribute more to getting the Cavs into the 2014 playoffs than any rookie could.

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Lopez:  as realistic as the other names.

Pains me to consult Bill Simmons, but let’s consult Bill Simmons.  He rates Lopez 24th in his trade value rankings.  Just behind Al Horford (23), just in front of LaMarcus Aldridge (26) in the GROUP G: “Come on, You Know We’re Building Around This Guy!” category.*  About Lopez:

He’s a guaranteed 19-and-seven every night, someone who’s turning into this generation’s Rik Smits as an inventive, overpowering low-post player who pretty much has to be double-teamed. Defensively? Pretty plodding. He’s also more expensive than Horford. But his low-post game makes up for it. And Hollinger’s PER engine loves him: He’s ranked fifth this season. Not a misprint. I didn’t think he deserved a max extension last summer, but he clearly did — he’s the league’s best under-30 offensive center.

You’ll read some bad reviews on Lopez’ defense but then there’s this from earlier this month:

… Lopez is playing the best defense of his career. Lopez ranks second in blocks per game during the 2013 playoffs, behind … Ibaka (3.5 to 3.4). … [T]he Nets are giving up just 95.5 points per 100 possessions against the Chicago Bulls with Lopez on the court, compared to 118.9 without him.

Sounds good, construct a deal.  A package that works number-wise is AV + Gee + #1 overall for Lopez.

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But why would the Nets move him?

The Nets are a playoff team but yet the Nets aren’t going anywhere.  Losing to the injury-depleted Bulls (who went on to lose 4-1 to the Heat) is sign that you’re one of those treadmill playoff teams.  Having four of your starters over 29 next year is a sign that it won’t get better.

They were hell-bent on making a splash last year in the new home and one would think the hangover is now settling in.

We’re really paying Joe Johnson $20/year through 2015?  Did I eat the worm too?

Of course they’d love to get out from under Johnson’s contract but it’s not do-able.  No one has $20,000,000 in cap space and even if someone did who on earth would use it on the frankly average 32 year old next season Johnson?

Nope.  The best the Nets can do is re-tool on the fly.  Free some cap space, get younger, get cornerstone pieces build for the future, while AT THE SAME TIME, getting some value out of Johnson and Deron Williams by keeping playoff relevant.

Varajao and Gee do this.  I start Gee over Gerald Wilkins at SF.  AV is a downgrade from Lopez but he was leading the league in rebounds (14+ per game) when he got injured.  OF COURSE AV IS NOT AS GOOD AS BROOK LOPEZ.  The point is:  Gee and Varajao will keep the Nets in the playoffs.

And while the Nets are in the playoffs they get Nerlins Noel for the future.  The Nets can wait for him to get healthy and get bigger and learn the NBA … while still making the playoffs.

Hey, don’t laugh.  If nothing else, this deal immediately make the Nets smarter than the other NYC team.

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* Kevin Love is #20 and in the Group F: “Don’t Tell Anyone, and I’ll Deny It to the Death, But I’m Listening.” section along with Chris Bosh.  I’ve heard a lot of Love talk, some Bosh talk… thus baseless Lopez talk is equally baseless and also legit.

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