Cleveland Cavaliers jump into James Harden trade, steal Jarrett Allen, and make big addition to growing young core

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Cavaliers have always coveted a player like Jarrett Allen – a rebounding defensive anchor who can grow up with and protect their undersized young guards.

That’s why they attempted to trade for Indiana Pacers defensive hub Myles Turner on the February deadline before being pushed back. Which is why they finally made a deal for Andre Drummond, before spending their salary cap to bring the double All-Star on board, still expecting him to adhere to his contract, which he did. .

The Cavs saw the impact of Drummond. They went 4-4 with him in the roster in 2019-20. They are 5-6 in the games he’s played this season.

Tuesday night was Drummond’s first absence of the season with an Achilles contusion, and the Cavs were hit by 30 points. It was also, no coincidence, their worst defensive performance, allowing the Jazz to score 117 points out of 50% on the field and 53.3% on 3 points.

Drummond’s arrival almost a year ago was the first move that showed a commitment to improving defense – the core of coach JB Bickerstaff’s desired identity.

But Drummond is poised to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and early conversations with him haven’t gone well. An exit this summer seemed more likely, if not getting reversed in a trade earlier than that. The Cavs knew they didn’t have much control over this outcome. JaVale McGee, who started at Drummond on Tuesday night, is also in the final year of his contract. Ahead of Wednesday’s shrewd move, the Cavs were looking at a thin chart of center depth beyond this season – and a limited path to change that.

Not anymore.

When Brooklyn called Wednesday afternoon, the Cavs purposely jumped into the agreed four-team James Harden blockbuster that sent shockwaves through the NBA – and stole one of the league’s best players.

Brooklyn got what he wanted, grabbing Harden – the deadly goalscorer and crown jewel of the exchange – and teaming him up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (if he ever returns from personal time off) to forming an intimidating trio. They ditched Allen, grateful that they couldn’t afford to keep him beyond this year. The Houston Rockets are probably feeling better about their future with a series of draft picks to spark a rebuild. Indiana swapped Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert and saved money in the process.

The Cavs also took advantage, adding Allen and swingman Taurean Prince in exchange for Dante Exum, the Milwaukee Bucks’ unprotected 2022 first-round pick that lost its value with Giannis Antetokounmpo signing a maximum extension and a runner-up pick. turn in 2024 from a source. called the worst asset in the Cleveland stack.

Prince, a key touch to helping Brooklyn transfer money, hasn’t had a great year. But a change of scenery – and perhaps a bigger opportunity – could help reignite its value. Prince will provide depth on the wing. A competitive and defensive forward with the versatility of playing 3 or 4, the 26-year-old former first-rounder gives the Cavs another healthy spinning piece as they continue to fight wear and tear.

But make no mistake: that decision was about Allen – a guy the Cavs had near the top of their 2021 free agency board and was ready to have a run this offseason.

“Delighted,” said a source when asked to describe the feeling in the building. “You get a guy who is 22 and is about to enter his prime with our growing young core. Acquiring a player of this magnitude, of this age, that’s why we acquired these assets, to have these opportunities.

The Cavs have loved the 6-foot-11 Allen for years, dating back to the 2017 NBA Draft. A few months ago, in a free agency, sources claim that members of the Cleveland front office spoke in Brooklyn about Allen’s availability as a potential replacement for Tristan Thompson. Back then, the Win-Now Nets weren’t interested in moving on, especially given his low pay and the way he played inside the bubble.

Allen has maintained that in this season, averaging 11.2 points on 67.7% shots from the field to go with 10.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.6 blocks in 12 games. He ranks 10th in rebounds and ninth in blocks.

On offense, he’s an effective pick-and-roll finisher and high-flying lob threat who doesn’t eat possessions or need to play, called him to make an impact – an important characteristic in a team with ball-dominant guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. With numbers indicating Allen as a deadly partner of choice alongside Irving, the Cavs have visions of a successful Garland-Allen combination, helping to unlock another area of ​​Garland’s nascent game. Dating from 2018-19, only Rudy Gobert has been used more as a screener in this particular set.

On the other end, he’s a heady backbone and elite rim protector, ranking fourth in the NBA for field goal percentage against players with at least 250 field goals defended over the course of the last two seasons.

What’s the best way to minimize the shortcomings of playing two little guards? Surround them with pieces with a defensive spirit.

The Cavs have enough preliminary data to highlight the size and impact of rim protection on this group. With Drummond and McGee roaming the paint, Larry Nance Jr. disrupting passing lanes and rookie Isaac Okoro harassing opponents on the perimeter, the Cavs have risen to the top of the league in terms of defensive standings – an extraordinary turnaround for a team that finished last two. consecutive years.

In the short term, Cleveland’s central plaza is a bit crowded. Thon Maker will be canceled and the Cavs have already received calls about McGee, sources say.

While the veteran seems most likely to be squeezed by the addition of Allen, the eruption of injuries in the first few weeks makes depth an asset. It will be up to Bickerstaff to balance the minutes and put the pieces in place. Drummond, who has been fully engaged and has raised the franchise’s level of competitiveness since joining last year, would be on board with a similar center rotation in Brooklyn with DeAndre Jordan and Allen. Sources say Drummond texted CEO Koby Altman shortly after the news broke, calling him “big business.”

The Cavs have invested a lot of resources in fixing their defense. They didn’t want to lose any of that positive momentum. They couldn’t afford to regress. With the uncertainty surrounding Drummond’s future, they need some protection. Even though Drummond had remained in Cleveland beyond this year, the Cavs were planning to seek out another play in the frontcourt.

The potential target of free agencies, Bam Adebayo, was out of the market, signing a massive extension in Miami. Rudy Gobert signed a new deal in Utah, eliminating it from potential plans. Anthony Davis, still a dreamer anyway, unsurprisingly chose to stay in Los Angeles.

What is the point of having a cap if there is no one to spend it?

In many ways, that money was for Allen, who is a restricted free agent. Only this way, the Cavs have more control. They inherited his Bird rights, can potentially match any offer sheet, and are optimistic about their chances of signing him on a lucrative long-term contract. They didn’t give up a first-round pick to let him go.

Now the Cavs have over 50 games to show Allen how much he belongs – at the center of a promising young nucleus that includes Garland, Sexton, Okoro, Nance, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr.

Consider this their free agency pitch – about six months ahead of schedule.

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