Even with a recent six-game winning streak, it's clear that the Cleveland Cavaliers have issues. Defensively they've been awful, dead last in defensive rating, and they have the constant shadow of LeBron James' potential free agency hanging over their heads.
Now add in the fact that Derrick Rose has left the team to contemplate his basketball future, and there appears to be some sense of urgency for Cleveland to make a move. With that in mind, Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon reported that the Cavs would at least consider a potential deal involving Tristan Thompson and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan as part of a weekly mailbag column.
The Clippers are struggling mightily, having lost 11 of 13 games after a 4-0 start. The team parted ways with Chris Paul in the offseason to build around Blake Griffin, but three key offseason additions (Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic) have missed significant time due to injuries; Beverley is done for the year.
Both teams look to be in position to make a move. A straight-up trade wouldn't work financially, so other pieces would have to be involved, but let's examine whether a Thompson-Jordan swap would make sense in any form.
Would it make sense for the Cavs?
Jordan and Thompson essentially serve the same function on the court -- rim protection, rebounding, keeping the opposing defense honest by being a lob threat around the rim. The question for the Cavs becomes, is Jordan better enough at those things than Thompson to justify a trade?
Jordan blocks significantly more shots than Thompson, but in terms of rim protection, the stats get interesting. Last season opponents shot 52.7 percent on shots within 6 feet of the rim with Thompson defending them. Jordan's number in the same category was 56.5 percent. This isn't a perfect science -- it doesn't take into account the shots that aren't taken due to defensive pressure, but it does give us the sense that the gap may not be what reputations suggest.
So trading for Jordan would essentially boil down to three possible outcomes:
- Jordan makes the Cavs great, they win the title, LeBron re-signs and all is good in Cleveland. In this case, the Cavs could re-sign Jordan and (presumably healthy) Isaiah Thomas, and hope to make another few runs at the Finals before LeBron rides off into the sunset.
- Jordan has relatively no impact on the Cavs, they don't win the title and LeBron leaves. Assuming Jordan opts out of his contract, the Cavs could let him walk, so they essentially would have used him as an expiring deal to ditch the three years and roughly $53 million left on Thompson's contract. Let the rebuild begin.
- The Cavs don't win the title, LeBron leaves, but Jordan shows them enough in his few months with the team that they decide he's worth building around. In this case they'd probably re-sign Thomas and hope to build around a Thomas-Jordan core for the next iteration of Cleveland basketball.
If the Cavs truly believe that things are headed south this season and that they need to shake things up, trading for Jordan looks to be a decent option. If all fails, at least they've gotten rid of Thompson's contract as they build for a post-LeBron world.
What about the Clippers?
Things are rough in Los Angeles. With Beverley out for the season, the Clippers' playoff hopes appear to be dwindling down to zero. Jordan's scoring numbers are down, which was expected without Paul there to throw him lobs and find him for easy dunks. Griffin and Jordan compose a nice high-low combo in the halfcourt, but it's hard to see the Clippers throwing a max contract at Jordan at season's end (which is likely what he'll demand). It's becoming harder and harder to picture a Clippers future with Jordan in the equation.
The problem with the potential deal with the Cavs is that Thompson doesn't really improve the Clippers. As we discussed, he's basically a shorter version of DeAndre, and the occasionally stagnant Clippers offense wouldn't benefit from another player who can't shoot beyond four feet of the rim. He'd also be under contract through 2020 on a large deal, so he would probably be hard to flip.
The Clippers have no young talent coming up behind Griffin, so if they were to take on Thompson they would likely require an additional asset. The Cavs would probably be unwilling to part with this year's Brooklyn pick, but they do have their own first-rounder that they could potentially include. Another possibility would be that the cash equalizer from Cleveland could be Jae Crowder, who has struggled to find a role with the Cavs but could allow the Clippers to play versatile small-ball lineups with Griffin at center.
Both teams, then have clear-cut reasons to try this trade. But they also have reasons not to consider it. Whether or not this particular deal goes down, it's clear that both the Cavs and Clippers franchises are at crossroads.