February 6, 2020, 10:25 pm
Of all the teams that would be expected to trade for Andre Drummond, the Cavs would have to be pretty far down the list of guesses. Maybe they’re only on that list to begin with because they’re literally one of the only 29 options.
The Cavs swooped in to acquire Andre Drummond, a 26-year-old with two All-Star selections under his belt, in exchange for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick in 2023.
From afar, Cleveland seems like one of the least sensible destinations for Drummond. They were unable to trade Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson, leaving the frontcourt full of expensive players, while potential Love-or-Thompson replacement Larry Nance Jr. waits in the wings. One of the league’s true dregs staring down the barrel of a long and painful rebuild, it was a stunner that the Cavs would step in to acquire one of the league’s more credible win-now additions.
And yet, in the end, the Cavs paid a pittance to find out if Drummond can be a part of the solution. They may not learn anything about the direction of their team as a result of this move but it cost them almost nothing to find out for sure.
Drummond’s reported desire to decline his player option (for $28.7 million) spurred the Pistons to hit the trade market, as something figured to be better than nothing in terms of return as Drummond walked out the door. If Detroit really wanted Drummond back, they had every opportunity to do so, and it was obvious that they had no interest in forking over the type of money that Drummond had in mind for himself.
The Cavs have a lot of things to work on, and with Thompson reportedly preferring a trade that never came, it seems highly likely that they would’ve needed to find a new starting center next summer. They have copious cap space but little to entice prospective free agents besides potential overpayments or big-minute roles for players who are starved for opportunity.
Despite legitimate questions about Drummond’s actual impact on winning, he fits neither of those categories. In acquiring him now, Cleveland also acquires his Bird Rights, which makes re-signing him slightly easier if he chooses to opt out and maximize his earnings. If he decides to opt in, which may or may not have been of equal concern to a Detroit team ready for a teardown, then the Cavs lock in with a player of a caliber that they probably couldn’t attract in the summer. Cleveland’s cap space could very well have gone unused in free agency – but maybe it should.
And even if Drummond does opt in, fearful of what the market holds for traditional bigs in an increasing untraditional ecosystem, it’s only a one-year deal. That would give the Cavs an opportunity to move him at next year’s deadline, too.
For now, Cleveland gets a few months to see how Drummond might look next to Love, Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., among others.
More broadly, this could be the Cavs trying to get good again after the market for Love and his massive contract proved to be icy cold – or at the very least, trying to quell Love’s concerns by adding a name-brand player. Which brings us back to how good, average or worse Drummond really is when you look beyond the gaudy box scores.
One big challenge will be sorting out the rotation. The Cavs now have four legitimate options between their two forward spots, on a day where they might’ve anticipated having only Nance aboard by Friday morning. John Beilein, who has had his share of struggles in his first NBA season, will need to strike a balance between the four players, and it will be a constant juggling act even with Thompson headed for greener pastures in free agency.
The biggest challenge will be sorting out exactly how Drummond helps this Cavs team get better. He’s an elite rebounder, but the Cavs weren’t exactly aching for a glass-crasher given the work of Love and Thompson. He may be able to help Love return to a full-time power forward role, which seems to be his best fit. He showed poor effort for a go-nowhere Detroit team, only to end up on a going-less-places Cavs squad. Drummond’s become an improved playmaker. He also wastes a lot of offensive possessions that disrupt the team’s flow.
It’s certainly not his fault that the Pistons have been bad. Injuries and poor management are major, major factors in Detroit’s horrid stretch of basketball. At some point, however, it has to be asked what good all those 20-20 games are if the team is unable to take any kind of forward step.
Questions about Drummond’s impact will continue and it’s entirely possible that the Cavs end up hoping this relationship won’t continue past the next few months. It’s a curious fit, but the acquisition cost makes it worth a roll of the dice.
There’s a lot of unknowns to sort through, but at least the Cavs will get a head start at unpacking them all.