Would Kyrie Irving-DeMarcus Cousins Combo Catapult Cleveland Cavs into Playoffs?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMay 30, 2013

Could DeMarcus Cousins push the Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoffs?
Could DeMarcus Cousins push the Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoffs?Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft firmly in hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers could go a number of directions as they attempt to surround Kyrie Irving with the help necessary to become a true playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. 

Only one of the options would immediately do the trick, though: trading the top draft selection to the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins

Sure, the Cavs could go with the upside play and draft Nerlens Noel, but the big man is a project player, coming into the league at only 206 pounds and with just one fully functioning ACL. Down the road, that pick could look brilliant, but it's a sure-fire way to end up with yet another lottery selection in 2014. 

Ben McLemore and Otto Porter are options as well. NBA-ready as they may be, they aren't going to be massive difference-makers during their first seasons out of Kansas and Georgetown, respectively. With a draft class this weak, only an established star can fill that role. 

And that's where Cousins enters into the picture. As a quick caveat, it's important to note that no official rumor sending Boogie up north has entered into the blogosphere, merely speculation. 

ESPN's Chad Ford first brought up the possibility in his column on what Cleveland could do with its third No. 1 pick in the last 11 drafts: 

Whom can they get? The pickings will be slim. Teams aren't dying to get the No. 1 pick. But one name that you shouldn't totally rule out is the Sacramento KingsDeMarcus Cousins. Bradford Doolittle mentions this in his draft trade scenarios piece today.

If the Cavs are willing to put up with his immaturity off the court, he might be the best young big man in the game.

And what does Doolittle say? He suggests the same, basically saying that the Cavs should do a lot with the pick and land a potential All-Star. Except he fleshes out the trade a bit more.

In Doolittle's scenario, the Kings are unloading Cousins for the No. 1 pick, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. That's the deal we'll be working with in this article.

Would Each Team Pull the Trigger? 

Of course, what's the point of analyzing a trade if both teams aren't willing to make it happen? Trades only come to pass when each of the involved teams feels like it's getting a workable end of the deal. 

For the Cavaliers, the rationale is obvious. 

Dion Waiters had a pretty solid rookie season and looks to possess a good deal of potential, but he's an inefficient volume scorer at this stage of his career. During his rookie season, Cleveland was worse with him on the court, per NBA.com's statistical database

When the Syracuse product was in uniform and out on the hardwood, the Cavs scored 103.3 points per 100 possessions and allowed 109.6, giving them a minus-6.3 differential. However, when Waiters sat, that differential rose to minus-5.9.

Cleveland was still outscored, but not by as much.

Including Tyler Zeller isn't going to be a dealbreaker, especially since a center is coming back in return. It's the No. 1 pick that will either make or break this potential move, and that's an asset that hasn't been swapped since the Orlando Magic moved Chris Webber 20 years ago.

Given the relative dearth of appealing options at the top, why not? Unless Cleveland is absolutely blown away by Noel during the process leading up to David Stern's big day at the podium, Dan Gilbert should be most interested in maximizing what he can get out of the pick.

As for the Kings, this trade would allow them to move firmly into yet another rebuild. Talented as Cousins may be, he hasn't worked out too well in Sacramento, clashing with coaches, getting suspended and just acting like a general head case. 

No one would blame the franchise if it decided to cut its losses and rid itself of a perennial headache, even at the expense of losing the talent battle. 

Plus, it's time for some changes in Sacramento, especially with new ownership in place. Tyreke Evans, Toney Douglas and James Johnson are all restricted free agents, and the group led by Vivek Ranadivé has no ties to any of them. Neither does the general manager who hasn't yet been hired. 

For that matter, they don't have ties to the big man, either. 

Freeing themselves of Cousins, even though it would initially hurt the on-court product, would clear up cap space for potential free-agent signings, indicate that the team is moving in a new direction and bring back intriguing assets. 

Sacramento is exactly the type of team that can afford to take on a project like Noel. There are no expectations, and no sense of urgency is present at the moment. 

They'd lose this trade on the surface level, but it still makes sense for them to pull the trigger. 

What are the Cavs Working With After the Trade?

If the deal goes through, the Cavaliers are left with a massively upgraded roster. 

Here's what would immediately be in place (assuming that Marreese Speights declines his $4.5 million player option): 

  • Point guard: Kyrie Irving, Chris Quinn
  • Shooting guard: C.J. Miles
  • Small forward: Alonzo Gee
  • Power forward: Tristan Thompson, Kevin Jones
  • Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Anderson Varejao

There's a remarkable lack of talent on the wing, and not much depth is present in the backcourt. However, Cleveland could pretty easily fix these problems. 

The team possesses the No. 19 pick in the 2013 draft and could use it in a number of ways. Either by selecting an NBA-ready wing to contribute in a minor role or by packaging it and Anderson Varejao for a more established player, the Cavaliers could turn that asset into another solid player. 

Plus, Cleveland has a good deal of cap room, even if it traded for Boogie. Still operating under the assumption that Speights opts out, Cleveland only has $31 million committed for the 2013-14 season. Swapping the contracts of Zeller and Waiters for Cousins' deal would actually lower that figure because the big man is still working with a rookie-scale deal. 

The Cavs have a ton of cash to spend this offseason and could use the Irving-Cousins duo to lure in a third star. Think someone like Josh Smith, or a top shooting guard from this free-agency class like Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans or Kevin Martin. It's a weak class, much like the draft class is, but there are still solid players to be had. 

Regardless, if Cleveland plays its hand correctly, it'll be able to upgrade the wings rather significantly. 

Is That Enough to Make the Playoffs?  

Because the Cavaliers have the luxury of playing in the Eastern Conference, the answer is yes. They wouldn't be so lucky in the more competitive Western Conference, though. 

Right now, there are five teams that look like absolute, 100 percent locks for postseason berths: the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls. Each of those squads advanced to the playoffs in 2012-13 and has no risk of seriously declining. 

The rest of the conference will be fighting for the final three spots, so let's look at a quick overview of the remaining teams, excluding the Cavs: 

  • Atlanta Hawks: They currently have only five players on the roster and could either morph into a super team or a bottom-feeder. 
  • Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo will be back, but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett might be gone. 
  • Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis likely aren't going to be playing together again, and it'll be tough to draw in a premier free agent to replace the departed one. 
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Unless Andrew Bynum re-signs and regains his L.A. form, this team could be in trouble again.
  • Toronto Raptors: They'll be strong contenders if they stay healthy now that Rudy Gay is in place for a full season. 
  • Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Co. are on the rise, but they need another year. 
  • Washington Wizards: They're as close to a playoff spot as they've been in years thanks to a full year of John Wall and the growth of Bradley Beal
  • Charlotte Bobcats: Hah
  • Orlando Magics: Double hah

Of those nine teams, the Celtics, Raptors and Wizards are the strongest contenders. That could all change during an unpredictable summer, of course, but that's what we're working with right now.

Cleveland, in this hypothetical scenario, would be in possession of an Irving-Cousins duo, and that's a two-man group better than anything the other three playoff contenders can claim. I'd take the aforementioned pairing over Rajon Rondo-Jeff Green/free-agent-to-be-named, Rudy Gay-Kyle Lowry or John Wall-Bradley Beal without a second thought.

Assuming that Irving can actually stay healthy for a full season, he's going to assert himself as one of the top offensive forces in the entire Association. Pairing him with a physically dominant big man like the Kentucky product is going to create a lot of problems for opposing defenses.

Plus, Tristan Thompson is a good deal further along his developmental curve than many expected. He took extraordinary strides during his second professional season, expanding his range rather significantly, and he's already one of the best rebounders in the game.

He and Cousins would absolutely own the glass, and controlling the boards is a great way to control the game.

Cleveland would need to surround its trio with quality role players and consider trading Anderson Varejao for a standout wing player to provide the team with some semblance of spacing and depth, but you don't need a complete team to make the playoffs in the East.

Even if the Cavs pinched their pennies, Cousins would still be enough to push this squad over the top and into the postseason.

We cant say the same for Noel.  


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