With the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline now less than a week away, the action is truly heating up. On Sunday, the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers got into the mix with a deal that will send Caris LeVert and a second-round pick to Cleveland and Ricky Rubio, a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick and two future second-round picks to Indiana, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
LeVert first arrived in Indiana in the James Harden mega-trade last season, and in a strange twist that trade may have saved his life. During a physical, a small mass was discovered on his kidney, which turned out to be cancerous. He underwent surgery and did not end up playing for the Pacers until March. Because of that scare, and some minor injuries this season, he only ended up playing 74 games in his short stint in Indiana.
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The good news is he’s now fully healthy, and in a position to help the Cavaliers make a serious run in the playoffs. He has not been having the most efficient season, but is still putting up 18.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and is the type of instant-offense player the Cavaliers desperately need.
Thanks to the likes of Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro and star rookie Evan Mobley, the Cavaliers have one of the fiercest defensive units in the league. They currently rank third in defensive rating (105.5), and allow opponents to shoot just 58.5 percent in the restricted area — a league low. Their work on that end of the floor is the primary reason for their stunning turnaround, that has them just 1.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference at 32-21 entering Sunday’s game … against their trade partners.
But it has been clear that in order to compete in the playoffs, they needed some offensive reinforcements. With Collin Sexton and Rubio out for the season due to knee injuries, the Cavs have struggled to score — especially when Darius Garland is not on the floor. Their 109.9 offensive rating ranks 19th in the league, and is the worst among teams currently in top-six playoff spots. LeVert will take some of the scoring and self-creation burden away from Garland, and should be a real help.
As for the Pacers, they are clearly looking to the future. Rubio, again, is out for the season due to a torn ACL, so he will not play for them and his contract will expire in the summer. That will free up some space on their cap sheet, and they’ll get some extra picks for their trouble.
It’s not clear yet if they’re going full rebuild; we’ll learn more about their direction over the next few days depending on what they do with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. At 19-35, and heading toward a second straight season in the lottery, they probably should tear things down, but owner Herb Simon has been resistant to the idea.
Regardless of what they decide, it made sense to move on from LeVert. He wasn’t a great fit, hasn’t been a difference-maker this season, and didn’t appear to have a long-term future with the club. Getting some flexibility and draft picks in return will help them in the future.