Making Moves Before Heading West

Life can change fast in the NBA. And the Cavaliers team that headed to the Sunshine State for Christmas sure is a different squad than the one that’ll travel to the West Coast after Thursday’s practice.

The Wine and Gold played a game on Wednesday night, falling to the Rockets at The Q, but that almost seemed like an afterthought in the midst of this week’s wheeling and dealing.

On Monday night, the Cavs sent Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City in a three-way deal that brought back Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and a first round pick from the Thunder. On Wednesday, Smith suited up for the Cavs while the front office packaged OKC’s pick with another first rounder to acquire Timofey Mozgov and a second round pick from the Nuggets.

At halftime of the Rockets game, Cavs GM David Griffin broke down the deal.

“I look at this deal as, really, three deals in aggregate,” explained Griffin. “We felt that if we could address three of our biggest holes – which we identified as consistent outside shooting that didn’t necessarily need the ball, in the form of J.R., a wing defender in the form of Iman, and a stating-caliber center with the length and defensive identity of Mozgov. If we could turn Dion and the Memphis pick into that, we wanted to try to bring that to fruition. And we’ve done that.”

David Griffin

Cavs acquire Shumpert and Smith.

Cavs add Center Mozgov.

With Waiters departure, the Cavaliers now have just four players remaining from the roster that ended last season – Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Matthew Dellavedova. Of the six first-rounders Cleveland tabbed over three NBA Drafts, only the 2011 picks remain.

With one of those holdovers – Varejao – lost for the season, the struggling Cavs needed to reshape the roster with the season’s second half looming after the West Coast roadie. And they got a little closer to completing that process on Wednesday.

“We didn’t have players that were personified by grit and toughness, and we needed more of that,” continued Griffin, who admitted that Mozgov had been on Cleveland’s radar for some time. “And I think we’ve added some of that.”

The 7-1 Russian big man will likely join the Wine and Gold in northern California this weekend. The Cavaliers, who saw Dwight Howard dominate the boards with 19 of Houston’s 50 rebounds on Wednesday, could have used him a couple days earlier. (“I wish like hell we could put him out there for the second half tonight,” quipped Griff.)

This year, the 28-year-old Mozgov has started in 35 games for Denver, averaging 8.5 points on .504 shooting, a career-best 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per contest, tallying nine double-doubles so far. The rugged Russian -- who notched 100 blocks last year -- has logged 247 career games with averages of 6.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks with the Knicks and Nuggets.

Mozgov was also part of the bronze medal-winning Russian National team coached by David Blatt in the 2012 London Olympics – the only Russian basketball team to medal since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Mozgov’s numbers aren’t “sexy” – something even the Cavs GM admitted. But he also acknowledged that Cleveland has three superstars to do the flashy stuff. Cleveland needed some size to do the heavy lifting.

"With Andy going down, obviously we really needed a big center to give us size and to give us presence around the basket,” said Blatt. We needed another excellent pick-and-cut player which Timofey is. He’s also an athletic, very big center. His size does not take away from his speed and his ability to run the court which will serve us extremely well.

”In all honesty, Timofey Mozgov was on our board this summer. He’s a guy that we wanted here in Cleveland. It took a little bit longer but kudos to David Griffin and the management for finding a way to bring him (here)."

“We need size,” added Kevin Love. “He’s going to be big for us, especially anchoring down on the defensive end and taking up space on both ends of the floor. That was something that needed to be addressed and we addressed it.”

The only piece of Cleveland’s trade bounty in the arena last night was J.R. Smith, who suited up despite not yet being familiar with the system. Of course, the crafty 11-year vet had a contingency plan for that.

“(I’m going to) try to space the floor as much as I can,” smiled Smith. “But if worse comes to worst, my motto is: When in doubt, shoot the ball.”

The mercurial guard went 0-for-5 in his Cavaliers debut, but he wasn’t even able to participate in Wednesday morning’s shootaround and was pressed into action against Houston.

“(Smith) got put in some tough spots,” said Love, who finished with17 points and 16 boards in the 105-93 loss. “He had two half-court heaves and one at the end of the shot clock where he had to throw it up. It’s all going to take getting a few games underneath his belt and seeing where he fits. He’s a guy that can put up points in a hurry. We’re not worried about him and we know he’s going to be good for us.”

The second half of the duo acquired from New York, Iman Shumpert – who suffered a separated left shoulder against Boston on Dec. 12 – is still two or three weeks away from returning. The Knicks had him doing contact work, but the Cavs medical staff thought that was a bit aggressive, and the 6-5 guard will be given more time to rehab without contact just yet.

And while it’ll be a while before Shumpert joins his new team, the time draws closer for another “addition” to the squad – LeBron James – who will join the Cavaliers as they head West on Thursday as he continues to mend from a sore back and cranky left knee.

“I’m on target, I’m on pace, I’m feeling better every day – so it’s been a good first week,” said the four-time MVP, who’s never missed more than seven games in a season. “I just had to listen to my body, listen to the docs, listen to my trainer and this is what we came up with.”

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The squad is more than ready for the King’s return. On top of his strength and skill, LeBron is also often acknowledged as the league’s most cerebral player. And with temperatures in Cleveland dropping into single-digits, James – who could be ready for the Lakers matchup next Thursday night – showed his intellect.

”It helps that we’re going to some warmer cities,” smiled No. 23. “My body can use that as well.”

The Wine and Gold made some bold moves this week as they continue to positon themselves for late April and beyond. And David Griffin has shown that he’s all-in to win right now.

“We’ve done (this) without completely mortgaging the future,” said Griffin. “People look at the number of picks we’ve given away and everybody thinks: ‘Oh my goodness! They’ve given away the farm!’ Well, we had an unbelievable farm. So we were putting it to work. And we’re really pleased with where we are now. We’re going to make a first round pick this year and we feel good about the situation we’re in.”

By the time the Cavaliers return from their five-game West Coast junket, the 2014-15 regular season will be half over. And after the All-Star Game, it’ll be time for the homestretch. The Wine and Gold aren’t starting over, but – with the new, welcome additions – they’re getting a new lease on the season. And we’ll see it continuing to unfold this weekend when their newly-minted big man suits up.

”We don’t start from square one – these guys that are coming in are just going to have to learn on the fly,” admitted LeBron. “I know Mozgov played for Coach Blatt on the national team, so that helps with his relationship with coach and J.R.’s probably seen every system. And although Coach Blatt brought a different system from overseas, we’ll get adjusted pretty fast, and believe Shump will as well.

”So we won’t start from scratch. We can’t. We don’t have time to start from scratch, but it is still a process.”