Delving into the machinations of the Cavaliers trading Andre Drummond

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As reported last week by Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the Cavaliers “are no longer planning to play center Andre Drummond,” and are actively looking to move him before the March 25 trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported shortly after on trade talks between the Cavs and Toronto Raptors centered around Drummond.

After an impressive 9-9 start to the season, backed by a top-five defense, the Cavaliers have gone 1-9 in February, falling to the 14th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Drummond played a significant part in the Cavaliers’ stingy defense to start the year, playing with consistent intensity and activity. While Drummond’s impact and overall effectiveness as a basketball player are hard to quantify, the general gauge of him can lean too negative and downplay his actual ability. When he’s engaged, he’s mobile, has quick tenacious hands, and is a plus as a rim deterrent.

Shortly after the trade for Jarrett Allen, it became apparent how important Drummond was to Cleveland’s start as his effort and engagement waned. The Cavaliers eventually opted to sit Drummond, culminating in an awkward exchange prior to the Golden State game and eventual discourse and comments surrounding it.

The Andre Drummond/Jarrett Allen ordeal is something I’ve wrestled with in my mind over the past few weeks as the situation unfolded.

I understand the decisions made by the Cavs organization. Allen is a fantastic young player who is already a plus impact, and fits the timeline of the young core. However, I think it’s important to look at this from Drummond’s perspective.

The Cavaliers were squarely in the playoff race, playing their best basketball since the 2017-2018 season. Drummond was putting together one of his better all-around impact seasons, just a year removed of a trade from the Detroit Pistons that was largely a salary dump on Detroit’s part.

Drummond could certainly have continued to play with consistent effort; he’s not absolved of that. But, it’s difficult to imagine being in Drummond’s position. He’s in his prime years as a player, was contributing to winning basketball, and suddenly was confronted with the Allen trade and recognizing that he was not part of the future of the organization. Drummond is on an expiring max deal, and I have little doubt that he believed he was well on his way to a similar contract as this one expired.

He’s a multiple time All-Star, one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history, just 27, and has gone from seemingly a franchise building block in Detroit to near buy out candidate in Cleveland. That’s a huge shift to go through in a year and a half.

Both the Cavs and Drummond could have handled themselves better leading into where they’re at now.

Trade Candidates

As noted, Charania reported trade talks between the Cavaliers and Raptors. Both Dallas and Brooklyn were mentioned as teams with reported buyout interest, but the Cavs will of course be looking to recoup some sort of value rather than straight up buying out Andre Drummond.

I spent the past days going over cap sheets, scouring the league, and trying to dive into realistic trade destinations and the potential of a move.

The first thing to note: Drummond is still a valuable player. However, his salary is what makes things very difficult in a trade. He’s on the books for just under $29 million which is hard for a team to match without shedding significant players from their rotation. That he’s on an expiring also makes it more difficult value-wise. While expiring contracts can be inherently valuable, given how much an opposing team would have to give up in matching salary for Drummond with the possibility of losing him in free agency, that lowers his trade value in most situations.

Secondly, remember what Drummond was traded for; Two expiring contracts in Brandon Knight and John Henson with a future 2nd round pick. The Cavs currently don’t have much leverage in any sort of trade, so I would be hesitant to say that Cleveland sees a better return.

Disclaimer: All trades are just hypotheticals and not definitive

Toronto

Potential Raptors/Cavs Trade
TradeNBA

The Toronto Raptors sit at 15-15, but have the fourth best net rating in February with a 7-3 record, stabilizing after a poor start to the season. However, Toronto has really struggled to replicate the production of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol who both departed in free agency.

Aron Baynes has been better this month, but has underwhelmed after a career year last season. Alex Len was released after a seven-game stint. Chris Boucher has been a nice surprise, but is more of a tweener and lacks the size and strength to play against some of the bulkier centers in the NBA.

On balance, Drummond makes sense for the Raptors, who are 19th and 26th in offensive and defensive rebounding respectively per Cleaning the Glass.

As shown in the trade simulation above, Toronto lacks larger tiered salaries that make sense for them to move in a Drummond deal.

A lot relies on Norman Powell; Powell has struggle with consistency throughout his career. He’s struggled out the gates this season after a career year last year, but has been on a torrid stretch since late January, averaging 22.8 points per game on 66.9% True-Shooting (14 game sample size). This stretch is unsustainable, but does Raptors brass think Powell slightly back down to earth provides more for them than Drummond could?

Let’s say they do; the Raptors would still need to cobble together roughly $13 million more to make the money work under the CBA. Most machinations result in the Raptors needing to send out checks notes seemingly their entire bench.

Unless the Raptors think adding Drummond vaults them into serious contention and raises the ceiling on their playoff viability, it’s tough to picture a deal being made here.

Dallas

Potential Mavs/Cavs Trade

While the Dallas Mavericks were reported as having buyout interest, there is trade potential, at least salary-wise.

If you squint, Drummond makes sense for the Mavericks; the defense would be wonky next to Kristaps Porzingis who is still coming back from injury, but has looked slightly less mobile than he did last year. The defensive versatility would be lacking when Drummond and Porzingis shared the court, which would likely translate to difficulty in the tandem playing together in the playoffs.

But, in a regular season context, Drummond would provide the Mavericks with an interior presence they’ve been lacking.

This would also be an opportunity for the Cavs to receive draft compensation by taking on a lengthy contract. Dwight Powell is coming off an achilles injury that’s sapped some of the bounce he had before. He still has some value as a roll-man and lob threat that could help Collin Sexton and Darius Garland grow as pick and roll operators.

James Johnson would be the most likely player in the theoretical deal to act as salary filler, as he’s not a vital cog in Dallas’ rotation currently and is on an expiring deal.

A lot would come down to how the Mavericks weigh the importance of an interior presence moving forward, but ultimately, there’s a reason why they’re reported to be interested in a buyout and not a trade.

Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets were also reported to have buy out interest, but unlike Dallas, I think the chances of a trade are slim to none.

Brooklyn would have to trade DeAndre Jordan plus either Joe Harris or Spencer Dinwiddie (plus filler). No. It’s not happening.

It’s easy to clown Jordan, but he is still a quality rotation player. He’s not nearly as mobile as he once was, but he provides rim protection and is important as a screen setter and vertical spacer for Brooklyn’s offense. While he’s not at the same level as Drummond currently, he’s on a smaller deal, and what the Nets would have to package with him for a Drummond trade is probably a non-starter. That goes without mentioning that he was brought in with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant and is close friends with both.

Boston

Potential Celtics/Cavs Trade

The Boston Celtics have not been officially reported as interested in Drummond, but I’ve consistently seen the idea of Drummond to Boston floated numerous times on Twitter and in various forms of NBA media.

The trade doesn’t look like it works in the Trade Machine due to it having some sort of error with using the trade exception that Boston has. If you were unaware of Boston’s massive trade exception created in the Gordon Hayward trade, bless you.

Daniel Theis is really good. I love watching him play, he’s spacing the floor well this year and is a plus defender. However, Tristan Thompson has not provided the Celtics with a boost on either end. Boston lacks the size that many of the Eastern Conference heavyweights have.

Drummond could fit rather seamlessly into the Celtics roster and immediately impact them in a positive way if he flashes the way he did over the first 20 games in Cleveland. The Cavs would likely get back a veteran big and a young player or draft assets. This trade is the most feasible financially, but there’s a caveat.

While this move certainly does things for Boston, it’s important to bring up that it’s likely not Boston’s biggest need. This season the Celtics have felt a wing/forward short after trading Gordon Hayward in the off-season. With draft assets and the trade exception, Boston could swing on a deal that would bring a wing/forward into the fold who could raise their playoff ceiling. The Celtics made the Conference Finals last season with Theis starting. Unless they think Drummond provides that much more, which I question, then a deal with Boston is fairly unlikely.

This echos a similar sentiment with each trade destination looked at; finding a trade for Andre Drummond is difficult and not guaranteed. There are landing spots that make sense, but the financials are seemingly a bridge too far in every scenario. The awkwardness of the trade market for Drummond speaks to the way in which the league has evolved since his deal was initially inked. If Drummond’s deal were 70-80% of the cap hit, a deal would be more attainable for the Cavaliers and tenable for trade partners. Cleveland has little to no leverage in forging a trade, leaving both the organization and especially Drummond in a precarious place. A trade isn’t out of the question; there are landing spots that make sense, but the financials are seemingly a bridge too far in every scenario.