CLEVELAND: Given the popularity of the “Final Thoughts” column that appears regularly at www.Ohio.com/Cavs after every game, here are random thoughts, rumblings and musings on the Cavaliers, the trade deadline and a possible postseason run …
1. If the Cavaliers are still intent on making the playoffs, it’s going to take an incredible finish. The Cavs enter today’s game 22-34, four games behind the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats for the final playoff spot.
2. The eighth seed in the Eastern Conference has averaged 38 victories over the last five seasons, and even as woeful as the East is this year, the Hawks and Bobcats are still on pace to win — you guessed it — 38 games. That means the Cavs will have to go 16-10 and win 61 percent of their games the rest of the way. Only two teams in the East have won at least 61 percent of their games this season: the Pacers and Heat. The last team to make the playoffs with fewer than 37 victories was the Boston Celtics, who won 36 games to claim the eighth seed in the 2003-04 season.
3. Now look at the Cavs’ upcoming schedule: 14 of their next 19 games are against playoff teams (15 of 20 when counting Friday’s loss at the Raptors). The combined winning percentage of all their opponents from now through March is .582. They still have to play Oklahoma City (twice), Miami, San Antonio, Houston, Indiana and they have a three-game West Coast trip next month against the Suns, Warriors and Clippers.
4. They still have two games remaining against the Bobcats, a team they’re chasing and probably the most likely team to fall out of the playoffs in the East. A sweep of those two games is critical to their playoff odds.
5. Bottom line? The Cavs are going to have to pull some upsets if they’re going to sneak into the playoffs. The dreadful start to this season has essentially removed all margin of error the rest of the way, and that’s a tough place to be.
6. The Cavs’ erratic play and the teams bottled together in the East have left the team in a precarious position in terms of scouting. The Cavs’ scouts and front office personnel are basically scouting for draft positions anywhere between five and 20. It’s an awfully wide net to cast, but this group is actually used to doing it. They’ve had picks in both the top and middle of the first round the last couple of years, forcing them to scout a wide range of players. The only difference is they have one first-round pick this summer, not two.
7. Tanking has become a hot topic in the NBA this season and I’ll dig deeper into the issue in an upcoming Sunday column, but it’s worth noting the Philadelphia 76ers gave away their top scorer (Evan Turner), rebounder (Spencer Hawes) and shot blocker (Hawes) for little more than three second-round picks.
8. It has been a terrible season for the Sixers and it’s about to get much worse without Turner and Hawes. Sixers management seems intent on making up for the team’s hot start by trading away their most valuable pieces and catching the Milwaukee Bucks for the league’s worst record.
9. After moving Turner and Hawes, the Sixers will likely just miss the NBA’s salary floor for this season despite adding Danny Granger’s $14 million contract in a last-minute deal before the deadline. Teams are required to spend at least $52.8 million on salary. Any team that falls below that threshold must distribute the difference between $52.8 million and the actual salary spent amongst the players on the team. The Sixers were well below the line before adding Granger, whose $14 million deal took a few extra dollars out of the pockets of the rest of the Sixers. “Now they don’t even get pain and suffering compensation,” one NBA player told me.
10. First-round picks are becoming more and more difficult to acquire in trade. Since last summer’s draft, only two first-round picks were traded and none of them were dealt on Thursday’s deadline day. The Pacers gave the Suns a first-round pick for Luis Scola last July and the Cavs gave the Bulls a heavily protected first-round pick for Luol Deng (along with a couple of second rounders). That’s it. All other picks changing hands were second rounders.
11. That comes on the heels of last season, when the only first-round pick traded between the 2012 draft and last season’s trade deadline was the first-round pick the Cavs acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies. Teams’ uneasiness to take on future salary, combined with teams hoarding first-round picks, is proof how much owners are concerned with the more punitive tax penalties.
12. Two of the three free agents the Cavs signed last summer (Andrew Bynum and Earl Clark) have now been traded. The third, Jarrett Jack, is only still here because the Cavs couldn’t find a place for him without taking back future money.
13. There were deals on the table for Dion Waiters, but the Cavs never really came close to trading him. Owner Dan Gilbert and acting General Manager David Griffin both love Waiters. He and Kyrie Irving have shown better chemistry in recent weeks, while both guys seem to be committing more to the defensive end.
14. The Cavs filled their open roster spot Saturday by signing Arinze Onuaku, who was with the Canton Charge and will remain in the Development League, to a 10-day contract. At 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, Onuaku can play forward and center and he was selected to the D-League All-Star Game last weekend. He appeared briefly in a game for the New Orleans Pelicans this season.
15. Cavs coach Mike Brown ruled Waiters, C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao out of today’s game against the Wizards.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.