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Tom Hardesty: Cavaliers cannot stand pat and expect to compete with Warriors

By TOM HARDESTY Assistant Sports Editor Published: June 14, 2017 4:00 AM
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There's no way the Cavaliers can enter next season with a roster that looks a lot like this one.

At least not if they want to win a second NBA championship.

As these Finals clearly and painfully demonstrated, as long as Golden State has Kevin Durant playing alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Cavaliers -- as they are currently constructed -- have too thin a margin of error to take down the Warriors in a best-of-seven series.

Take Durant out of this series, and the Cavaliers probably win it. They are the better team. Add Durant to the mix, though, and the Warriors are demonstrably superior.

The Cavaliers do not have that fourth weapon in their lineup. They simply can't match Golden State's firepower -- although they can match it a whole lot better than the rest of the teams in the NBA, who have no chance whatsoever against the Warriors and may not for several years.

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Put it this way: The Cavaliers won last year's Finals in seven games over the Warriors. How many games would that series have lasted if Golden State had its Big Three of Curry-Thompson-Green and the Cavaliers had a Big Four of James-Irving-Love and, say, Kevin Durant? It might well have been a sweep. Four games to one, max.

Which is where we are now. The Warriors have Durant, the Cavs have their usual Big Three, and it was 4-1.

So the question for the Cavaliers heading into the offseason is obvious: Who do they pick up to counter Durant and make their own Big Four?

Several names have already been bandied about, some realistic, some not, but the name that jumps out to me is Pacers 6-foot-9 free agent small forward Paul George. The four-time All-Star just finished his seventh NBA season and is still only 27, and he's a career 18.1 points-per-game scorer.

And he's getting better.

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The past two seasons have been George's best. He averaged 23.1 points per game in 2015-16, and 23.7 this season. He hit 46 percent of his shots from the field this season, including nearly 40 percent from 3-point range. He also averages 6.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for his career.

In other words, the guy can play. And his best years are probably ahead of him.

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How would George fit in on a Cavalier team that already has LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt?

Nicely, that's how.

Like Durant, George has a versatile game. He can slash to the bucket, he can knock down jumpers, he can bomb away from the perimeter. He's strong and he's explosive, and he's also an excellent defender.

A Big Four of James-Irving-Love-George would be downright lethal. James and George could be interchangeable anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, and imagine the space that would create for Irving and Love.

That's the kind of addition the Cavaliers need to have any realistic hope -- and shot -- at beating Durant's Warriors.

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But how do the Cavaliers afford George or a player like him?

Not easily. The Cavs simply don't have much money to spend on free agency because of the salary cap.

If they keep the roster basically as is, they will only be able to afford veteran free agents at bargain-basement prices.

That's not going to cut it against the Warriors.

But there is a way to reel in a player with a high price tag: The nuclear option. Blow up the roster, keeping the nucleus intact, and, with some creative contract finagling, George or someone like him could be wearing wine-and-gold next season.

If the Warriors could do it with Durant, the Cavaliers can do it too. And David Griffin has proven to be as shrewd and creative as any general manager in the league.

Whatever it takes, from trading players off to reworking contracts, every avenue needs to be vigorously explored. Anyone not named James, Irving or Love is on the table for possible movement.

On the surface, George to the Cavaliers sounds like a pipe dream. But so did LeBron returning to Cleveland and Durant bolting to Golden State.

And now look.

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Whether it's George or someone like him, the Cavaliers have to do something. Yes, they came a late fourth-quarter collapse in Game 3 away from pushing this Finals series to at least six games.

But that only illustrates their plight. They outplayed Golden State for 45 minutes in Game 3 and still lost, because the Warriors were lights out for the final three minutes.

That's a razor-thin margin of error, and it's not realistic to expect anything to change next season unless the Cavs starting making moves.

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The good news for the Cavaliers: Attracting a major weapon to round out a Big Four shouldn't be a hard sell -- especially for a big star still looking for a ring.

Such a player would join a team already with one championship under its belt, a team that has advanced to three consecutive Finals with no end in sight, and a team that has LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the roster.

Trying to convince someone to play on a team with that type of DNA shouldn't take a lot of arm-twisting.

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The other piece of good news: Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has deep pockets and he's not afraid to use them.

So the Cavaliers have a GM who understands the art of the deal, and an owner who doesn't let money stand in the way of chasing championships.

That's a good start.

And never count out LeBron's influence on personnel issues.

In the middle of the regular season, he pleaded for management to beef up the team's depth, doing so publicly through the media to exert maximum pressure to get the desired result.

It worked. Griffin brought in Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut after LeBron had said the Cavaliers' roster wasn't good enough to win a title.

Wonder what he thinks now.


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