When JR Smith went down with his thumb injury around the beginning of the year, the depth of the Cleveland Cavaliers took a serious hit.
Coach Tyronn Lue was really only using three or four (depending on the day) players off his bench anyway, so he tried putting DeAndre Liggins into the starting lineup so he could still use Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, and Channing Frye off the bench.
Unfortunately, opposing teams discovered Liggins can’t make an outside shot and they quickly left him alone, which allows them to close the driving lanes for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
So, Lue adjusted and moved Shumpert into the starting lineup, but it left a gaping hole on the wine and gold’s bench.
And with the short bench, James and Irving were forced to play more minutes than we are sure both the players and the coach would have liked.
Then, GM David Griffin sprung into action as he has each of the last two years.
First, he trading struggling outside shooter Mike Dunleavy to Atlanta and brought in Kyle Korver to replace Smith’s outside marksmanship. And unbelievably, Griffin saved salary cap money in this move.
Korver’s shooting accuracy has declined since his all-star season in 2015, but Griffin correctly thought it was just a slump and Korver has hit 50% of his three point shots since arriving in Cleveland.
A few weeks ago, he signed Derrick Williams, the guy picked right after Irving in 2011, as a free agent after he was released by Miami.
Williams is a tweener, not big enough to play exclusively at power forward and not quick enough to play exclusively at small forward. However, in today’s NBA, Williams can be an effective bench player, which he has been here, averaging 10 points per game in the seven games with the Cavs.
Plus, Lue is also giving him tough defensive assignments too. He guarded Derrick Rose against the Knicks and Jimmy Butler vs. the Bulls. His length and quickness are perfect for Cleveland on the defensive end.
It’s still a small sample size, but the early returns look like Williams can be an asset for the Cavs.
Yesterday, Griffin added another piece to the bench by signing veteran Deron Williams after he was released by Dallas. Williams is a three time all star and played with James and Kevin Love on the 2012 US Olympic team.
Williams should ease the ball handling/play making role that seems to be solely on James and Irving. He played 40 games with the Mavericks this year, averaging 13 points and 7 assists in 29 minutes per night.
You have to think Williams can be very effective in less minutes and also surrounded by James, Irving and the rest of the Cavs. His presence should allow those two to play less minutes through the end of the season.
And it also seems likely that Griffin will add another big man, possibly Andrew Bogut, to the bench, perhaps as early as next week.
The price for all these additions? Dunleavy and a first round draft pick.
Griffin also kept Cedi Osman, a Turkish player whom Cleveland has the rights to, and supposedly can play.
Lue and James are the other keys to these moves. The organization has shown a tremendous ability to integrate new players quickly and seamlessly. That’s a tribute to how they run the locker room.
The Cavs may just have the deepest roster in the league right now, particularly when Love and Smith are healthy. That should be huge as the season goes down the stretch and heads into the playoffs.
Can Griffin pull another Larry O’Brien Trophy out of his hat for his next trick?