Both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors have been mentioned as potential players in blockbuster trades before Thursday’s deadline, but the teams have vastly different reasons for tweaking their rosters.
LeBron James’ Cavaliers may just be looking for a final piece before they chase the franchise’s first NBA championship, while the last-place Raptors are rumored to be considering shedding their top commodity.
The Raptors already made one major move, and Shawn Marion will make his Toronto debut Wednesday night when Cleveland crosses the border to open the second half for both clubs.
Led by a commitment to defense and their potential league MVP, the Cavs (40-11) are on pace for the best record in team history. Despite suffering back-to-back losses last week for the first time this season, they entered the All-Star break with a 109-92 home win over Phoenix on Wednesday.
Guard Mo Williams, acquired from Milwaukee in an offseason trade, had 44 points in that game, continuing his strong season as a secondary scoring option to James.
“He’s phenomenal and showed why he’s an All-Star,” said James, who leads the league with 28.5 points per game while averaging 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists. “He showed why we have 40 wins before the All-Star break. He’s probably the biggest reason.”
Williams replaced injured Toronto forward Chris Bosh at Sunday’s All-Star game, with the Eastern Conference coached by Cleveland’s Mike Brown.
But Brown’s team has been banged up lately, with Sasha Pavlovic and Delonte West remaining out with injuries and Ben Wallace a possibility to miss Wednesday’s game after requiring 14 stitches to close a cut in his forearm over the break.
The Cavs were likely looking for potential reinforcements anyway as they jockey for position atop the East with Boston and Orlando.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ Marcus Camby, Washington’s Antawn Jamison and Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire are among the players reportedly discussed in trade talks, and whether or not they pick up any outside help, the Cavs are already looking ahead.
“The season really hasn’t even started yet,” James said. “For some teams it has, but for us, we have a long way to go.”
The disappointing Raptors (21-34) are still within striking distance of playoff position in the East, and they won their final two games before the break - including a 91-89 victory over San Antonio.
But the postseason may be an afterthought, especially if they decide to deal Bosh this week. Toronto’s leading scorer and rebounder has missed the last four games, along with the All-Star game, due to a sprained knee, and the Raptors are reportedly considering trading Bosh as they attempt to rebuild.
The Raptors plan to play an up-tempo style with Marion, who is also a strong defender who may be charged with the task of guarding James.
“It’s a chance for Shawn to be a little bit more useful to his team,” said Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, who drafted Marion in 1999 as Phoenix GM. “I don’t think they were fully maximizing his potential down in Miami. That was maybe a system thing more than anything else. I think the system here will work in his favor.”
While Bosh’s status is uncertain, Toronto will also hope to have point guard Jose Calderon back in the lineup after the league leader in assist-to-turnover ratio and free throw shooting missed the final game before the break with a pesky hamstring problem.
Battling the injury, Calderon was 1-of-9 from the field for two points in the Raptors’ 101-83 loss at Cleveland on Feb. 3. They’ve lost four straight to the Cavs dating back to last season.