Cleveland Cavaliers’ off-season road map to improving title chances: Chris Fedor

The news finally broke about Phil Jackson’s departure from New York early Wednesday morning.

It was bad news for the Cavs, a front-office shakeup that decreases the chances for a Carmelo Anthony buyout. In the span of about 24 hours, the Cavs went from thinking about a future Anthony addition — not having to alter the roster in a blockbuster trade — to acknowledging that one appealing option is now likely off the table.

Even if Anthony does come to an agreement on a buyout, which is highly unlikely given Knicks ownership is already handing out $71 million for players/coaches/executives to not work in New York, Houston’s trade for Anthony’s pal Chris Paul gives Anthony another destination to strongly consider.

With little money to spend in free agency, the Cavs’ best chance of improving their title chances is a significant trade — Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson

In the Finals, a James-Love-Thompson frontcourt gave up 248 points in 80 minutes. Yes, three of the team’s four highest-paid players can’t function together effectively against the team’s primary adversary. Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue was rightfully hesitant to use Love and Thompson together against the free-flowing, athletic Warriors. That means one of them has to go.

It’s not going to be James. Duh. And Thompson, a non-offensive threat, doesn’t have enough value to pry away a difference-maker. That leaves Love.

Interested teams are limited. Playoff squads looking to take the next step with a floor-spacing big man won’t be willing to give up a star. Denver is interested, something revealed a few days after the draft, but it doesn’t have one. Neither does Phoenix. In this case, a straight-up Love deal doesn’t make sense for the Cavs.

Indiana, with Paul George as Cleveland’s primary target, is seeking a combination of young players on rookie deals and future draft picks to trigger their rebuild. The Cavs don’t have that kind of haul. In this scenario, the Pacers wouldn’t be satisfied.

Any deal involving the Cavs, Love and George — a better fit against the Warriors and one of the league’s top perimeter scorers — would require a third team. That way the Nuggets or Suns get Love, the Cavs get George and the Pacers get what they covet.

It’s not an easy path. Three-team deals are tough for experienced GM’s, let alone inexperienced executives. There will also be plenty of competition. If the Celtics enter the George conversations, they can put together the best package. With a treasure trove of draft picks and talented youngsters, the Pacers would be most likely to agree to that deal quickly.

Still, there’s no guarantee the Celtics would be inclined to sacrifice those assets for a one-year rental. The Cavs are all in on this season. And George would too enticing to pass, especially with Anthony likely out of the mix.

There are questions about George’s fit, but he should be the Cavs’ top target, the chess piece that moves them closer to the Warriors.

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