After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for the reported deal to finally go through, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks completed their trade of Kyle Korver for Mike Dunleavy Jr., Mo Williams and a future first-round pick on Saturday, as first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
If you’ve watched the Hawks at all this season, or if you’re a Golden State Warriors fan scoffing at this supposedly earth-shattering addition for Cleveland, you might be wondering why Korver joining the Cavs is such a big deal.
Indeed, Korver doesn’t move the needle all that much for the Cavaliers by himself. Really, he’s just another interchangeable wing — a 35-year-old no longer playing at his All-Star peak; a veteran who will see the court for fewer than 20 minutes per game come the playoffs. There will be questions for Korver to answer on defense, especially against the Warriors. He probably can’t stay on the floor against Golden State’s best lineups, either.
Make no mistake, however — adding Korver solidifies the Cavs’ standing as title favorites.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
That same “plug-and-play” ability makes Korver a perfect addition for the Cavs, and for LeBron James in particular. No one is better at playing his role than Korver. He’ll even adapt as necessary over the course of the season if needed, which is precisely what the Cavs will ask of the former Hawk.
For now, Korver will make sure that no one in Cleveland ends up worn down ahead of the playoffs. NBA titles are won in January and February as much as they are in June. LeBron knows that; it’s why he rests as often he does. With J.R. Smith sidelined with a thumb injury and both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving battling nagging afflictions of late, there was a real possibility that the “next man up” would assume too big of a burden, throwing the entire system out of alignment. Korver’s arrival alleviates that concern, allowing the Cavaliers to keep the foot on the gas in the quest for home-court advantage in the East (although to be fair, they probably don’t need it).
The playoffs are where Korver and the Cavs will really shine, however — because LeBron is about to play the NBA equivalent of “Pokemon.”*
Remember when LeBron shoved Kyle Korver in a game and he just said his name with aggression like he was a pokemon like "Kyle Korver!"
*I’m going to assume 95 percent of our readers are familiar with the video game, but in case you aren’t a quick explanation: you create a team of monsters, each of which has a “type” — water, fire, ice, electric, flying, etc. A fire-type is strong against an ice-type (since fire melts ice) but weak against water-types (because water douses fire). It’s that simple. That’s what the kids are talking about.
Regardless of an opponent’s strength, the Cavs can now call on any wing (or any lineup) to shut everything down and give Cleveland the advantage. It’s borderline unfair:
Need a 3-and-D wing who’s heavier on the defense than the 3-point shooting? Bring in Richard Jefferson. Need more shooting and a bit less defense? Korver’s your guy now, and you’ll have J.R. Smith back for the playoffs. Want to increase the defensive intensity while sacrificing shooting? DeAndre Liggins is probably the choice. Oh, what’s that? You feel like blowing the doors off of the Q with an all-3-point-bombing lineup? Let me interest you in Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Channing Frye. Need to go big? Play LeBron down at “shooting guard,” slide Frye to the 3, and have Tristan Thompson play center. There are no rules when you’ve turned basketball into a video game that’s not even in the sports genre.
Ty Lue says Korver will likely come off bench if deal gets done, at least for now. Liggins to remain a starter
And where most teams would be paralyzed by such bountiful choices, LeBron’s in perfect position to make the most of all of his teammates. He’s a world-class chessmaster with nothing but bishops, knights, rooks and queens at his disposal. For the first time in his career, LeBron has a team built completely around him. As good as the Heat were during his time in Miami, he always had to strike that uneasy balance with Dwyane Wade as a scorer.
There’s none of that in Cleveland. The closest the Cavaliers come to a redundant skill set is Irving’s ball-handling, but he embraced becoming a complementary player last season. He knows his role, and LeBron liberates his point guard as a scorer to get the most out of him in the clutch. Beyond Irving, it’s nothing but pick-and-roll big men who gobble up rebounds and shooters for days.
Whatever the challenge, the Cavs have an answer — and that remains true against Golden State, since Korver simply reinforces Cleveland’s existing advantage over Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Warriors. Besides, Golden State has its own problems these days.
The Cavaliers aren’t quite unstoppable with Korver; the Warriors will tell you there’s no such thing as inevitability in the NBA. But with another weapon in LeBron’s arsenal, the Cavs have to be the 2017 championship favorites (even if Las Vegas disagrees).