A 2010 Clippers trade is why the Cavs are in the NBA Finals


Well, somewhat.

The bulk of the credit for Cleveland’s return to relevance lies on the shoulders of LeBron James.

But what may have been the first unofficial step in getting LeBron to return home after leaving Cleveland for Miami, winning two NBA championships in his South Beach stint? A transaction between the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Four years ago, February 24 to be exact, the Clippers traded then-starting point guard Baron Davis and the teams 2011 first-round pick to the Cavaliers for guard Mo Williams and forward Jamario Moon.

“The drill is, as always, is ‘Is the player you’re getting back more valuable than the potential you could get in the draft?'” said former Clippers general manager Neil Olshey on the deal. “Our analysis at this point in February is that it was more valuable to get a 28-year-old All-Star point guard that we have for the next few years, cap flexibility to make sure we take care of business and re-sign DeAndre Jordan and have flexibility to take care of Eric Gordon as well, as opposed to speculating on another kid that’s 19 years old with one year of college experience.

“And I’m not that high on the draft to begin with this year.”

With Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon projected to be stars and DeAndre Jordan improving, the Clippers had their ideal core of the future — a scoring wing, versatile big, and potential defensive anchor. Bringing in a veteran guard in Mo Williams instead of relying on another lottery pick put the organization in position to accelerate the rebuild (at the time of the trade, the Clippers were 21-37).


“The drill is, as always, is ‘Is the player you’re getting back more valuable than the potential you could get in the draft?”former Clippers GM Neil Olshey

Trades of this nature — to accelerate the rebuild — aren’t uncommon, but where Olshey made his mistake, the Cleveland Cavaliers would generously reap the benefits: the first-round pick Los Angeles sent to Cleveland was unprotected.

Going into the 2011 NBA Draft, the Clippers didn’t have high odds for landing the number one overall pick  — 28% odds, or the 8th best chances in the draft after LA finished with a record of 32-50. If things played out according to the lottery odds, the Cavaliers’ second lottery pick would be the no.8 overall pick. For a rebuilding team one year removed from losing the league’s best player in James, this was a great step in the right direction. Instead, things swung way left as the Clippers’ lottery pick wound up the no.1 overall pick in the draft.

The Cavaliers’ eventual selection with said pick? Duke’s Kyrie Irving.

The Clippers traded Baron Davis and Kyrie Irving for Mo Willams, Jamario Moon, and cap space — as the old saying goes, Clippers gonna Clip’.

Now one of the best point guard and scorers in the NBA and the second fiddle on an NBA Finals team, the Irving trade stands as the best in Cavs franchise history while being the exact opposite for Los Angeles.

It’s unclear if James returns home to Cleveland if the team doesn’t have a scorer capable of taking pressure off him on offense, the opposite of what took place during his final season with the Heat — this past season, Irving averaged 21.7 points on 46% shooting. Everything else (Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, and Andrew Wiggins) was icing on the cake for James’ return.

Looking at the glass half empty, with Kyrie Irving in the picture the Clippers never acquire Chris Paul meaning the franchise-best seasons go out the window. Given the talent of Irving, Griffin, Gordon (if injuries don’t remain), and Jordan, it’s possible the group could’ve done the same or similar but as we’ve seen in the past, there’s very little guaranteed about potential panning out 100% as projected.

The lesson of today kids? Don’t trade your first-round picks without protection. It could wind up a colossal mistake.