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Cavs get the upgrade LeBron wanted

New Cavs guard Deron Williams can be the playmaker LeBron James wanted

Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports


For a team over the luxury tax line with limited salary cap flexibility and for a team in need of a proven playmaker, the Cleveland Cavaliers could not have done any better than reaching a deal with veteran point guard Deron Williams.

The Cavaliers get another starter who will come off the bench, giving the Cavs the depth they need and want in the backcourt. The Cavs get a guard who can manage the offense, run plays, set up others for shots while not worry about scoring. But Williams can do that, too, when necessary. He has multiple games with 20 points or more this season.

And the Cavs get him at the most affordable price – the veteran’s minimum. Williams will cost the Cavs just over $900,000 in salary and luxury tax payments. While they’re adding to the luxury tax bill, it’s not a financial hardship.

This season, Williams, 32, is averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 assists and shooting 34.8% on three-pointers in 40 games for the Dallas Mavericks, who waived him on Thursday. He cleared waivers on Saturday and informed the Cavaliers he will sign with them for the remainder of the season.

Cavs All-Star LeBron James griped earlier in the season that the Cavaliers needed another playmaker, someone who could take the burden off of him and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.

It was a difficult time in the season when James made those comments. Cleveland had lost five of seven games and was fortunate that struggling Toronto failed to overtake the Cavs for the top spot in the East. James backed off those comments recently, telling reporters before Williams agreed to join Cleveland that the Cavs had enough to compete for a championship.

Asked during All-Star Weekend if the Cavs needed more talent, James said, “That's a question for the GM (David Griffin) sitting in his seat or for the ownership group. For me, as the leader of the team, I'm fine with what we have, and we'll continue to push forward.”

The reasons he backed off of those comments: management told him ownership would spend what’s necessary to help Cleveland repeat, and the front office was searching for help but it might not arrive until after the trade deadline.

James must be thrilled he’s getting a player the caliber of Williams, who is a three-time All-Star. He is not the player he was with the Jazz or even Nets, but Williams is more than capable of running an offense and making the right plays.

Williams is a solid pick-and-roll player, and while there’s a reason for this – Irving is one of the best score-first point guards in the NBA – Williams averages more assists than Irving this season. Not only can Williams help reduce the minutes James and Irving are playing, but he can also bolster the second unit and sometimes be on the court with James and Irving.

Williams’ addition also will help the Cavs get through the next four weeks without forward Kevin Love (recovering from knee surgery) and shooting guard J.R. Smith (recovering from a fractured thumb).

Once Love and Smith return, the Cavs will have quality depth with Williams, Kyle Korver, Channing Frye Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson off the bench.

The Cavs’ front office, led by Griffin and assisted by senior vice president of basketball operations Trent Redden and assistant GM Koby Altman, have found a way to continually add solid contributors despite salary cap restrictions.

This year, they managed to keep the core of their title team together while adding Korver and Williams. They might even add veteran center Andrew Bogut. The Cavs will be in better shape in May and June than they were in January when James said, “We’re not better than last year from a personnel standpoint.”

This doesn’t guarantee another title, but personnel won’t be the issue.

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