Cavs: the Duels #3: Keep or trade Marreese Speights?

February 13th, 2013 by Nate Smith
At the Manhattan Chess Club in 1971, a crowd gathered around a speed match between Mr. Fischer, left, and Andrew Soltis.

Larry C. Morris/The New York Times

The Cavaliers have been  an order of magnitude better since trading with the Grizzlies for Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington.  But the trade deadline is nine days away.  Should Cleveland be looking to keep Mo, or trade him for some more assets?  Nate Smith and Mallory Factor square off.

Nate: It’s simple really.  In all likelihood Speights will be a free agent this off season.  Since being traded to Cleveland, he’s averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1 assist, and .8 blocks with 1.3 turnovers in 22.9 minutes a night.  He’s shooting .450/.333/.882 for a TS% of .526, with a PER of 19.6 according to basketball-reference.  These are pretty good numbers.  So now the Cavs have a bench player who can play both center and power forward, has a cap number of $4.2 million, and has a player option for $4.5 million next year.  He’s certainly going to have value for a team looking to make a playoff run.  Furthermore, the only way Speights doesn’t opt out is if he turns into Roy Tarpley, or if he gets hurt.  If that happens, why would the Cavs even want to pay him $4.5 million next year?

Why wouldn’t Cleveland try to get an asset for him when they could just sign him in the off season anyway?  At that point, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Cleveland free agent or a San Antonio free agent.  Marreese Speights isn’t a sacred cow.  He’s just a basketball player.  If Chris Grant gets a chance at a 2014 pick, why wouldn’t he take it?

Oh, and the bloom is already coming off the rose.  Speights has started regressing to his bad habits: drifting in games, and taking too many jumpers.  In his first six games as a Cavalier, Speights averaged 14.7 points on .529 from the field, and 7.3 rebounds in 24.6 minutes.  In his last three games?  11 ppg on .281 FG%, and 3.7 rebounds in 19.5 minutes.  He is shooting well from the charity line, with a 12-12 game, and a 3-4 game, but the numbers back up the book on Marreese.  He is a player who plays hard… sometimes.  And he’s a player that takes too many jump shots.  If Dani Socher has taught me anything, it’s sell high.  The Cavs should trade Marreese Speights before his numbers plummet further.

Mallory: You make some excellent points, Nate, but you miss the overlying issue with trading Speights – it’s time for this team to not be a abysmal.  It’s no coincidence that the recent success came off the heels of the trade.  Speights has been an absolute beast for this team.  When you consider what The Cavs’ bench was composed of before, versus now, it’s even more apparent that the real value from that trade came in the form of the big man.  The fact is, the team’s bench looks better now than it has since the LeBron era.  You yourself said that the bench outplayed the starters against the Timberwolves.  You’re really willing to give up that cohesiveness for what will likely not match Speights’ output?

Nate: Yes, I’m absolutely willing to give up some of that cohesiveness for a couple months, and then get it back in the summer.  I’m not too sold on the Cavs recent success, either.  Monday’s game proved that the Cavs, especially the young players, have a lot of growing up to do.  Ten weeks of Mo Speights is not going to turn a sniping Tristan and Kyrie into the zen of Larry Nance and Mark Price.  Furthermore, why would Cleveland want to keep winning this season?  They’re costing themselves ping pong balls with each win.  True, this isn’t the greatest draft, but I’d rather a good player in a bad draft than a bad player in a bad draft.

The trade goal should be to flip Mo for some draft picks in 2014. What if the Cavs could trade Mo and a second round pick in 2014, to get a second 1st rounder?  Something like this: Gibson, Speights, Casspi, and a 2014 2nd rounder (one of Cleveland’s two), for Nando De Colo, DeJuan Blair, Stephen Jackson (who’d be immediately bought out), and San Antonio’s 2014 first rounder, top 5 protected.  It makes Cleveland worse short term and better long term.  The trade nets the Cavs another misunderstood big man, a point guard prospect, and another chip in the loaded 2014 draft class, and if the spur falls off the boot next year for San Antonio, then it’s all the better.  Do it for this year and next year’s draft.  Do it for Shabazz!  Do it for Nick Gilbert! Don’t deny him the draft lottery spotlight!

Mallory: You and I have greatly disagreed on the ultimate ends to this season, so I’m going to skip over the discussion about win now vs win later – it’s a much longer discussion for another time.  The fact is that this team feels more fluid than it ever has before .  The risk of disrupting a good dynamic for someone who would likely be less known than Speights (who, let me remind you, is only 25) is too high to make it worthwhile.  The chance that Speights re-signs with whatever team he ends the season on is always going to be higher than it will be that he’ll sign with another team.  Lets say Speights gets traded for a middling round pick in any given draft – isn’t the most likely scenario for whatever that player turns out to be worse than Speights himself?

Your hypothetical trade is great, yes, but I HIGHLY doubt any team gives up that much for Speights.  He’s quickly turning into one of those guys who is worth endlessly more to this Cavs team (who need a multi-functional big) versus other teams.  Additionally, with all the excitement over the 2014 draft, I doubt those picks will go for cheap – even if they’re middle round picks that, in all likelihood, won’t even end up being players better than Speights.

Basically, unless Cleveland can package Speights with some guys for a KNOWN player or a DEFINITE top 5 pick, there’s no reason to do it.  His value in the short and long term is as a guy who helps the development of players like Kyrie, Dion (who has played MUCH better with Speights on the team than before), and TT.  As guy who can be part of the not-so-distant future, that is substantially higher than what the Cavs would get in return.

Thomas Ondrey, The Plain Dealer

Speights: Gellin'... like a felon.

Nate: The crux of your argument is, “Cleveland’s gelling right now.  Getting rid of Speights could stop that and hurt their long term development.”  I just don’t see it.  Kyrie Irving is not going to look back some day when he actually turns into Uncle Drew and say, “that ten extra weeks I got to play with Mo Speights in the spring of ’13… it changed everything.”

The second focus of your argument is that Speights will be more likely to sign with the team the Cavs trade him to than with the Cavs.  You might be right if it’s a team like the Spurs.  Mo might get a taste of winning, and never want to leave.  But, he could also get buried on some team and never want to re-sign there because he won’t get an opportunity like he would with Cleveland.

Your third argument is that Cleveland won’t get enough to make it worth their while: the trade has to be worth the increased risk of not signing him in the off-season.  But you’re forgetting that the Cavs could decide not to trade Speights, and then get nothing if he leaves.  The fact that the Cavs gave up little to get him doesn’t matter.  He’s an asset, and letting him leave for nothing is a bad business decision – like the movie,  Rock of Ages bad.

Chris Grant doesn’t know what other teams will offer him till he tries.  A top five pick probably isn’t going to happen, but as the last few years have shown, having multiple first round picks greases the wheels in a lot of trades.  One never knows if the jewel Cleveland gets for selling high on Marreese Speights is the extra little scale tipper needed to get a superstar in the future.

Mallory: Look, I get Speights isn’t a fanchise-changing guy.  At least not in the superstar Kyrie way.   (I’d argue that Mo’s arrival has changed the Cavs over the past month, but whatever).  The point is that he’s become a big part of the way this team runs.  His averages have been great, his tenacity is absurd, and he fits the team’s needs perfectly.  If Cleveland trades him, I doubt he looks back and says “now that’s the team I want to go back to,” but if they keep him, I bet he ends up re-signing.

Chances are, whatever they get in a straight-up trade or a trade where Speights is the featured piece – whether it be a pick or a prospect – will not end up being up to his caliber as a bench guy.  (Lets put it this way – who, in the last month, has been a better player: Tyler Zeller or Speights?  Think that kind of pick.)  Why would the Cavs risk losing Speights  just because they want to keep making deals?

If a mind-blowing trade comes along, where the Cavs trade Speights, Zeller, Walton’s contract, plus their #1 pick for Cousins or something, then duh I’d pull that in a heartbeat (note: I have no idea if that trade works), but for another shot in the dark?  No way.  At some point they have to look at this roster, say to themselves, “This is the foundation for success.  We’ll add another piece or two, and then we’re big time contenders.”  Speights alone will likely not change that landscape.  So why rock the boat?

So who wins, Commentariat?  Should Cleveland keep Mr. Speights or attempt to trade him?