Cavaliers hoping for post-deadline, free-agent magic

Cavs unwilling to break up core for Melo (1:03)

Dave McMenamin shares the latest in the Cavaliers' pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, saying the team would be happy to have him, but don't want to trade any core assets. (1:03)

When the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't dodging the New York Knicks' attempts to sell them on a Carmelo Anthony trade, or auditioning available free agents, they're engaged in some serious finger-crossing.

They’re hoping/rooting/wishing for a quality veteran or two to pop onto the free-agent market via buyout after the Feb. 23 trade deadline passes.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jose Calderon and Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut, league sources tell ESPN.com, have emerged as two players who greatly interest the Cavs in their search for bench help.

The NBA's reigning champions, who come face-to-face with ‎Anthony in Saturday night's ABC showcase game at Madison Square Garden, are also closely monitoring Bogut teammate Deron Williams.

Yet this is where we have to point out that merely monitoring, as they say in those commercials, isn’t the same as fixing the problem. Actually finding a way to acquire even one of those three intriguing potential contributors is another matter entirely.

The Cavs know trading for Calderon, Bogut or Williams is highly unlikely given Cleveland's various salary-cap and asset limitations. The best they can realistically hope for is that one or more of those three gets bought out after the trade deadline and eventually hits the free-agent market.

Another pesky complication: Neither Bogut nor Williams, according to the latest signals emanating from Big D, is said to be particularly interested in a buyout if they're still with the Mavericks after the Feb. 23 buzzer for trades. The Mavericks' recent 9-3 surge, furthermore, has given Dallas some life of its own in the hunt for the West's No. 8 spot despite a 6-18 start, which could well lessen Mark Cuban’s appetite for weakening his roster.

All that would appear to establish Calderon as the most likely of the three to ultimately became available for the Cavs to pursue. But rest assured that the Lakers and Mavericks will spend the next 19 days looking for workable trades first that can bring an asset back as opposed to simply setting up Cleveland to appease an antsy, edgy LeBron James.

You've been hearing for weeks now that the Cavs are on the hunt for a seasoned point guard and another big man to fortify their bench, with James openly unhappy that the voids created by the offseason departures of Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov have yet to be filled.

The trouble is that there are obstacles in any direction Cleveland looks these days.

In the most recent Son of Weekend Dime, we highlighted a couple of intriguing veteran guards -- Utah's Shelvin Mack and Denver's Jameer Nelson -- whose salaries would fit into one of Cleveland's available trade exceptions.

The respective salaries possessed by Calderon ($7.7 million), Bogut ($11 million) and Williams ($9 million), by contrast, are too big for the Cavs to absorb into a trade exception.

Utah and Denver, meanwhile, both currently sit below the league's $84.7 million salary floor for the season, which helps explain why neither team is likely itching to just send Mack or Nelson rushing to LeBron's aid. Nelson, on top of that, played meaningful minutes in Denver throughout the month of January, with Mike Malone and his Nuggets unexpectedly in a playoff chase.

Stay tuned, though. ‎The key time frame from the Cavs' perspective, if they can’t find what they need via trades or those free-agent workouts, is what happens from Feb. 24 through the March 1 buzzer for playoff eligibility.

The rule is the same for all teams when it comes to the buyout game: Players remain playoff-eligible for their next team as long as they're released by 11:59 PM ET on March 1.

Remember the Cavs’ plan we shared after the Cavs’ Christmas Day victory over Golden State?

The one about reducing James’ minutes at the end of January?

Hasn’t quite happened yet.

James recently logged 43-plus minutes in three successive games at the tail end of Cleveland’s 2-6 nosedive. It was the first time he pulled off that sort of hat trick since March 2009 ... when he was 24 years old.

Thanks to comparatively light loads in the four games since -- minute totals of 34, 37, 37 and 34 -- James has slipped to No. 2 in the league in terms of minutes per game behind Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.

Which is a good thing.

Leading the league in minutes per game, we’re guessing, was not one of LeBron’s goals coming into the 2016-17 campaign. Finishing No. 1 in that category, in James’ 14th season, would make history, nudging him past Allen Iverson as the oldest player in NBA annals to hold that distinction.

Maybe the best news for the Cavaliers of late is the fact that Golden State has four All-Stars.

As mentioned earlier this week in our Power Rankings, it’s not the sort of good omen you’d expect, since only two of the previous 10 teams to feature four All-Stars went on to win it all that season.

Philadelphia was the most recent champ in 1982-83, after Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney represented the East in the Marvin Gaye All-Star Game in 1983. Boston was the first in 1961-62, with Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn earning All-Star status.

The Warriors will be the fifth team in the past 20 seasons to try to halt a drought that stretches back to that unforgettable ‘Fo-Fo-Fo’ Sixers team. The list:

Who would dare to take on the Super Bowl head-to-head?

For the third successive year, no less, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Amin Elhassan will join me Sunday night on ESPN Radio for another (brave!) installment of the “NBA Insiders” from 7-10 p.m. ET.

Three high-powered guests joined our first show of the season, so we’ve decided to share a highlight here from each of those convos:

*Warriors general manager Bob Myers on the looming free agencies of both Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant: “I certainly think we’re in a good spot. I think we’re a team that they want to stay with and have done well with. But at the same time you really just don’t know. We’ll do everything we can to retain them. That’s the No. 1 goal. But resting on your laurels in this business, you may be able to get away with it for a little while, but it’ll catch up to you.”

Listen to the full convo with Myers

*Hawks forward Paul Millsap on Atlanta’s recent insistence to interested teams that it has ruled out dealing him before the Feb. 23 trade deadline: “I feel good about it. But who knows? I don't decide that. Only thing I can control is getting out there playing basketball [and] helping this team win. Whatever happens happens. But I feel [that] the organization feels like we’re headed in a good direction.”

Listen to the full convo with Millsap

*Wizards guard Bradley Beal covered so much ground in our visit that ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk devoted a whole story to it.