Cavaliers have one big need to fill

CHICAGO -- The last time the Cleveland Cavaliers were at the United Center, in October, they believed they had assembled a team that could reasonably make a run at a championship.

As it turned out, they had not.

They were too small and not athletic enough, and the player they signed to a three-year contract extension the very day they beat the Chicago Bulls for their first win, Anderson Varejao, ended up with an unfortunate season-ending injury.

So they made several maneuvers that have been well documented and duly praised that contributed to a turnaround. After hitting midseason at 19-20, they have won 14 of 16 games, counting the Chicago Bulls' 113-98 victory Thursday that sent both teams to the All-Star break.

It was a showcase game for Derrick Rose, who had one of his best performances of the season with 30 points, and for Tony Snell, who has played perhaps the two finest games of his career this week once Jimmy Butler went down with a shoulder injury.

It was also perhaps a bit of a lesson game for the Cavs. Though they mostly played like they were already half on vacation -- privately players grumbled they lost a day of their break because they were the only team in the league that had a road game on Thursday -- it also gave their front office one last reminder heading into next week's trade deadline:

The Cavs could use another big man.

Kevin Love missed the game with an eye injury he suffered Wednesday night and Timofey Mozgov got into some foul trouble and, for the first time in a long time, the Cavs looked vulnerable. Especially when considering most of the teams they'll likely be eventually be fighting in the playoffs -- namely the Bulls, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks -- all have excellent big-man depth.

The Cavs really have only three big men they trust: Mozgov, Love and Tristan Thompson. Their backup power forward on Thursday turned out to be James Jones, who played 30 minutes for just the second time in the past four seasons. Though he morphed into a power forward routinely during his time in Miami, LeBron James has gone the other way while playing for the Cavs and going back to his more perimeter-dominating ways. He's essentially become the team's co-point guard with Kyrie Irving, and James usually decides how "co-" it really is.

Even with Snell's defense causing trouble -- James had eight turnovers -- the idea of dropping down to play in the post never seemed to be broached.

When putting together the game plan knowing Love might be out, the Cavs discussed options with Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and Jones at backup power forward. But, apparently, not James.

So what happens in a playoff game or full series, perhaps even against the Bulls, if there's an injury or foul trouble that depletes the Cavs' bigs?

"The front office has been great and put together a good group," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "We will be good with what we have if we can stay healthy."

"If" indeed.

The issue is there isn't a whole lot of obvious recourse. In recent days, the Cavs have engaged several teams looking for a backup point guard in an attempt to upgrade from the limited Matthew Dellavedova.

They've been offering around Brendan Haywood, who has a unique contract that could make him a trade asset next summer because he has a $10 million non-guaranteed deal perfect for flipping. One player they've targeted is the Denver Nuggets' veteran, Jameer Nelson, who has already been traded twice this season.

The market for backup big men is scarce. The Cavs have limited trade assets after giving up two first-round picks for Mozgov, and there are 22 teams currently in the playoffs or within two games of being in, reducing the number of teams willing to sell talent at this point.

They will probably have to wait for the buyout market to develop, though they don't seem to be a prime spot for Amar'e Stoudemire if he gets free from the New York Knicks. Kevin Garnett, who would be an ideal fit for this role in Cleveland, hasn't shown any public desire to be let out of his deal with the Brooklyn Nets.

Even if they won't acknowledge it, the Cavs must perhaps be a little concerned with Love's health in the second half of the season. His numbers suggest that a back injury that's bothered him off and on during the season might be something to monitor.

Love is shooting just 37 percent on the second night of back-to-backs and 26 percent on 3-pointers, well below his averages of 45 percent and 36 percent when he's had rest before a game. Perhaps it is one of the reasons why Love seems to be more effective in first halves than second halves this season. With so little depth at his position, though, it's hard to see how they could rest him much to deal with a back issue if that is truly an issue.

Part of the reason the Cavs started a turnaround was Blatt slashed his rotation to eight players in mid-January. That's what the Cavs have that they can trust. But the team's decision-makers know they're probably going to need at least one more.

Despite the splashy name, Ray Allen isn't what they're missing. Where and how they're going to find a little more help and just how important that final move could end up being remains foggy, probably even to the Cavs themselves.