CLEVELAND (AP) – Another trade and another loss. And LeBron James won’t be back for another week.
The Cavaliers appear to be a long way from NBA title contenders.
On Wednesday, the Cavs addressed their biggest need – a rim-protecting big man – by acquiring center Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets for two first-round draft picks.
The Cavs announced their second major trade in three days during the first half of a 105-93 loss to the Houston Rockets. Cleveland, which has underachieved while enduring a rash of injuries, sent two protected 2015 first-round picks – one acquired in 2013 from Memphis, the other from Oklahoma City this week – to Denver for the 7-foot-1 Mozgov and a 2015 second-round pick.
Mozgov averaged 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 35 games this season for the Nuggets. The Cavs feel he can fill the large hole they had in the middle after starting center Anderson Varejao was lost for the season with a torn Achilles.
Cavs general manager David Griffin had targeted Mozgov for months and was finally able to land him – at a steep price.
“His numbers didn’t need to be flashy,” Griffin said. “We’ve got three guys that are top 20 players in the NBA. Those guys can be flashy. We need guys that do the dirt work. … It fits our needs.”
Mozgov played for Cavs coach David Blatt on the Russian national team, and their relationship should make the five-year veteran’s transition a little easier.
James, who has missed six straight games with a strained back and left knee, said Mozgov is a welcomed addition.
“It’s something that we need,” James said. “It’s something that once Andy went down, it was something obviously we needed to get bigger in the interior and adding a guy like that who can protect the rim, it will help our team as well.”
The trade for Mozgov was Cleveland’s second significant move this week. On Monday, the Cavs dealt guard Dion Waiters to the Thunder and acquired guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks. Smith gives the Cavs a proven scorer off the bench and Shumpert is a strong defender, whom Blatt described as “willing” to take on the opponent’s top scorer.
“We need a guy like that,” he said.
Shumpert is recovering from a dislocated left shoulder and won’t be ready to play for at least two more weeks.
Smith comes with some baggage. While there is no denying his basketball skill, Smith hasn’t always been regarded as a “team” player, but Griffin said the Cavs have no major concerns about him.
“His issues have never been as a teammate,” Griffin said. “J.R. comes to battle, he competes on a consistent basis.”
Smith went scoreless in his Cleveland debut, missing five shots, including four 3-pointers, in nearly 18 minutes.
Last season, Smith was fined $50,000 for untying the shoelaces of three players, including his new Cavaliers teammate Shawn Marion, who felt the incident was blown out of proportion by the media.
“He should have paid half of it (the fine) then,” Smith said, laughing. “That was way overblown. I’ve been doing it so long. It was surprising they caught it that year. It seemed like one thing after another. I’ve been playing against Shawn a long time. It was nothing personal. I didn’t try to hurt guys. It was a joke that got taken too far.”
Smith, who has known James since high school, has no doubt that he’ll be able to fit in nicely with the Cavs. It won’t take him long to figure out Blatt’s offense.
“I try to space the floor as much as I can,” Smith said. “When worst come to worst, my motto is, “When in doubt, shoot the ball.’ Hopefully that won’t catch anybody off guard.”
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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