Kings (10-35) at Cavaliers (34-8)
Scoring: Kings 13th (98.8), Cavaliers 10th (100.8).
Shooting: Kings tied for 24th (44.5 percent), Cavaliers tied for third (47.7).
Scoring defense: Kings 29th (107.8), Cavaliers first (90.1).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (47.8 percent), Cavaliers second (42.4).
Rebound differential: Kings 28th (minus-4.1), Cavaliers fifth (plus-3.1).
But it's very interesting for the entire league at a time Cleveland has the best record in the East, the chance to improve by dealing a valuable and expendable trade chip ... and may not do anything.
The Cavaliers are 34-8. They don't want to cough too hard for fear of derailing all that has gone right. LeBron James is the early favorite for MVP. The Mo Williams acquisition has been a great success. The defense has gone from 11th in the league in shooting last season to pushing the established Celtics for first. Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been sidelined all January with a sprained ankle and Delonte West is out with a broken wrist, so there are injuries, but the Cavs have won eight of 11 and get to spin that into an added confidence from overcoming adversity.
Shopping Szczerbiak is the chance to get better still. He's a shooting specialist shooting 42.8 percent -- though a credible 39.8 on threes -- hasn't started a game and is eighth on the team in minutes. But he is in the final season of a deal on the books for $13.275 million, and suddenly it's not role-player territory anymore.
Teams looking to streamline the payroll love expiring contracts and will swap established players, potential impact players, for the chance to slice a chunk off the salary cap. That $13 million gets the Cavaliers something real at a time other championship hopefuls are likely weighing moves to acquire complementary pieces. It doesn't always happen that way -- the Lakers got Pau Gasol last season, the Mavericks added Jason Kidd -- but the arms buildup of 2007-08 was a rarity.
On paper, it's a no-brainer. Trade Szczerbiak.
But the Cavaliers haven't lived anything like this first half in more generations than they care to remember. Even the club that won the Eastern Conference title in 2007, before becoming a bug on the windshield to the Spurs in the Finals, was 24-18 after the same 42 games. The current roster is tracking to 66-16.
One wrong move to the chemistry, to the mood and the intangibles and whatever mojo has been floating around the locker room, whether by the loss of Szczerbiak or the addition of whoever comes in return, could have huge implications. This huge:
If 2008-09 ends in disappointment, and anything less than at least an Eastern crown is a disappointment, the Cavaliers head into James' contract year needing to convince him there is a future. That can lead to panic moves to the roster, and panic moves are never good.
This may not just be about this season, in other words. That's enough risk for now, though, just in time to get really good.