Cavaliers acquire Mozgov from Nuggets for 2 first-round picks

Joe Camporeale / USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are making moves and the Denver Nuggets appear set to begin tearing things down in earnest.

Just two days after acquiring J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-team deal that saw them jettison Dion Waiters, the Cavs are now looking to shore up their rim protection, the team's biggest weakness.

The Cavaliers officially acquired Timofey Mozgov from the Nuggets late Wednesday. The return for Mozgov is two protected first-round picks. The Cavs will also receive a 2015 second-round draft pick from Denver.

The two picks headed to Denver will be the 2015 first-round pick the Cavaliers acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, which is top-18 protected for this season, and a future first-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies from the 2013 Jon Leuer trade, which has varying protections until 2019, when it would become unprotected.

The Cavs still own the lower of their first-round pick or Chicago's first-round pick in this coming draft.

Cleveland do not have to surrender a roster player in the deal. Mozgov's $4.65-million salary fits in the $5.3-million traded player exception the Cavs have from this summer's Keith Bogans deal, allowing them to absorb the center without matching salaries. 

The Cavs, who rank 23rd in defensive efficiency, have been after Mozgov or another defense-first center more or less all season. That search was expedited after the team lost Anderson Varejao for the season, with the Cavs potentially now blowing deep into luxury tax territory with the Mozgov addition.

Two first-round picks seem like an enormous price tag considering how stingy teams have been in dealing them over the past few seasons, but the Cavs are the league's worst team at protecting the rim and are clearly set on winning now, not later. Opponents have shot 56.5 percent at the rim against Cleveland, an area the 7-foot-1 Mozgov should help in. Opponents have shot 48.6 percent at the rim with Mozgov defending this year and he's averaged 1.9 blocks per-36 minutes in his five-year career.

The 28-year-old Mozgov, a social-media darling, need not be a one-year rental for Cleveland, assuming he proves a fit. He has a $4.95-million team option on his contract for next season, and if the Cavs can retain Kevin Love and prove a contender with Moz Def in the fold, they'll likely be willing to exercise that option.

In 35 games, Mozgov has averaged 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.6 minutes, shooting 50.4 percent from the floor. He's not much on offense but can finish and rebound well enough that he shouldn't frustrate the team's flow at that end of the floor.

The Nuggets have seemed hesitant to move Mozgov in the past, but at 15-20 in the Western Conference with no clear building plan and a messy cap sheet, this could be the beginning of a tear-down in Denver. Getting two first-round picks, even ones likely to fall in the 20s, is a nice start to that end.

From the Cavaliers' perspective, they've turned a first-round pick and Waiters into Shumpert, Smith and Mozgov, which has to be seen as a nice victory, even if it does tie up their books some for the summer of 2015.

Cavaliers acquire Mozgov from Nuggets for 2 first-round picks
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