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Jarrett Allen has been a core component of the Cleveland Cavaliers' identity over the past several years. As the NBA continues to emphasize shooting, Cleveland's two-big lineup featuring Allen and Evan Mobley has worked largely because of their stellar defense. The Cavaliers have posted three consecutive top-seven defenses, including a No. 1 ranking in 2023. That doesn't happen without Allen.

But Allen's last two postseasons have been disappointing. The Knicks dominated the Cavaliers, and Allen's no-show on the boards against Mitchell Robinson was a major reason why. He went down with a rib injury against the Orlando Magic in the first round this postseason and did not return. Suddenly the Cavaliers are at a crossroads. They haven't seriously contended in their first two seasons with Donovan Mitchell. If they plan to keep him long-term, changes are going to have to be made.

Will that include an Allen trade? Where might he go if he becomes available? And is giving him up even a good idea?

Why he's in trade rumors

We just watched the Celtics win the championship with shooters at every position. Cleveland has zagged against that shift in conventional NBA playing style over the past few years with Allen and Mobley as a non-shooting front court. Lineups featuring the two of them scored only 111.3 points per 100 possessions this season, and their +0.9 net rating is bad for a starting front court. Unless Mobley develops a jumper, it's hard to imagine this duo ever being viable offensively.

Allen isn't exactly old. He's just 26. He's on a cheap contract as well, earning only $40 million combined over the next two seasons. But Mobley, at 22, has more upside, and he just thrived as a center in the playoffs when Allen went down with an injury. Allen is the superior rim-protector of the two, but Mobley's success as a perimeter defender opens more schematic doors for the Cavaliers as their long-term big man.

And while it is unfair to question a player's health, it's worth noting that The Athletic reported after the Cavaliers were eliminated that his absence "caused frustration toward him in at least some corners of the organization with teammates and staff members who felt he could have done more to try and play." Allen refused an injection to numb his pain that would have potentially allowed him to play. Again, no reasonable person should hold medical decisions against a player, but if there is ill will within an organization, that often leads to trades.

Why the Cavaliers would keep him

Cleveland's last three defenses have ranked No. 7, No. 1 and No. 5, respectively. The Cavaliers have ranked that well despite playing two smaller guards that don't defend well in Mitchell and Darius Garland. Trading Allen deprives this team of its core identity. Maybe the Cavaliers could adjust to playing smaller defensively, or perhaps another trade could bring back some size, but the Allen-Mobley front-court has been this team's calling card for three years now. That's not easy to sacrifice.

Allen's cheap contract also presents some complications from a trade standpoint. Most of the players who would be worth trading him for are either much cheaper than he is, because they are on rookie deals, or are much more expensive than he is, because, as All-Stars or All-Star-adjacent talent, they have inked expensive, long-term deals. That means that Cleveland would either have to accept money it doesn't want or more likely send out money it might prefer to keep to make an Allen deal financially viable.

Finally, the center market is just typically small. It's not a position teams tend to invest significantly in outside of superstars, and while Allen would represent an upgrade to many teams, those teams that already have rim-protector-and-lob-finisher types likely wouldn't want to sacrifice the assets it would take for a non-star upgrade. When teams try to move centers they often find that those players have more value to them than they would in a trade. 

What destinations make sense?

There will be meaningful interest for Allen this offseason, but it will probably come from a smaller group of teams. Either you have a center or you don't. Nobody is going to trade for him hoping to replicate the two-big setup Cleveland has used, so right now, we're looking only at teams that need a starter at center.

New Orleans Pelicans: We keep circling back to New Orleans in this trade preview because they are the rare team with a surplus at the thinnest position in the league (wing) and holes at the deepest positions (point guard and center). The Pelicans and Cavaliers could solve problems for one another by swapping Allen for Brandon Ingram. Matching money would be a bit of an issue as Ingram makes more (and is due for an extension), but if Cleveland wants to reallocate resources to the wing, the Pelicans are by far the easiest team to do that with.

Brooklyn Nets: Who doesn't love a good homecoming? The Nets have a starting center in Nic Claxton, but if he gets poached in restricted free agency, an Allen trade could accomplish a few goals for the Nets. First, it could clear out some of their own wing log jam. The Cavs would probably be pretty interested in Cam Johnson or Dorian Finney-Smith as 3-and-D options. Second, it would lock down the center position at a low price for the Nets going into 2025 free agency, where they hope to be big spenders. 

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies need a long-term Steven Adams replacement, and by all accounts, they're trying to get one by trading up in the draft for Donovan Clingan. Would they go after a more veteran option? The Cavaliers would probably have to be amenable to a deal built around the No. 9 pick, as Memphis needs Marcus Smart as its primary wing defender and backup point guard, but if that's a doable starting point, Allen would definitely be a fit for the Grizzlies.

What is the latest reporting?

Most of the reporting has suggested than an Allen trade is unlikely at this point. Marc Stein recently reported that Mitchell would prefer the Cavaliers keep him, and at this point, Mitchell has the leverage to ask for basically whatever he wants. Similarly, Yahoo's Jake Fischer reported that Cleveland isn't expected to take offers for any of its core four players at this point. The right offer may sway them, but for now, teams hoping to pry Allen away are likely fighting an uphill battle.