CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers played beat the clock Thursday, pulling off a significant trade just hours before the NBA lockout began.
Cleveland dealt enigmatic power forward J.J. Hickson to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for small forward Omri Casspi and a future first-round pick.
The 6-foot-9 Casspi — a fine perimeter shooter and hard-nosed defender — will likely step into the Cavaliers’ starting frontcourt alongside center Anderson Varejao and power forward Antawn Jamison.
“We had been constantly looking at Omri since he came out in the (2009) NBA Draft and had ongoing conversations with Sacramento for the last month,” Cleveland general manager Chris Grant said.
“He’s had two solid seasons, and he’s a willing defender who is a fighter and can run the court. We like all of those things about him, and this is also a move that helps us balance our roster more appropriately.”
Casspi led the Kings in 3-pointers (92) and 3-point percentage (.372) last season, while averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 71 games. He shot just .412 from the floor and .672 from the foul line, primarily serving as Sacramento’s first forward off the bench.
The first Israeli-born player to appear in an NBA game, Casspi had the best shooting night of his career last Oct. 30 at Quicken Loans Arena, making 6-of-7 threes in a win over the Cavaliers.
“I think Cleveland is a wonderful city with great fans, so I can’t wait to start,” said Casspi, who is currently conducting a basketball camp at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. “There are a lot of natural things that I do. Play hard, tough defense on the floor, and team offense; the stuff that (Cavaliers coach Byron Scott) likes.”
The 23-year-old added with a laugh, “I play hard, sometimes I play too hard.”
Though both players are the same height and have multiple years under contractual control, their skill sets have nothing in common.
Hickson averaged a career-high 13.8 points and a team-best 8.7 rebounds last season, experiencing his greatest success while playing undersized center. He excelled near the basket, but frequently wandered outside the lane to take low-percentage shots.
The three-year veteran also added to his long list of mental lapses and displays of defensive indifference, making him one of the most maddening talents in franchise history.
It became clear that Grant and Scott had reached their tipping point last week when Cleveland used the fourth overall pick in the draft on power forward Tristan Thompson.
“Trades are never easy because this is a people business,” Grant said. “We drafted J.J., and he grew up here and helped us win a lot of games. He was great for our organization and good in the community, so we’re very happy for him and wish him nothing but the best.
“But with where our team is heading and the players that we’ve drafted, I thought this was the right decision for the franchise.”
Sacramento’s first-round pick is lottery protected in 2012 — meaning the Cavaliers won’t receive it unless the Kings make the playoffs — and high-pick protected from 2013-17.
Cleveland would not be conveyed the selection in 2013 (if it falls between pick 1-13), 2014 (if it falls between 1-12), or 2015-2017 (if it falls between 1-10) unless Sacramento takes a significant step forward in the NBA standings.
If the Kings fail to finish with one of the league’s top 20 records in 2017, they would send the Cavaliers their second-round pick to complete the trade.
“This is another step in our ongoing process to shape and position our team and roster for future growth,” Grant said. “We also were able to obtain another important asset with the additional first-round draft pick.”
Hickson has one season and $2.4 million left on his initial pro contract, but Sacramento inherits the option to tack on an additional year for $3.4 million in 2012-13. In the latter scenario, Hickson would become a restricted free agent, but the Kings have the right to match any offer sheet he receives.
Casspi is under contract for two years, totaling $3.6 million, along with Cleveland’s option season in 2013-14 (valued at $3.3 million).
Though Hickson is reportedly seeking a huge raise in his next contract, Grant denied it was a factor in the swap.
“At no point did we have any discussions about salary or contracts with J.J.,” he said. “This was a move about Casspi and realigning the balance of our roster.
“We’ve said all along that we need to have the flexibility to help ourselves going forward. This is another step toward us doing that.”
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Cavs trade Hickson