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Hawks trading Kyle Korver to Cavaliers will set bigger NBA events in motion

Reports Thursday night had Atlanta’s Kyle Korver en route to Cleveland. (Aaron Gash/Associated Press)
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It was big enough news Thursday night that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks were finalizing a trade that would send Kyle Korver, one of the best three-point shooters on the planet, to play alongside LeBron James in Cleveland, making an already deadly Cavaliers offense even more lethal.

But Korver is likely only the first domino to fall for both the Hawks and the rest of the NBA. The sharpshooter moving on from Atlanta begins what should be a frenetic few weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline.

The most immediate fallout is the arrival of Korver in Cleveland, which was first reported by The Vertical, and where he will replace Mike Dunleavy — who is going to Atlanta along with a future first-round pick, at least for now — in Coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation.

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Cleveland already was a loaded offensive team, with the ability to spread the floor with elite shooters at every position and James, only one of the best passers in the history of the sport, to find them all with pinpoint feeds. Replacing Dunleavy, whose struggles in Cleveland were costing him playing time, makes the task of trying to stop the Cavaliers infinitely harder.

Once finalized, the deal makes the Cavaliers’ rotation deeper — something that was a glaringly obvious need for the Cavaliers even as they stormed back to beat the Golden State Warriors at home on Christmas Day. Cleveland only played eight guys in that game, with DeAndre Liggins — a defensive specialist, at best — playing in place of the injured J.R. Smith.

The Cavaliers had several dead roster spots for that game. In addition to Smith, Mo Williams and Chris Andersen are out for the season with injuries, while Dunleavy, James Jones, rookie Kay Felder and backup Jordan McRae never got off the bench.

By moving on from Dunleavy and Williams, also expected to be moved elsewhere as part of the trade, which already includes Portland and Cleveland swapping first-round picks in upcoming years, Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin would add a rotation player while clearing a roster spot to potentially add another, and save owner Dan Gilbert some luxury tax money. Assuming the deal comes to fruition, it is the latest masterstroke in asset management by Griffin, and further closes the talent gap between the Cavaliers and Warriors.

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While Golden State is watching every move the Cavaliers make, for the NBA at large, the bigger news to come is that there’s a for sale sign on everyone in Atlanta, most specifically Paul Millsap, the team’s all-star power forward who is set to be a free agent this summer.

Millsap has been destined to leave the Hawks the moment the franchise flirted with trading him as part of its game of musical chairs with Al Horford and Dwight Howard this past summer. A three-time all-star, Millsap is one of the most versatile big men in the league, and despite turning 32 next month he should get a max contract as one of the best players on the market.

The question remains, where will Millsap go? Toronto has been rumored as a possible destination, but it’s unclear if the Raptors will be willing to give up assets to make a move for a rental especially with star point guard Kyle Lowry set for a huge raise this summer

The Denver Nuggets have also been discussed as a possible destination, but it remains to be seen whether Denver would give up a significant chunk of its young core to go get a player it may not be able to keep, and doesn’t necessarily fit within the same timeline.

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There will undoubtedly be other suitors for someone of Millsap’s talent level, and at this point it seems certain he’s going to wind up elsewhere sometime in the next month. The same fate will likely befall forward Thabo Sefolosha, a useful wing defender who also is on an expiring deal.

All of those players going elsewhere means that Atlanta, which currently is tied for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, will likely wind up falling out of the playoff picture. This represents good news for teams like the Washington Wizards, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons, all of whom are trying to make the postseason and currently find themselves on the outside looking in.

But for the NBA’s two superpowers, which will meet again in Oakland for the second and final time this regular season in just 10 days, Korver going to Cleveland is the latest move in the near three-year-old chess match between the two franchises. And don’t expect it to be the last one between now and when the Cavaliers and Warriors inevitably face off in an NBA Finals rubber match come June.