By Rob Mahoney
The Wizards and Cavaliers have combined for only nine victories (to 45 losses) and possess two of the three worst records in the NBA. Though both teams can pin some of their struggles on injuries to stars, they're plagued on a more general level by their lack of first-line talent and almost comically shallow rosters. With John Wall back in the lineup, for example, the Wizards would merely be a fairly bad team nudged back toward respectability. Without him, they're so limited that they not only rank last in the league in points scored per possession but also average five fewer points than even the 29th-ranked Magic.
All of which makes it only natural that the Wizards and Cavs would both attempt to make whatever low-risk changes they reasonably could. For Washington, that means parting ways with the underperforming Shaun Livingston and little-used big man Earl Barron and signing fringe role players Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack. Temple seems to forever live on the bubble (he's played for five NBA teams over the past two seasons, always changing places in sign-and-release fashion), but he's a solid all-around player without many glaring flaws. Mack is essentially a mulligan; the Wizards initially waived Mack back in October, and now have opted to sign the free-agent point guard they know rather than go digging through the D-League. Both moves make sense given all the trouble Washington has had on the perimeter this year, and could conceivably wind up helping the Wiz marginally until Wall's long-awaited return.
Cleveland, on the other hand, already has Kyrie Irving back in the mix and Anderson Varejao playing at an All-Star level, but remains grounded by a dead-weight roster of unpolished prospects and limited role players. In that, Cavs GM Chris Grant saw fit to make a change at a very clear position of need, backup point guard, by releasing Donald Sloan and adding the aforementioned Livingston through waivers. Livingston and Sloan are in the same tier with their overall play, with preference for one over the other coming down to a matter of taste. Clearly the Cavs didn't like what they were getting from Sloan's iffy brand of ball, so much so that they've swapped him out for another shaky performer in hopes of getting some modicum of consistency behind Irving. That'll be a tall order for Livingston, who will still be working alongside unpolished bigs (save Varejao) and limited wings within a bare-bones offensive system. But change was bound to come for the Cavs and the Wizards both, and these moves are a reasonable shrug and roll of the dice relative to the panic moves that either franchise could've made. The day isn't saved, but two basement-bound teams are making do with the resources available, all without making desperate moves for the sake of saving face.