So the NBA trade deadline is now in the books. Many teams postured, few actually made moves. One of those few is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Did the Cavaliers rescue its season with the deadline day maneuvers? This article attempts to examine this and more.
Breaking Down the Cleveland Cavaliers Trade Deadline Moves
Recapping the Trades
The Cavaliers under rookie general manager Koby Altman overhauled its roster on Thursday. First, they sent Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and their 2018 first round pick (protected) to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Next, in a three-team deal with the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz, the Cavaliers sent Iman Shumpert and a 2020 second round pick to the Kings with Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose headed to Utah. In return, they received point guard George Hill and wing Rodney Hood from the Kings and Jazz, respectively. Finally, in what came as a surprise to many, the Cavaliers traded veteran Dwyane Wade to the Miami Heat for a protected 2020 second-round pick.
What Does it all Mean?
First, the Cavaliers have gotten considerably younger. Hill is the only player they received that is over age 30. Clarkson, Nance, and Hood are each 25 years old. Clarkson and Nance are both under contract next season, while Hood will be a restricted free agent this off-season.
Secondly, without any guarantee from superstar LeBron James past this season, the Cavaliers have positioned themselves a bit better moving forward. According to recent articles, James and team owner Dan Gilbert are not on speaking terms. Therefore it surprised few that neither Altman nor Gilbert sought and or received the opinion or blessing from James on deadline moves, according to league sources.
Third and most importantly, the Cavaliers appear to have retooled to make a return to the NBA Finals, which matters to James. Clarkson is in the midst of a career year, averaging 22.1 points and 5 assists per 36 minutes. Hood currently averages 21.8 points per 36 minutes while shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. Hill is a career 38 percent three-point shooter and boasts of positive numbers in most advanced metrics. Nance provides energy, athleticism and defense to a team devoid of it all season.
Also, the deals did not include any starter from the championship team of two seasons ago. With the exception of the Kyrie Irving trade, the Cavaliers kept the remaining four starters from the championship winning team of 2016. J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson together with James will prepare themselves for yet another stretch run. Significant as well is the fact that these moves and acquisitions were done without the involvement of the Brooklyn Nets pick acquired in the Irving deal.
A Breath of Fresh Air
General Manager Koby Altman was understandably excited. “I think the overwhelming thing for us was to create a culture here that I think everyone wants to be a part of and the building was absolutely excited today. So I think this trade really put some wind in our sails,” Altman said.
A league source told Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, “What this shows is the organization did right by the organization and by its players. They’re trying to finish this season strong. If LeBron decides to leave, they’re better set up for the future than they were 48 hours ago. And if he decides to stay, the Cavs are set up for winning long term. It’s really a win-win. The Cavs did a great job.”
So LeBron Stays Then?
This is where things get dicey. The relationship between James and Gilbert appears unsalvageable. Both men seem to bring out the worst and most immature in each other. A good example is when Irving requested a trade, James told the Cavaliers, “Bring him to camp.” This is according to the Athletic’s Jason Lloyd.
James was also said to be displeased with Gilbert’s dismissal of former general manager David Griffin. James told ESPN about Griffin, “He’s pulled every move — he’s tried to make every move happen — to better this team to be able to compete for a championship. So we wouldn’t be in this position, obviously, without him and without the guys that are here — from the coaching staff to the players to Griff. He’s been a big piece of it.” Of course, Gilbert did not offer Griffin a new deal.
There is also the matter of the letter Gilbert wrote following James’ departure in 2010. No need to go over that again. It is hard to imagine James forgot about that.
That Means LeBron Leaves?
James has been long rumored to join the Lakers at the end of this season. Whether by chance or choice, the Cavaliers aided the Lakers in making this a possibility. How so? By trading Nance and Clarkson and receiving expiring contracts, the Lakers now have access to two full max cap slots. This is according to Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. Said Pelinka, “We now have in July of 2018 and July of 2019, 100 percent space to do two max players if that’s what we decide to do … the flexibility is really amazing.” The Lakers are the only team with such flexibility.
But there is another caveat; James’ contract has a player option for $36 million for the 2018-19 season, which he may use to stay in Cleveland. James in 2014 on his return to the Cavaliers said, “They [Cavaliers fans] shouldn’t be nervous at all. I plan on finishing my career back home. And, you know, that [Miami Heat era] was a business decision.” At media day last September when asked about his impending free agency,”it hasn’t changed,” said James. “And that’s why I sit up here today still in this uniform, still ready to lead this franchise to a championship, put us in a position where we can be successful.”
Finally, moves made by the Cavaliers danced the fine line of protecting their future and getting James better players. The Cavaliers were inconsistent at best and horrid at worst. Altman overhauled the roster in a few hours while keeping that Nets pick. That is an impressive attempt by Altman. On the flip-side, the Lakers got room to openly pursue James and other stars. Lakers President Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Pelinka received massive amounts of cap flexibility from the Cavaliers. The rest of the season and upcoming off-season will be fascinating.
CLEVELAND, USA – DECEMBER 9: LeBron James (23) of the Cleveland Cavaliers in action during the NBA game between Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 9, 2017 in Cleveland, United States. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)