A seismic shift hits The Land at the trade deadline
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 31: The Cleveland Cavaliers huddle before the game against the Miami Heat on January 31, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
This piece is written by Cavaliers fan and blogger Favian Pua
Less than 24 hours after the Cleveland Cavaliers escaped the Minnesota Timberwolves in a cardiac 140-138 overtime shootout, the squad is now barely recognizable. The Cavaliers dealt away Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, and Iman Shumpert in separate deals, getting back Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and George Hill in return.
The Cavaliers entered the 2017-2018 regular season with cautious optimism, believing that their offseason acquisitions would fortify their championship chase in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s departure. Led by LeBron James, who is having another MVP-caliber campaign in year 15, Cleveland went 18-1 from November 11 to December 17, and visions of the Larry O’Brien Trophy returning to The Land started coming into focus.
Unfortunately, those visions were nothing more than a mirage, as the Cavaliers plummeted down the standings at the turn of the calendar year. For the fourth consecutive January, the team faced the harsh winters of Ohio along with a locker room just as frigid.
In 2015, Cleveland fell to 19-20, forcing then-GM David Griffin to make personnel moves that righted the ship in time for the postseason.
In 2016, former head coach David Blatt was fired, a culmination of the brewing discord between him and the rest of the team.
In 2017, the Cavaliers went through a sluggish 7-8 malaise that month, prompting James to demand for a playmaker, a request the team's front office eventually answered (sort of) in the form of more trades.
And yet, none of those previous incidents stack up to the chaos that bubbled up to the surface this season. In 2018, the Cavaliers play apathetic defense, if any at all. Following 53 games, the Cavaliers (31-22, third place in the East) rank second-worst in Defensive Rating (109.9), barely above the Phoenix Suns (110.3). Bickering inside and outside the locker room has been extensively documented. And of course, the impasse of James’s upcoming free agency looms heavily above Cleveland, with their homegrown talent refusing to give any verbal commitment to staying long-term.
GM Koby Altman had the unenviable task of delicately balancing the team’s immediate priority of staying within title contention, while laying out the blueprint in the worst-case scenario that James once again takes his talents elsewhere and the team is forced to rebuild anew. Criticized for being too inexperienced for the role, Altman shocked his more tenured peers and gave the Cavaliers a breath of fresh air, nabbing youthful two-way players in an attempt to reinvigorate a dispirited locker room, prior to the trade deadline.
One reminder: Despite all the wheeling and dealing, Altman still possesses the coveted Brooklyn Nets’ pick that has an outside chance of ending up as the number one overall selection in what would be an unprecedented fourth in eight years for the Cavaliers. The idea of James running alongside Luka Doncic or Michael Porter Jr. on the open floor isn't very realistic, but it's not impossible either.
Let's breakdown the trades Altman made over the span of 30 minutes prior to the deadline:
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Cavaliers’ own 2018 first round pick
Thomas never got to show Cleveland “IT Time”. His dreams of a foundational partnership with James as he laid out in The Players’ Tribune never came into fruition. After a paltry 15 games, the Cavaliers’ front office deemed the experiment a failure. Thomas simply exacerbated the Cavaliers’ already poor defense. On the other side of the court, he would hijack the offense with shots off isolation plays that simply did not fall with the same consistency that his attempts used to in previous years.
In a cruel twist of irony, the February 11 rift between Paul Pierce and Thomas regarding the former's jersey retirement is now a moot point since the latter will no longer be on the Cavaliers’ roster when they travel to Boston to play against the Celtics on that day.
Integrating Nance into the frontcourt gives the Cavaliers another rim-runner in the mold of Tristan Thompson, and he has enough tricks in his offensive arsenal to keep defenses honest. Nance is a gung-ho offensive rebounder (2.6 per game) and he will provide the energy and fire that the Cavs have desperately needed during the stretches when they sleepwalk on defense.
The price the Cavaliers have to pay to make this deal work centers around Jordan Clarkson, who is owed a combined $26 million over the next two seasons. Clarkson has increased his production since Lonzo Ball suffered a knee injury, although the spike is attributed to the Lakers’ boosting his trade value and the classic “good stats, bad team” phenomenon, so expect a dip in his numbers once he comes off the bench for the Wine and Gold. At the end of the day, the Cavaliers got a Jordan at the deadline, but it was not DeAndre.
For the Lakers, this transaction clears the books and opens the door for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to entice two max free agents, as both Thomas and Frye’s contracts expire at the end of this season.
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Heat’s protected 2020 second round pick Miami Heat receives: Dwyane Wade
The Peanut Butter and Jelly tandem between James and Wade showed flashes of their four-year partnership in South Beach, but gone are the days when they would both explode for 25 points in the same game. Wade’s role vacillated between starter and reluctant sixth man, though he could not uplift the bench enough to keep them afloat in games whenever James or Kevin Love would take a breather.
This move was mostly decided by the front office, with James giving his blessing on Wade returning to the team that drafted him and won three titles with. The Cavaliers will lose some scoring punch and a guy who can still draw fouls with ridiculous frequency even at 36, but the move allows the Cavaliers to play with more pace.
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Rodney Hood, George Hill
Sacramento Kings receive: Iman Shumpert, Heat’s protected 2020 second round pick
Utah Jazz receives: Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder
The draft pick acquired from Miami stayed with the Cavaliers for less than an hour, as it was shipped off to the Kings in an attempt to bolster the Cavs' backcourt. Now retooling with Hood and Hill, the Cavaliers are recreating the lineup that the Jazz deployed last season, with James playing the role of Gordon Hayward.
Although Thomas’ exile to the Lakers is the trending topic the three-way deal with the Jazz and Kings is where the Cavaliers implemented their “addition by subtraction” plan. They got rid of their nominal 3-and-D wing in Crowder who, as eye test and advanced metrics clearly showed, regressed mightily and became passive on offense. That in turn shook Crowder’s confidence, sapping him of the defensive prowess that made him a glue guy in charge of stopping the opposing team’s best player during his time with the Celtics.
To say that Derrick Rose is a shell of his former self might be an insult to shells. On top of that, Iman Shumpert played a mere six minutes in one game since November 27, ultimately making him trade bait that teams out of playoff contention would like to have as an asset heading into next season.
With apologies to Dion Waiters, Hood will be the best shooting guard paired with James since his return to Cleveland. The left-handed assassin can erupt for 20+ points on any given night off the bench, although it remains to be seen if Coach Tyronn Lue opts to start him or deploy him as J.R. Smith’s primary backup. Hood’s ceiling will be the team’s de facto third option on offense, and at 6’8”, he will have the length and footwork to stay in front of both wing positions on the other end.
Hill is an enigma and ultimately the x-factor among all the deals the Cavaliers swung in a span of an hour. His numbers are down across the board with Sacramento, although insiders have pointed out that this is due to motivation issues caused by the lack of direction with the Kings. On a contender, Hill is sublime. He was an under-the-radar gem during his days with the Pacers and the Jazz, a levelheaded playmaker who understood the fine balance between facilitating the offense and manufacturing his own shot.
At 31, Hill is nearing at the tail-end of his prime, but shooting ages gracefully, and the Cavaliers will need every bit of his 45.3% three-point shooting this season. At worst, he will contribute much more than Deron Williams ever did last year.
There are still many questions once the new additions are welcomed into the fold. How will the minutes among holdovers such as Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, and Cedi Osman be spread out? Will Love follow his recovery timetable? What else can James do for an encore? The Cavaliers have altered the landscape of the NBA once again, and they hauled in a king-sized ransom in order to persuade their King to stay.
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