Rebirth Of The Cleveland Cavaliers?
If a bunch of the new members of the Cleveland Cavaliers walked into the team’s practice facility on Friday morning, wearing those “Hello My Name Is” name tag stickers on their jersey, nobody would’ve likely given them a second look.
After all, you could say that the Cavaliers dominated the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, orchestrating three different trades that sent away six different members of the team, while acquiring four new players in return.
Running his first trade deadline as General Manager of the team, Cleveland’s Koby Altman struck early and decisively, trading disgruntled star Isaiah Thomas and veteran reserve Channing Frye to the Los Angeles Lakers, in exchange for a couple of young and athletic role players in guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr.
Altman quickly followed that up by spearheading a three-team trade that sent Iman Shumpert to the Sacramento Kings, and Jae Crowder plus Derrick Rose to the Utah Jazz, while receiving point guard George Hill from the Kings and shooting guard Rodney Hood from the Jazz.
Finally, the Cavaliers concluded their flurry of deals by sending guard Dwayne Wade back “home” to the Miami Heat, in exchange for a heavily-protected 2nd round pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.
We’ll start with Wade’s deal, because that was the most trivial, though probably the most surprising. It’s no secret that Wade is one of LeBron James’ best friends in the NBA, and likely signed with the Cavaliers this offseason to be a “ring-chaser” – to help James and Cleveland go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors, and bring another title to Cleveland. But given the way this season has gone, and with the uncertainty of James’ future in Cleveland, this was more of a “mercy” move by the Cavaliers front office, allowing Wade to return to the Miami Heat, instead of toiling away on the Cavaliers’ bench.
But the crux of Cleveland’s moves on Thursday was clearly around ridding themselves of Thomas and Crowder – two of the three players the Cavaliers’ received from the Boston Celtics, in exchange for Kyrie Irving.
It became brutally clear that Thomas and Crowder did not adjust well to their new employer, and there was clearly a large rift in the locker room between “the LeBron guys” (James, Wade, and Tristan Thompson, among others) versus the “new guys” (Thomas and Crowder). Thomas rushed back from rehabilitating his hip injury, and it was clear that he wasn’t anywhere near fully recovered. Crowder grew increasingly frustrated that he was playing for a team where his skills were redundant, and the coaching staff didn’t know how to better utilize him.
All of this created an untenable, if not toxic atmosphere in the Cavaliers’ locker room, which led to James vacillating between being irate and dejected. If Altman and the Cavaliers had any hope of James remaining in Cleveland past this season, something drastic had to be done.
Through the moves made, the Cavaliers didn’t acquire any stars to pair with James, but they did get younger, deeper, and more athletic in the process. Clarkson, Nance, and Hood are all under 26 years old. Cleveland can now unveil a lineup that features Hill, J.R. Smith, Cedi Osman, James, and Thompson, with Hood, Clarkson, Nance, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Green on the bench. From a “one through 10” perspective, this is as deep as Cleveland has been in quite some time. Whether or not that depth – and its lack of star power – is enough to keep James in Cleveland remains to be seen.
As far as the guys they traded away, Crowder could be a good fit in the defense-oriented Jazz lineup, and provide some muscle in the front court that they’ve needed opposite of Rudy Gobert. Thomas’ fit with the Lakers remains to be seen, considering he’s best suited as a ball-dominant player, but the Lakers have openly committed to making rookie Lonzo Ball the centerpiece of their (immediate) rebuild.
In the end, Altman deserves a lot of credit for acknowledging that the Thomas and Crowder acquisition was a failure, and quickly moving on from that mistake, versus trying to make something out of the sunk cost of the trade.