The Cleveland Cavaliers were a disinterested and incompatible mess before last Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. LeBron James seemingly had one foot out of the city as another summer of free agency loomed for the other-worldly star.
The manner in which the Cavaliers were wallowing in mediocrity by their high standards, lingering in the third spot in the Eastern Conference at 31-22 behind the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, fueled speculation that this season would be James’ last in his second tour with the franchise. What a difference a week makes.
Sensing imminent disaster, the Cavaliers, led by their 35-year-old general manager Koby Altman, remade its roster, trading six players, including guards Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade and two future second round picks.
Thomas, who ostensibly is still emotionally injured as a result of being traded by the Celtics last summer to the Cavs for Kyrie Irving, was dealt along with forward Channing Frye and a 2018 first round pick (the team’s own) to the Los Angeles Lakers for point guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr. The Cavaliers held on to their other 2018 first-round pick, originally owned by the Brooklyn Nets and obtained in the Thomas-Irving trade.
They then engineered a three-team deal with the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings, shipping forward Jae Crowder and Rose to the Jazz for forward Rodney Hood, and exchanging guard Iman Shumpert for the Kings’ veteran point guard George Hill.
“We wanted to be patient and wanted to see this thing work out,” said Altman, referencing the previous mix of players. “We were excited about what we had at the beginning of the season on paper…but we were really worried that what was going on on the floor and our culture in the building, we were marching a slow death. We didn’t want to be a part of that.”
The moves paid immediate dividends. After defeating the Atlanta Hawks last Friday, the newly acquired Cavs played their first game with the team last Sunday, and James and company blew out the Celtics in Boston 121-99. They followed that up with an impressive 120-112 win on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, their final game before the All-Star break. The newfound energy and enthusiasm displayed by James is contagious and palpable.
Now, the Cavaliers once again have the look of Eastern Conference favorites.