CLEVELAND — After a nightmarish stretch of basketball since Christmas Day — a 20-game slump in which the Cleveland Cavaliers went just 7-13 while repeatedly getting blown out in embarrassing fashion on national television — the Cleveland front office realized how broken its team was and went for broke at the trade deadline.
A dizzying set of trades that started at just past noon on Thursday completely revamped Cleveland’s roster, turning the oldest collection of talent in the league into a younger, more versatile group. It is, though, a group with only 29 games remaining in the regular season to coalesce before the playoffs begin.
All told, the shipping and receiving receipts look like this:
For simplicity’s sake, let’s group the guys the Cavs said goodbye to in pairs.
Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder came in during the Kyrie Irving trade in August, and the fit was never right. Crowder bounced between the starting lineup and the bench, and struggled to find a comfort factor, as the Cavs are a rare team whose starters run a different offense than their second unit does. Thomas was out with a hip injury until early January and played only 15 games before Cleveland had to move on. He struggled to mesh on the court and off of it in a locker room full of strong personalities.
Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose – a former Finals MVP and former regular season MVP, respectively – came in on minimum deals, both sacrificing more lucrative opportunities to try to recapture the magic they once wielded. But they couldn’t make it work. Wade showed flashes of his previous life as “The Flash” – particularly when Cleveland reeled off 18 wins in 19 games in November through December – but is style of play did not mesh with the accelerated pace the Cleveland coaching staff wanted to see. Rose was still haunted by injuries, and after nearly walking away from the game completely in November, never found his footing in Cleveland again.
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Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert both played significant roles in Cleveland’s splendid run to the championship in 2016, but had mostly fallen out of the rotation this season. They both were viewed as assets with something left to give, and they helped attract players the Cavaliers hope will help them immediately in the swaps that sent them out.
As for what’s coming in:
George Hill is a long guard with plenty of playoff experience who can hit the 3-ball and will step into the void left by Thomas in the starting lineup.
Jordan Clarkson is a scoring option who can create his own shot and, at age 25, will give an infusion of youth to the Cleveland bench unit, a group that will also see more run from rookie SF Cedi Osman as the season wraps up.
Hood is a wing who can stretch the floor, Nance is a bouncy big man who can protect the rim and is devastating when running the floor. Not to mention, Nance is a legacy player, as father Larry Nance, Sr. has his number 22 retired by the Cavaliers after getting traded from the Phoenix Suns in February 1988 and spending the last 6.5 years of his career in Cleveland.
All of this has to be viewed through the spectrum of how it will affect LeBron James‘ free agency decision this summer.
James has often called for the Cavaliers to add two-way players in order to compete with the likes of the Golden State Warriors. These deals addressed that. It also should fix some chemistry issues that existed ever since the start of training camp; issues that included the role of James’ good friend, Wade. Sending Wade back to Miami was a tricky move.
But the Cavs’ decision makers handled it as well as can be expected, keeping James in the loop during the process, a team source told ESPN.
From here, all there’s left to do is play. And play with a roster that is theoretically better equipped to defend, better equipped to run the floor, and better prepared to fall into a pecking order more readily.
This is James’ team. he can help lead all of those new players to a level of success that they have never experienced before – if they buy in and follow his lead. And if James buys back in with them, the Cavs’ chaotic season could actually end up with a blissful ending.