The Cleveland Cavaliers have completely exploded.
When Kyrie Irving requested a trade last summer, the balancing act that LeBron and the Cavaliers’ front office have been playing for years finally came to the brink of its death. The team lost one of their big three, and ended up trading him for the package of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets’ first round pick. Since then, the team has spiraled out of control. Isaiah’s injury seems to be significantly more devastating than initially reported, Jae Crowder’s output from previous years has shown to be a product of Brad Stevens’ system, and the Nets pick has gone from one of the most coveted assets in the league to something around a mid-lottery pick.
Since January 1st, the Cavaliers have ranked 29/30 in Net Rating. They went on a losing streak against bad teams, and reports were flying that intra-roster turmoil was beginning to rear its head. I’m a strong believer in the trade deadline myself – Rockets GM Daryl Morey often states that people place too much emphasis on what a roster looks like at the end of the offseason. Rumors began to grow that the Cavaliers were fighting amongst each other, namely that Isaiah Thomas was stirring the pot and that many were blaming Derrick Rose and Kevin Love for taking time off – supposedly out of laziness and not actual injury. While the Cavaliers are famous for re-tooling at the trade deadline, this year it was clear that something big had to happen, or the team would go under.
The difficult thing about this trade deadline for Cleveland is that the whispers of LeBron leaving have become shouts. All of the chemistry issues on the team, combined with their horrible cap situation, seemed to be looming in 2018. The pre-all-star break Cavaliers squad was by far the worst one that Cleveland put on the court since LeBron’s return. But the odd part was that LeBron was the one assembling the team. It was James’ choice for the big three of himself, Irving, and Love to end up in Cleveland. Tristan Thompson got his big contract thanks to Bron, JR Smith got waaay overpaid because of him, and the team traded for Kyle Korver due to Bron’s recommendation. How could James skip out on a team he had hand-crafted himself?
Then reports began to surface that LeBron had been left out of many of the front office’s decisions in recent months. Sources revealed that the Cavs FO had not consulted LeBron about trading Kyrie Irving. This may have started the chain of events leading to the unhappy locker room that has been present all season. Owner Dan Gilbert and GM Koby Altman should be fearful that James could be gathering his things in preparation for leaving this offseason after all of this drama – some serious moves would be necessary to keep LeBron from leaving Cleveland once again. And moves were made.
On Thursday, mere hours before the trade deadline, the Cavaliers swung for the fences. They traded all of: Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose,and their 2018 first round pick. They ended up with George Hill, a serviceable point guard that will serve them in a significantly greater capacity than Jose Calderon, DRose, or IT3 could muster – especially on the defensive end; and Utah SG Rodney Hood, another two-way player to fill in their backcourt; along with former Lakers Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, both of whom will lower the average age on what was one of the oldest rosters in the league. The Cavs seemed to have purged themselves of any negative locker room energy – Derrick Rose was shipped off, after receiving criticism for taking a few weeks off earlier in the season; Isaiah Thomas, despite talking down about his teammates in interviews of late, claimed that he didn’t want to be traded. Jae Crowder and Channing Frye, who were wildly underperforming given their contracts, were sent off as well.
Before the deadline, it seemed that there was no hope for the Cavs to retain LeBron – the team was clearly not good enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference, let alone win the championship. But now the question remains: does the Cavs front office think that a finals-bound Cleveland will make LeBron stay? The Cavaliers kept their most valuable asset, the 2018 Brooklyn Nets 1st rounder, despite engaging in the biggest deadline switch up of any team in my lifetime. This new Cavs roster looks promising, and the locker room should have a completely different vibe, but if they thought they could get LeBron to stay by going all out, wouldn’t they have actually gone all out?