Spring cleaning came early this year in Cleveland as the Cavaliers flipped their roster at the NBA trade deadline.
The team, who just last week blew a 21 point lead to the lowly Orlando Magic, and ultimately lost by 18, revamped its team going forward after the All-Star break.
The Cavaliers opted to trade away nearly all of their offseason acquisitions to help bring youth and athleticism to “The Land.” But does this change the tailspin they found themselves in over the last month of the season?
Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. are all 25 years old, long and athletic. George Hill brings an experienced hand at point guard and is shooting .453 percent from behind the arc this season.
Adding lengthy point scorers who can spread the floor around LeBron James is the only blueprint for the Cavaliers to compete against the best in the East, much less the Golden State Warriors.
However most of all, Cleveland rids itself of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who led much of the drama that deteriorated the locker room chemistry.
Thomas criticized the Cavaliers all season. From calling out Kevin Love to the team’s lack of practice and effort on defense, Thomas made it known he wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland and continued to talk like the MVP caliber player he was last season.
The Dwyane Wade experiment in Cleveland ended in short-lived fashion after being sent back to the Miami Heat for a second-round pick. LeBron’s best friend on the team and wine buddy just wasn’t providing Finals-level production off of the bench at 36 years old, and will be able to play out the rest of his career with the Heat.
Add in Iman Shumpert, Boston import Jae Crowder, 2011 MVP Derrick Rose and podcaster Channing Frye, and it’s clear that the Cavaliers gave up a lot, but didn’t give up anything they need.
Not only did Cleveland hold on to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, but the team just gave LeBron reason to stay in Ohio.
LeBron went from leading the oldest team in the league with a high luxury tax and a negative culture brewing from the locker room to a fresh start with younger players who will only get better, as most players do when playing with LeBron.
Cleveland is taking a significant gamble here though.
By trading Thomas, Frye and their own 2018 first-rounder for Clarkson and Nance, the Cavaliers have opened the door for the Los Angeles Lakers to sign two max contracts over the next two seasons.
This salary cap clear out by Los Angeles clears a path for Lakers’ general manager Rob Pelinka and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson to target both LeBron James and L.A. native Paul George in free agency this summer.
If the Lakers convince LeBron to move out west, Cleveland can’t point their finger anywhere but in the mirror as this trade all but rolled out a red carpet from Quicken Loans Arena to the Staples Center. But in reality, they had no choice.
If the Cavaliers didn’t clean out their roster, LeBron would have grown unhappy and left after losing in the Eastern Conference Playoffs or after being humiliated in the Finals.
But, by ridding themselves of players who were no longer a fit. Rookie general manager Koby Altman showed LeBron he would make the moves necessary to compete for not just this season, but for years to come.
Cleveland just remodeled — they didn’t have to refinance.
Maintaining the Nets 2018 first-round pick is the best protection against Lebron leaving that Cleveland has had since Kyrie Irving wore a Cavaliers jersey. That Brooklyn pick will be in the top 10 of the draft and currently has a chance of being the seventh overall pick, according to Tankathon. This is high enough for a franchise player to fall into Cleveland’s lap either to place with Lebron or to build around after his departure.
And the trades they have made already provide quality role players for the top-10 pick and Kevin Love to hold onto a spot in the embarrassingly weak Eastern Conference. Regardless, this is the team Cleveland will go to battle with until the end of the season, and it is no tough out.
On Sunday afternoon, the Cavaliers had their new players available against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden and dominated the Cs on both sides of the floor. More importantly, this version of Cleveland showed LeBron and teammates laughing and having fun on the bench — a sight rarely seen pre-trade deadline.
Sunday showed us that the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East, and with 27 games and an entire All-Star break remaining, this team still has time to get clicking on all cylinders just as the playoffs start up.
So to all Eastern Conference hopefuls, you better come at the King and his crew with your best shot. Or cross your fingers and hope next year he moves to the Wild West.