The NBA trade deadline brings drama and intrigue, a feeling that the entire makeup of the league can be shaken up in just 24 hours. At least this year it did. It’s not uncommon for the trade deadline to come and go with few moves made and, if we’re lucky, one trade that will change the outlook for a championship contender. This year, a championship contender almost changed their whole roster at the deadline.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were clearly the most active team at the deadline, for better or worse. They made a flurry of moves to try and resurrect their sinking Finals hopes, as the team has drifted further from first place, listing while other teams have passed them. The Cavs were in such precarious waters that LeBron James being moved at the trade deadline, but only if he waived his no-trade contract clause, seemed possible. But while LeBron remains on his hometown squad, he will be surrounded by new faces on what may as well be an entirely new team.
Cleveland’s trade deadline moves spanned several teams throughout the NBA, including a three-team deal. The Cavs moved Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder to the Utah Jazz, Iman Shumpert to the Sacramento Kings and in return received George Hill from the Kings and Rodney Hood from the Jazz (Sacramento also received Joe Johnson from Utah). In a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland shipped Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye to LA for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance. Their last trade, a favor to Dwyane Wade more than anything, was to send the aging veteran back to the Miami Heat.
While the Wade deal may not have a huge impact on the outcome of the Cavaliers’ season, the other two trades will go a long way to determining just how far the Cavs get in the playoff race.
In their three team maneuver, Cleveland moved two inefficient bench pieces (Rose and Shumpert) and a solid rotational player (Crowder) but received some legit help at two positions of particular need; point guard and shooting guard/small forward. George Hill figures to be the plug-and-play, second ball-handler that the Cavs have desperately needed at point guard this season. In the first half of the season with Sacramento, Hill is shooting a solid 47% from the field and a career-high 45% from the three point line. Hill also possesses solid ball-handling skills and should be able to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands to keep James a little fresher at the end of games.
Hood is especially intriguing, a wing scorer who should be able to play at both shooting guard and small forward for the Cavs. In replacing Crowder with Hood, the Cavaliers have taken a complete 180 in terms of player type. While Crowder was a minor contributor on offense, he was an effective defensive stopper, a perimeter defender who did a solid job of limiting opponents’ outside shooting attempts. Although Crowder’s play dipped in his move from Boston to Cleveland, he was arguably the best player to be traded. Now the Cavs have a young and athletic scorer to assist an offense that is missing a true third option behind James and Kevin Love. While Hood may not start right away like Hill likely will, he will find plenty of minutes in a sixth man-type role.
Cleveland’s other huge trade, moving Isaiah Thomas to Los Angeles, goes to show how disastrous the Kyrie Irving trade was last summer. In August, the Cavs traded Irving for Thomas, Crowder, Ante Zizic (a backup) and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first round pick. The pick will no longer land in the top 3, like it has when Boston owned the Net’s last two first rounders. This season, it will likely land somewhere in the 6-12 range, where the talent available will not be sure-fire. Now that trade has effectively been reduced to that first round pick, Clarkson and Nance for superstar Point Guard Kyrie Irving.
Isaiah Thomas’ time in Cleveland has been marred by an injury that nearly derailed the August trade and that kept him in appearing from all but 15 games so far this year. While Thomas at his peak is as an effective inside and outside scorer with solid distributive abilities, the injury has clearly held him back from the sort of play he had last season in Boston. Even when he has appeared in games, his scoring efficiency has been way down compared to past seasons.
Replacing him will be younger players in Shooting Guard Jordan Clarkson and Power Forward Larry Nance. Clarkson is a fast-twitch scorer who should be an effective complimentary scoring piece. However he is lacking something the Cavs need from a player like this; three point ability. Nance is a PF and small-ball Center who brings a ton of energy and athleticism. Nance will be able to put up eight or so points a night but his real contribution will come in grabbing rebounds, throwing down alley-oops and playing high-motor defense. He’ll be another rotational bench piece for the Cavs who figures to play around 10-12 minutes a night.
There’s no certainty to how this new-look Cavaliers team will gel or if it will even be an improvement over the prior one. However, despite LeBron’s grumblings, it’s hard to blame the Cleveland front office. With the Cavs falling from top two to top five status is a more-competitive Eastern Conference, something had to be done. Now it’s sink or swim time for a team that is so far removed from the one that brought a title to Cleveland just two years ago.