It wasn't perfect, but Cleveland's trade rampage was necessary.
Change for the sake of change is often pointless, but in the case of this season’s Cleveland Cavaliers, it may end up being all they need.
Just when it appeared as if the trade deadline would come and go with nothing more than a whimper on Thursday, the Cavaliers reminded us how quickly the landscape can change in the NBA.
Cleveland pressed the big red button and blew up their roster, with fragments dispersing throughout the league. They traded: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and their own 2018 first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr; Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder to Utah for Rodney Hood; Iman Shumpert and a 2020 second-round pick from Miami to Sacramento for George Hill; Dwyane Wade to Miami for a protected second-round selection.
It’s a lot of player turnover for what seemingly amounts to marginal gains. But the Cavaliers front office did the best they could do with the situation they were dealt.
It was obvious a shake-up was needed. Cleveland have been outright embarrassing since the turn of the calendar and they’ve managed to find innovative ways of hitting new low points every week.
The defence has been a disaster – like pick-up-run-at-the-local-YMCA bad – and the chemistry issues were boiling so far over the surface that there was no need to study body language or read between the lines. There was no subtext, just, well, text that made it clear these guys didn’t like playing with one another.
This hasn’t been akin to the last two years, when the Cavaliers struggled at times in the regular season, only to flip the switch in the playoffs and dominate en route to reaching the NBA Finals.
This season has been a different beast, based on a different roster and with different circumstances. If it wasn’t, the Cleveland front office wouldn’t have exorcised the nuclear option.
Will it ultimately change anything, in terms of the wider picture? Probably not. Because it’s LeBron James and there are so many moving parts, it’s impossible to immediately count out these new-look Cavaliers in a potential rematch with Golden State, but conventional wisdom and the on-paper product suggest the gap may not have closed enough to matter.
Nevertheless, this isn’t a zero-sum game. There was no trade out there that would have put Cleveland on par with the defending champions. What matters is they got better and maybe enough so that they’ll return to the Finals.
And they did it without giving up the Brooklyn pick, meaning they threaded the needle to be competitive now while hanging on to their fail safe for the future if LeBron bolts.
Initially, it didn’t look like the Cavaliers would come out of the trade deadline in better shape than they entered it.
The trade with the Lakers wasn’t exactly inspiring. Thomas has been a sieve defensively this season, while offering little of his offensive arsenal as he continues to get back to full strength.
He had also pointed fingers at others around him, pouring gasoline on the chemistry fire. But attaching a first-round pick with him and Frye, a contributor off the bench, while being forced to take back Clarkson’s contract along with Nance, was head-scratching.
Nance is exactly the type of player Cleveland need – a try-hard, team-first guy who will do all the little things that no one with the Cavaliers was willing to do. Clarkson, however, is another score-first guard who brings nothing to the table defensively.
And his contract further hampers Cleveland’s cap flexibility during the next two years.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, that deal was just part of their final equation. They won’t miss Rose, Wade, Crowder or Shumpert – all of whom had become expendable due to their overlapping skills, or lack of skills.
Hill, meanwhile, is the perfect type of point guard to play alongside LeBron. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands constantly to be effective and when he’s motivated, can be a defensive terror.
Hood is a gamble worth taking, even if it seems he may have already plateaued. He can shoot and while his defence can be shaky, he’s long and the effort is there.
In a vacuum, none of these new acquisitions are good enough to move the needle. It’s a drastic change of course and one that many general managers would be hesitant to make after three straight Finals appearances.
But the collective addition of fresh blood, coupled with getting rid of some of the bad vibes around the team, could conceivably save Cleveland’s season and, in turn, their chances at keeping LeBron.