Rob is an NBA capologist, CBA savant and contributor to The Five By 5.
The Big Move:
The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the headlines on trade deadline day by trading 40% of their roster, many of which were key players in their rotations. At around noon eastern time, they began with a fury of moves and by 3 pm’s deadline, their roster had 4 new players coming in and 6 rotational players going out, including their own lightly protected 2018 first round pick. This was a total roster shake up. The 6 players the Cavs sent out have a combined 56 NBA seasons of experience and an average age of 30.6 years old. What did the Cavs get in return? 4 guys with 21 combined seasons of experience (George Hill has 10 of those years) with an average age of 26.7 years old amongst the group. In layman’s terms, the Cavs went to the fountain of youth to try to re-establish their chemistry and re-prove their dominance in the eastern conference. But with only 29 games left on the schedule, building chemistry and understanding of how each new player fits in will be tough.
New Name Tags:
With the additions of Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, the Cavs got 3 fairly versatile players that can all play the wing positions. Each have legit NBA wing size: Clarkson 6’5’’, Hood 6’8’’ and Nance Jr 6’9’’ per basketballreference.com. Their size and length was something the Cavs sorely needed. With Cleveland's former roster construction, they just didn't have the wing depth, length or versatility to hold a candle to the Warriors, this will really help. George Hill, the veteran of the group, is a 6’3’’ guard who is also very versatile as he can play on or off the ball, and when healthy, he’s a big plus on the defensive end. And although he’s just an average athlete, he makes up for it with basketball IQ and by having a ridiculous 6’9’’ wingspan (per draftexpress.com). The combination of size, smarts, and the ability to shoot the 3 ball at the best clip in the league (46% from the corner and above the break 3 pointers cleaningtheglass.com) will be a lethal threat when LeBron penetrates and looks for open shooters.
Of the group of players that the Cavs shipped out (Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Jae Crowder) only Jae Crowder was part of the Cavs most used and successful lineup (Calderon, Crowder, James, Love, J. Smith). That lineup played 253 more minutes together than any other Cavs lineup, and sported a +8.1 net rating. Shumpert, Rose and Frye were essentially out of the Cavs rotations, so the Cavs really didn't lose that much as far as what has made them successful. What about Isaiah Thomas? Well, he just wasn't fitting in. His individual numbers have plummeted this season, and out of the two lineups that the Cavs used him in the most, both of them averaged a net rating of net -22.3. No words are needed to state just how bad that is. Additionally, the chemistry amongst the Cavs was visibly broken. Even from the outside looking in this was apparent, and IT wasn’t helping resolve those issues. If anything, he was causing many of them by constantly calling out his teammates and the coaching staff behind closed doors and in the media. But what about the great Dwayne Wade? How will his loss effect the Cavs? Well, even though Dwayne Wade was a positive spark for the Cavs off the bench, let’s be honest: come mid June, with where Wade is at in his career, he’s not going to be the reason you win or lose the finals. And with the Cavs ultimate goal to be competing for a championships, moving on from D-Wade and sending him back home to Miami was fine.
Once The Dust Settles:
The NBA is ruthless and gives no breaks to anyone. But the Cavs need to find a way to put things back together again quickly. Obviously, it will take more than one game to figure everything out, but with the Cavs next 3 games being: @ Boston, @ OKC and then at home vs the Wizards, the schedule doesn't give the Cavs much time to readjust. They best make the most of their few remaining games before the all-star break, and then milk the all-star break for all it’s worth. They won’t have the time to try and figure things out once the last leg of the season begins post all-star break. The Cavs are already in danger of losing a top 4 seed, and they still have a long playoff push ahead of them.
The "X" Factor:
There is this dude from Akron, who’s kind of a once in a life time talent named LeBron James. You might have heard of him before as he’s one of the leagues most talented players ever. But for this challenge, it's not going to be about the King’s talents; it’s going to be about his leadership. In the past, LeBron has typically been best when he’s surrounded himself with savvy vets who could take on the leadership roles, which allowed him to power the team with his overwhelming talents. For example, in Miami he had Dwayne Wade, Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. In Cleveland, at least up until recently, he had James Jones, Dwayne Wade and Channing Frye. All of these guys are vets that know their limitations and abilities, and despite not having the bounce of their youth, they were able to provide consistent leadership both on and off the court when LeBron couldn’t, wouldn’t or wasn’t able to. Hood, Clarkson, and Nance Jr. all have the young talent and bounce, but they also lack the savvy and experience of a typical LeBron cast. This is a whole different challenge that we haven't seen LeBron accomplish yet in his career. These guys are nothing like the 2 prime hall of fame versions of Wade and Bosh who LeBron joined in Miami all those years ago. These are 3 solid to good rotational players who LeBron will have to elevate to something more if he intends on competing for another ring come June. If they are to be successful, it will be because LeBron will get these younger guys to lock in on defense and relentlessly chase the Warriors smooth flowing offense. I don't worry about Hill fitting in, as he’s the constant pros’ pro and should blend in with LeBron seamlessly, but everyone else? We’ll see.
This was a great trade deadline for the Cavs, even if I think some of the deals were a little off. They got better, younger, quicker and hopefully they got a better locker room. My vote for optimism is because of one factor: These 3 dudes (Hood, Clarkson and Larry Nance) grew up watching (and to a certain extent) idolizing LeBron. With that mind set, hopefully it will allow LeBron to better lead them, and get them to the spots where he needs them on BOTH ends of the floor. LeBron is the smartest player that I’ve ever seen.
You also can’t discredit the “playoff LeBron mode” factor. Laugh at his D this year if you want, that’s probably fair and acceptable (to an extent). But go back to LeBron’s Miami years and the first two finals vs the Warriors and you’ll see a man playing possessed. When the calendar turns over to spring, I’m willing to bet he’ll have the ability to elevate his game (even on defense).
In the end, we’re talking about a LeBron James led team. The results won’t be known until playoff time. And while the new Cavs new front office didn't completely knock it out of the park at the deadline, they did a pretty good job given the circumstances. A good enough job to give LeBron a better shot of making it out of the East then they had the day before the deadline. Now it’s on LeBron. And if there’s one thing that I know, it’s that myself and the rest of the league will tune in closely to see how this chapter of LeBron’s career ends.
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