Over the past couple of years, the NBA trade deadline has proven to be one of the most eventful and dramatic portions of the NBA regular season. Just last year, DeMarcus Cousins, one of the top-three big men in the NBA, was moved to the New Orleans Pelicans; and players like Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, Serge Ibaka and countless others have been moved to teams looking to make an improvement before the NBA playoffs.
While there were many moves before the 2018 deadline, most did not move the needle much in the NBA title race. The Pistons, Clippers, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Suns and others made notable moves, but anything these teams could have done likely would not have vaulted them into the territory occupied by elite teams like the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Cavaliers and Celtics.
The most notable deals at this trade deadline were instead made by a team within that elite group of five: the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a very disappointing month, headlined by dysfunctional locker rooms and injuries to key players, Cavs’ GM Koby Altman managed a flurry of moves that both increased the chances for the Cavs to win a title in 2018 and provided the first glimpse of a backup plan if LeBron James chooses to leave in free agency this offseason. In the matter of little over an hour, Altman gave his best effort toward fixing Cleveland’s present and future.
Deal 1: CLE Acquires: Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson from LAL for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and CLE 2018 First Round Pick – 12:10 PM
This move was the riskiest for the Cavs out of their several deals. Thomas is only months removed from an MVP-caliber season where he averaged 28 points per game and, while he struggled in his first 15 games as a Cavalier, he should still be regarded as a top point guard in the NBA until his hip has fully healed. Additionally, Frye was an essential role player for Cleveland. As a 6’11” three-point shooter, he provided necessary spacing for the Cavs’ offense.
However, Thomas and Frye were defensive liabilities on a team that could hardly afford to give meaningful minutes to players who were not contributing on the defensive front. When you factor in Thomas’ impending free agency this offseason and Frye’s sizable cap hit for his limited services, the move makes sense as a way for the Cavs to secure both present and long-term security.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Larry Nance will provide an upgrade defensively over Frye and, although he is not as strong of a shooter, Nance is an elite finisher at the rim and much younger and controllable in the future for the Cavaliers. At 25 years old as well, Clarkson also provides a necessary influx of youth, but this is somewhat offset by his 4 year/$50 million contract he signed two years ago.
Since signing the contract, Clarkson has been accused of playing uninspired basketball for the Lakers and has seen his shooting numbers regress across the board since his stand-out sophomore season. Although his defensive metrics don’t grade out much better than Thomas’, Clarkson still has decent size for a point guard and may see an uptick in his performance as Cavalier. Clarkson was thrust into a role that outweighed his skill level in Los Angeles, and he will ideally be asked to do much less in Cleveland. If Clarkson can comfortably step into a role as a scoring-first sixth-man, there is chance that he could be the best player in this deal.
CLE acquires: George Hill and Rodney Hood, UTAH acquires: Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose, SAC acquires: Joe Johnson, Iman Shumpert and Miami 2020 2nd round pick (from CLE) – 12:58 PM
This trade is the move that should secure Koby Altman a warm spot in all Cavs fans’ hearts. George Hill, the first portion of this deal, is a staunch defender who is among the league leaders in three-point field goal percentage in 2018. Rodney Hood, a young wing who was in the middle of a breakout year for Utah, is also an above average defender and is hitting threes at a career-high rate as well.
While Hill’s 4-year, $80 million contract will push the Cavs further over the luxury tax threshold, his contributions to their defensive unit should be worth every penny. Hill has a decent amount of playoff experience as well as a knack for providing strong playmaking skills without the need to be the alpha dog in the locker room (looking at you, Kyrie and IT).
Also, although Rodney Hood is less experienced than Hill, he will more than likely be the most important addition by the Cavaliers in this deal. Only 25 years old, Hood is in the midst of a career-best year in both scoring (16.8 PPG) and three-point percentage (38.9 percent), all while operating in the Utah Jazz’s slowed-down, methodical offense. In Cleveland, Hood should be able to carve out a role as a player who provides plus-defense on one end while knocking down shots at an above-average rate on the other — a role Crowder and Shumpert were brought in to fill, but failed to perform.
CLE acquires: “lightly-protected” 2nd round pick from Miami for Dwyane Wade – 1:06 PM
This is a deal that is worth more in what it means figuratively than what it means literally. Wade is one of LeBron’s best friends and, while Heat fans will rejoice in seeing their franchise hero come back to Miami, Cleveland fans should breathe a sigh of relief as Wade’s presence exits the Cavs’ locker room.
Wade is undeniably one of the best shooting guards in NBA history, but in 2018 he was simply taking too many shots and playing too large of a role in the Cavs’ offense for the level at which he was playing.
The 2018 version of Dwyane Wade is not the same slashing, ferocious dunker who carried the Heat to an NBA title in 2006 and lured LeBron to South Beach in 2010. Instead, Wade was chucking mid-range shots at a below league average rate and getting burned on defense by players who grew up watching his highlights in elementary school. In all honesty, the Cavs were probably lucky to receive anything in return for Wade’s services.
In total, these moves signify a shift in the Cavs’ culture from one that existed only to appease LeBron to one that is directed toward a vision of sustainable success. The most important facet of these trades is the fact that Cleveland was able to retain their 2018 first round pick from the Brooklyn Nets — a pick that should fall between five and 10 in the upcoming draft.
All in all, the Cavs should be applauded for their moves before the trade deadline. In the best case scenario, they have created a team with enough shooting and defense to assist LeBron in another run for the title and, in the worst, they have created a foundation strong enough to sustain the massive blow of losing him again in free agency. Here’s to looking forward to what should undoubtedly be an entertaining 2018 NBA playoffs race.
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