The Cleveland Cavaliers had a quiet trade deadline, and no one around the team was surprised. General Manager David Griffin spoke for everyone with the organization when he said, near the beginning of his post-deadline press conference, “We’re really excited. We like our team.”
Head Coach Tyronn Lue backed him up after the game, saying “We got what we got. I got that from Larry Hughes. We got what we got. And I like what we have.”
The team isn’t perfect, of course. They are dealing with injuries and roster deficiencies. The Golden State Warriors loom large on the other side of the country, also spending a quiet day, knowing that Kevin Durant was the big move. But as Griffin later said, “Nothing other teams do drives what we do.”
The reasons for optimism were all over the place at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. The Boston Celtics chose not to cash in their chips for Jimmy Butler or Paul George. J.R. Smith put up shots on the court in a brief workout before the start of the game. Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut both found themselves waived, and both fill holes that still exist for the Cavs. When Griffin was asked about Larry Sanders, his praise was firm but measured. He noted that Sanders would bring rim protection, but that there might be other options now that the dust was settling. We will find out if Bogut was the man he referenced.
But the biggest reason for optimism is the play of LeBron James. He’s put himself back in the MVP discussion with a monster month of basketball. Coming into Thursday night’s game, James’ numbers dating back to January 19th involved a 67% true shooting rate with a 43.9% assist rate. In that 15 game stretch he had been averaging 26.4 points per game with 7.7 rebounds and 10.5 assists. All he did vs. the Knicks was put in 18 points, hand out 15 assists, and grab 13 rebounds while blocking three shots. He was everywhere in 37 minutes, and the Cavs notched their 40th win of the season.
It wasn’t that long ago when the Cavs were struggling to find second units that LeBron could lift up. Derrick Williams and Kyle Korver, midseason pickups before the trade deadline, have stepped up and made shots around James. The team could still use a Matthew Dellavedova type player, and perhaps a bit more defense than Channing Frye can provide. Enter Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut?
There was talk around the league that the Celtics might make a move to challenge a Cavaliers team that faced uncertainty over Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. They chose not to do that, and James continuing to play around his peak might be the strongest defense they can put together. The Cavs will continue to improve the roster, but this was a relaxed team on one of the least relaxing days of the NBA year. When you have LeBron, why not?