Well, that was certainly not boring.
In making three trades the day of the NBA’s trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a broken roster and turned it on its head. In doing so, Koby Altman and Co. look to save a season that was on the verge of total collapse.
Three moves were made on Thursday.
First, the Cavaliers traded Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and their 2018 1st round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
Finally, with a suddenly crowded backcourt, the team did Dwyane Wade a favor, with LeBron’s blessing, and traded him to the Miami Heat for a heavily protected second-round pick.
Well, that’s a re-made roster, isn’t it? In total, the Cavaliers cut five current rotation players from their roster (Crowder, Thomas, Wade, Frye, Rose) in exchange for four new ones in Clarkson, Nance, Hill and Hood.
How does this change the Cavs? Well, a lot. The team that was chronically undersized adds a 6’3” point guard, a 6’5” point guard and a 6’8” shooting guard. Larry Nance adds the only true power forward on the roster despite losing another true big in Channing Frye. It’s worth wondering if the team will explore the buyout market for a backup center in the coming weeks.
Defensively, this should be a major upgrade, and that says a lot more about the players going out than the ones coming in. Wade was a surprisingly helpful defender, but the current iteration of Thomas was one of the worst defensive players in league history. Derrick Rose’s lack of awareness defensively and hampered athleticism created an alternative that wasn’t much better.
Rodney Hood currently looks the part of a three-and-defense wing, but his actual instincts on that end leave a lot to be desired, though it’s hard to do much worse than J.R. Smith has done this seson.
Nance, for his part, is not a great shot-blocker, but he’s got mobile feet and can switch onto most guards. LA had a defensive rating of 103.5 with him on the court this season, which would be good for fourth in the NBA. He gets plenty of deflections and should help at the power forward spot and at a little bit of backup center as well.
Offensively, what the Cavs lose in hypothetical help (ie: dynamic playmaking from Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose off the dribble that never materialized) and actual production (Channing Frye’s spacing regularly unlocked some of Cleveland’s best lineups), they gain in actual, functional production that can be relied upon right now.
Hill is currently shooting 45 percent from three. He doesn’t turn the ball over. Hood is averaging 17 points per game while shooting 39 percent from three on 6.7 attempts per game. Nance is a capable rim runner in the pick and roll and has some ability as a passer on the short roll. Clarkson, for all of his fits and starts, makes some sense as a bench spark, especially when LeBron rests now that the Cavaliers have lost some juice off the dribble.
The upside of this newly constructed Cavs team certainly isn’t as high as what people had hoped from the Cavaliers that started the season with dreams of a healthy and MVP-caliber Isaiah Thomas and a three-and-defense terror in Jae Crowder that could unlock small-ball lineups that might be able to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors.
But the hopes of the fanbase and the team were met with harsh, biting reality. The previous roster construction didn’t work. Thomas was a shell of himself, barely playable. Crowder’s defensive rebound rate dropped by seven percent. His three-point percentage dropped by roughly the same amount. Derrick Rose strangled the offense and was a turnstile on defense.
The roster couldn’t defend, couldn’t shoot, and was too old to provide energy to make up for the gaps that their skillsets couldn’t fill. From an external view, the chemistry was a disaster. Kevin Love, a player who won the Cavaliers a championships, was called out in a team meeting for leaving a game with a migraine by two players who had been with the team for less than 50 games.
Ultimately, a culture reset had to happen. Koby Altman had a limited cupboard to work with, and while it’s fair to wonder if they really needed to include a first-round pick to absorb Jordan Clarkson’s contract, it’s hard to be too nitpicky. There’s no guarantee this will work. Each player acquired has warts, whether it’s Hill’s age, Hood’s defense, Nance’s shooting or Clarkson’s inconsistency from game-to-game.
Something had to be done though. This team, if nothing else, makes sense, and they excised the worst performing parts of the roster in the process.
Continuity will be a challenge. Nothing is “fixed” until it actually shows on the court. But the Cavaliers bit the bullet, and acknowledged that a paradigm shift had to be made.
Only time will tell if they made the right call.