Cavs Dismantle Celtics – Look Like East Favorites Again

cavs-celtics-februaryThe Cleveland Cavaliers’ chances of repeating as Eastern Conference champions looked dismal leading up to the Feb 8 trade deadline. After all, the team was playing terrible defense and had lost 7 of their last 20 games. But a few trades and one blowout victory over the Boston Celtics later, and Cleveland looks like favorites once again.

The Cavs crushed the Celtics 121-99 on the road, sending a clear message that nobody should doubt them right now in their quest for a fourth-straight conference title.

Their new lineup, including George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson, combined for 49 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists in this blowout victory. For the first time in 2018, Cleveland looked youthful and energetic.

New Teammates are Exactly what LeBron Needed

LeBron doesn’t need to play with a bunch of superstars. Instead, he simply needs good teammates who have certain skills.

For example, George Hill may not be an All-Star like Isaiah Thomas. But he is a solid point guard who nails open three-pointers and has plenty of experience leading successful playoff teams. Just four years ago, he served as point guard for Indiana’s back-to-back conference championship appearances.

cavs-celtics-february-1Nance isn’t a modern big man who can make shots from beyond the arc. But he’s an athletic forward/center who can defend the pick and roll better than any Cleveland center in recent memory.

Hood was a very strong player at Duke, averaging 16 PPG and shooting 42% from three-point range. He’s carried this on into the pros, where, in 39 games with Utah, he was averaging 16 PPG and shooting 39% from three-point range.

The Lakers never truly committed to Clarkson being a part of their future. After all, he’s not an All-Star caliber point guard. But Clarkson is a good shooter with a nice all-around game who can play both guard positions.

The fact that Cleveland got all four of these players for Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, and cash is a major steal.

Cavs Have a Different Feeling

All reports indicate that Cleveland suddenly has a different feeling inside of their locker room. Something needed to change, given that GM Koby Altman described the previous scene as a “slow death march.” And Altman didn’t just make a few minor changes on the bench – he completely revamped the lineup.

cavs-vs-celticsNow, it feels like Cleveland has a different level of talent and energy on the floor. This was completely evident against the Celtics, in a game that was never close in the second half.

“I thought our spirit was different,” said head coach Tyronn Lue. “I didn’t know what the outcome would be. But I knew we would compete and play hard. Move the basketball and move bodies. Those guys are flying around and it was good to see.”

Lue is also happy to see how excited the new faces are about competing for a conference title and possibly a championship.

“I know the guys that’s here, they’re very excited about this opportunity, and it’s my job to keep them excited about being here,” he explained.

“They’re joining something that obviously the last couple months hasn’t been what we expected, but over the course of the last four years, since I came back, has been really good basketball.

“So it’s my job as the leader of this team to make sure that I acclimate the new four guys to be around a culture that’s built on winning and practicing championship habits. That’s it.”

No Guarantees in the NBA

The battle for the Eastern Conference title is shaping up to be a tough one. Boston added new pieces that make them a serious threat. Toronto is a strong team that’s been to the playoffs several years in a row. And Milwaukee suddenly looks revamped after firing Jason Kidd.

As for Cleveland, this blowout win over Boston doesn’t guarantee anything. Hill could start playing older over the next few weeks. And Clarkson, Nance, and Hood may find it difficult to make clutch plays when a conference title and championship are on the line.

Nevertheless, this team feels different in a better way from the old roster – half of which was traded away. The previous players were part of a squad that was beaten by Boston at TD Garden just last month. But the Celtics game may have just reasserted Cleveland’s dominance over the East again.

2018 Cavs Futures at GTBets (Updated Feb 12)

Odds to Win Eastern Conference

Cleveland +125
Boston +200
Toronto +375
Milwaukee +1400
Washington +1800
Miami +4000
Indiana +5000

Odds to Win NBA Championship

Golden State -230
Houston +475
Cleveland +750
Boston +800
Oklahoma City +2500
Toronto +2500
San Antonio +3000
Milwaukee +5000
Minnesota +6000

Nothing has really changed in our 2018 futures following the Cavs’ win over the Celtics. That said, Cleveland may be offering even more value in the East odds after blowing Boston out.

If you can jump on these same odds before they (possibly) shift, then I recommend that you do so.

As for the championship odds, we need a larger sample size with this new lineup before declaring that the Cavs are a bigger title favorite than Houston or Golden State.

Spurs: Best Bet to Beat the Golden State Warriors?

Last season, it felt like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs were shaking up to be a great long-term rivalry. Unfortunately, Spurs star Kawhi Leonard got injured in the Western Conference Finals, allowing Golden State to sweep them.

This season feels different, though, because the Warriors (43-13) return everybody from a team that went 16-1 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, San Antonio (35-22) has experienced a little bit of turmoil.

Nevertheless, it feels like the Spurs are being overlooked as a team that could potentially dethrone Golden State. This is especially the case after they lost 122-105 this weekend against their rivals.

But then again, we also have to account for the fact that the Spurs are playing without Leonard, starting point guard Dejounte Murray, and franchise stalwart Tony Parker.

And given the Spurs’ system, they must be given credit for being a threat to the Warriors. That said, let’s discuss why San Antonio should still be considered a team that could topple the Warriors’ dynasty.

San Antonio doesn’t Make Mistakes

Golden State is well known for going on big runs that crush their opponents. Such was the case against the Spurs in the third quarter of the recent game.

But the difference between the Warriors’ run in this case, versus against other teams, is that San Antonio was merely missing key players – not making blunders.

Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised San Antonio for their lack of mistakes and great execution.

“They just execute all game,” said Kerr. “They just don’t make many mistakes. Every cut is a hard cut. Every time they catch the ball, they’re in an attack mode, and so they’re constantly putting pressure on you.

“They are who they are. You know what’s coming, but you know they’re gonna stay consistent, and here they are in third place in the West without Kawhi all year.”

San Antonio’s execution was in full force on Saturday. They dished out 30 assists compared to just 10 turnovers, good for a 3:1 ratio.

“No matter who’s out of the lineup, who’s in the lineup, they just never get away from who they are,” Warriors forward Draymond Green explained.

“They always defend. They don’t beat themselves. You have to beat them. When you make mistakes, they make you pay — and that’s no matter who they have in the lineup, which makes a difference, and it makes them tough.”

The Spurs Capitalize on Mistakes, which should Scare Golden State

gregg-popovich-lebronGreat football teams are able to turn opponents’ turnovers into offense. Such is the case with the Spurs too, who make opposing teams pay for mistakes.

“When you make mistakes, they make you pay,” said Green.

This is more than just a general statement from Green. It also describes a potential worry for the Warriors if they meet a healthy San Antonio in the payoffs.

Kerr’s biggest gripe with his team in past years has been their tendency to bunch turnovers. In fact, this is usually the only way that other teams stand a chance of beating the highly talented Warriors.

Golden State plays a fast-paced game that requires quick decisions in passing. And this style has them turning the ball over at a rapid rate of 16 per game, which is second-worst in the league.

This isn’t a new issue for the Warriors either, because they ranked 11th out of 16th among 2017 playoff teams in turnovers per game.

Imagine a scenario where Golden State can’t clean up their turnovers by this year’s postseason, and they run into the Spurs. San Antonio may not have as many superstars as the Warriors, but they can make up for this by punishing Golden State for their mistakes.

San Antonio is Good at Adapting

The toughest thing about playing the Warriors is how many different looks they can throw at opponents. This creates a situation where opposing teams have trouble defending the various lineups that Golden State trots out.

But one team that can deal with this is San Antonio. Their roster and team philosophy is predicated on being able to adapt to whatever opponents throw out. Warriors forward David West, who played for San Antonio from 2015-16, discussed this aspect of the Spurs.

“It’s a high-information environment, in terms of basketball stuff, life stuff,” West explained. “It’s a very tight-knit organization and group of people.”

This tight-knit group has earned praise from Kerr, who’s called San Antonio the best basketball franchise for the past 20 years. And much of this can be attributed to coach Gregg Popovich, who’s won 5 NBA championships during this span.

Kawhi Leonard Has to be Healthy

kawhi-leonardSan Antonio has a very effective “next man up” philosophy that calls on everybody to step up when needed. This has helped San Antonio stay within striking distance in the standings, despite their best player been out with a long-term quad injury.

But everything we’ve covered up to this point has little bearing on the Spurs beating Golden State if Leonard can’t play.

The main problem here is that Leonard provides the type of scoring power San Antonio needs to hang with the Warriors. As shown in last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Spurs just don’t have the firepower to keep up when Leonard isn’t playing.

As it stands now, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder are drawing the most attention as far as contenders in the West. But even these two talent-laden teams could have trouble stopping Golden State from making their fourth-straight appearance in the NBA Finals.

That said, perhaps it’s the Spurs who had the best chance to win based on their discipline and adaptability. But again, the only chance they have in the playoffs is if their team is healthy.

2018 Spurs Futures – Courtesy of GTBets

Odds to Win 2018 Western Conference Title

  • Golden State -325
  • Houston +375
  • Oklahoma City +1400
  • San Antonio +1400
  • Minnesota +2500
  • Portland +10000
  • Denver +15000

Odds to Win 2018 NBA Championship

  • Golden State -230
  • Houston +475
  • Cleveland +750
  • Boston +800
  • Oklahoma City +2500
  • Toronto +2500
  • San Antonio +3000
  • Milwaukee +5000
  • Minnesota +6000

Taking everything into account, San Antonio may currently be a value bet to win both the West and NBA title. They’re undervalued right now, because Leonard has been injured for weeks. But if he gets healthy in time for the playoffs, then San Antonio becomes a legitimate threat.

Can Dwyane Wade Help Miami Make the 2018 Playoffs?

dwyane-wade-heat-2018The Cleveland Cavaliers recently sent shooting guard Dwayne Wade to the Miami Heat in a trade deadline deal. The Cavs only received a heavily protected second-round pick in return.

Many believe that this deal was done as a favor to Wade, because Cleveland picked up three guards at the deadline. And it’s likely that Wade’s minutes would’ve been squeezed by these younger players.

The 36-year-old didn’t fit into Cleveland’s plans to get younger and more athletic. But he’s happy to be back in Miami, where he’s now spent 14 of his 15 professional seasons.

The Heat can really use Wade’s services right now as well. The team lost Dion Waiters to ankle surgery in late January. Waiters was having a solid season, averaging 14.3 PPG and 3.8 APG before being shut down for the year.

The team also has Wayne Ellington (11.2 PPG) playing backup two-guard. But they don’t have any depth at this position beyond Ellington.

Given that Miami (30-26) is currently sitting in seventh in the Eastern Conference, they’re a serious contender to make the playoffs. But nothing is a given right now, with the Philadelphia 76ers (28-25) and Detroit Pistons (27-27) also hunting for a postseason berth.

That said, let’s discuss if Wade furthers the team’s goals of making the playoffs, or if this is his last ride into the sunset of a Hall of Fame career.

Wade Brings Energy to Debut

Wade played his first game for Miami on Friday night. The 15-year veteran came off the bench amid chants of “We want Wade!” His first play involved getting a defensive rebound, then assisting to Hassan Whiteside’s dunk.

dwyane-wade-heat-2018-2Nobody will describe Wade’s first performance back in town as efficient. He contributed 3 points, 2 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 22 minutes. But he did help them beat the Milwaukee Bucks 91-85.

“Great energy in the building,” Wade told ESPN. “When I went out to warm up, it was definitely a playoff atmosphere. The crowd was amazing. I missed this crowd.”

Whiteside also felt like the game against the Bucks had a different energy than a normal regular season contest.

“It felt like a playoff game,” said Whiteside, who grabbed 16 rebounds and scored 12 points. “The fans were in an uproar. It felt like a playoff game, and Miami was just rocking. It hadn’t felt like that in a while here.”

Wade is the Heat’s all-time leader in points, assists, steals, and games played. So it’s no wonder why Miami fans are excited to see him back in town.

He left the team for free agency after signing a big deal in Chicago. He then agreed to a buyout with the Bulls, before signing with Cleveland in the offseason. Now he’s back at the place where it all started.

Heat Coach Surprised to Have Wade Back

Head coach Eric Spoelstra has spent plenty of time with Wade, having coached him for years. And he was surprised when Miami president Pat Riley floated the possibility of bringing the 12-time All-Star back.

Riley mentioned how they could acquire both Luke Babbit and Dwayne. And the coach was actually puzzled at the latter mention.

“What?” asked Spoelstra. “Dwyane who?”

Riley continued to tell him that Wade could soon be available, given that Cleveland was planning to make some major moves.

“My only response was, ‘Let’s go, let’s do it.’ But it was probably not something any of us foresaw two weeks ago,” said Spoelstra. “Crazy things happen in this league, so it just absolutely felt like perfect timing for both parties, and it was actually surreal how quickly it came about.”

Wade Happy to be Back

Although Wade was playing on a contending team in Cleveland, his heart never left Miami. He was ecstatic to return home in the recent deal.

dwyane-wade-heat-2018-1“I was telling [head coach] Spo after the game that I actually felt normal,” Wade explained. “He said he felt a little weird seeing me on the bench to start the game, but I actually felt normal. Once the game starts, it becomes a game and you get into it.”

Spoelstra liked what he saw from both Wade and the fans on Friday.

“Obviously it was special to have Dwyane back in uniform, back on our side in front of the home fans,” Spoelstra remarked. “It felt exactly the way it should. It felt normal. It felt like home. It felt like family. It felt all the things you came to expect with Dwyane.”

What Impact will Dwyane Wade Have for the 2018 Heat?

Wade is currently averaging a career-low in points (11.0) and minutes (23.2). He’s certainly not the same player he used to be. But even at 36, with 15 seasons’ worth of mileage, Wade is still a contributor who can serve as a serious offensive threat.

The Heat need more help at shooting guard with Waiters done for the season. And Wade comes back to his old team at the perfect time.

Nobody is expecting Wade and the Heat to suddenly go on a major hot streak. But he can at least help them secure a lower playoff seed.

Perhaps if everything goes right, Miami can move up in the East standings. They’re one game back of the 6th-seeded Indiana Pacers (31-25), and 1.5 games back of the 5th-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (31-24).

2018 Miami Heat Futures

According to our GTBets sportsbook, Miami currently has the 6th-best odds of winning the Eastern Conference championship. You can take a look at their odds of winning the East below:

  • Cleveland +125
  • Boston +200
  • Toronto +375
  • Milwaukee +1400
  • Washington +1800
  • Miami +4000
  • Indiana +5000

There’s a big gap in odds between the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat. And this doesn’t figure to close any time soon, unless Miami can overtake the Wizards in the standings by a comfortable margin.

With 29 games left in the season, anything is possible. Assuming Wade really helps the Heat, maybe we’ll see them move up as high as 4th in the standings, which would give them home-court for a first-round playoff series.

Kristaps Porzingis Out 10 Months w/ ACL Surgery – Knicks Season Officially Over

kristaps-porzingis-injuryNew York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis saw his 2018 campaign come to a disappointing end after tearing his ACL last week. The forward/center is now set to have surgery on Tuesday, which will officially end his season.

According to ESPN, Porzingis will be out for 10 months. This includes both the recovery from the surgery along with rehabilitation afterward.

The Latvian tore his left ACL last Tuesday in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Porzingis went up for a dunk and came down awkwardly.

“He’s of course really sad because he wanted to be out there so bad with us,” said teammate Enes Kanter. “But I think at the same time he’s staying really positive. Like, ‘Man I just want to get my surgery done early so I can just start getting my rehab and I can come back and play.’ I think he’s going to come back even stronger because he’s really hungry.”

Let’s continue discussing how devastating this injury is for Porzingis along with how it translates into another lost season for the Knicks.

Porzingis’ First All-Star Campaign Ends Badly

kristaps-porzingis-injury-2The fact that Kristaps Porzingis hurt himself this year is definitely saddening for a guy who’s come into his own. The 7’3″ big man is averaging 22.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.4 blocks, and shooting 39.5% from the three-point line.

Given these numbers, it’s no surprise why Porzingis earned his first All-Star nod in three seasons. And he was coming along nicely as the new focal point of New York’s offense.

But now Porzingis is forced to have his stellar year cut shot due to a serious injury. And the ACL tear isn’t just impacting this season, but will also have an effect in the 2018-19 campaign too.

First off, he won’t have the summer to continue working on his game and improving. Instead, Porzingis will be sidelined until next December according to the current time line.

This puts Porzingis on the court over 20 games into the next season. While this still gives him plenty of time to get into the swing of things, the Knicks will have difficulty staying competitive without him.

Is there Any Good to Come Out of Porzingis’ Injury?

kristaps-porzingis-injury-1The only good thing to come from this injury is that New York may improve their positioning in the draft lottery. The team is currently 23-33 and sits 6 games out of a playoff spot.

Considering that Porzingis won’t take the court for the final 29 games, we can almost guarantee that the Knicks will miss the postseason. The only question now is if they’ll do poorly enough to continue falling in the East standings and adding more ping-pong balls for the lottery.

Ideally, New York will land a top 5-10 pick that they can pair with Porzingis and the rest of the young core. Assuming that Porzingis had continued playing, this wouldn’t be possible because New York might win some more games and actually compete for a playoff spot.

Right now, the team is four games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks, who have the worst record in the league at 17-39. The Dallas Mavericks have the second-worst record at 17-38.

What’s Left for the Knicks with Porizingis Out?

knicks-rookieAs explained above, it’s highly unlikely that New York will get anywhere near the playoffs without their star player. Even if Porzingis were playing, it’s still unlikely that they’d bridge the 6-game gap between themselves and the Philadelphia 76ers (currently 8th in East).

Right now, the best thing that head coach Jeff Hornacek and the team can do is build for the future. They have several other young players besides Porzingis who could help form a valuable team next season and beyond.

10 of the 15 players on the active roster are 25 or younger. This includes Tim Hardaway Jr (25), Trey Burke (25), Enes Kanter (25), and Frank Ntilikina (19).

Kanter is definitely having a productive season, with 14.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, and shooting over 60% from the field. Hardaway isn’t shooting the ball very well (40.5%), but he is averaging a career-high in points (16.4).

Burke, who recently signed with the team, is off to a hot start, averaging 8.5 PPG and shooting nearly 55% in just 14 minutes per game. Ntilikina, who was the seventh-overall pick in last year’s draft, is having rookie struggles with 35.2% shooting. But at 19 years old, he has plenty of time to develop.

The team also recently traded for point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who was previously on the Denver Nuggets. New York sent Doug McDermott to the Mavericks and the L.A. Clippers’ 2020 second-round pick to the Denver Nuggets in a three-team swap.

It’s unclear exactly how Mudiay fits into the Knicks’ future plans, especially since they already have Burke and Ntilikina at the same position. But this gives New York three former top-10 picks that’ll be battling for minutes at lead guard.

Considering that the team isn’t going anywhere in 2018, they have plenty of minutes to give younger players in hopes of forming a successful foundation. And maybe when Porzingis returns to the court next season, the team will be able to compete for the playoffs.

Celtics Futures: Boston Stays Put During 2018 Trade Deadline

celtics-aingeThe Boston Celtics already did a lot to improve their team in the offseason, including trading for star point guard Kyrie Irving. Perhaps this is why GM Danny Ainge didn’t feel pressured to make any big moves on Thursday’s trade deadline.

Boston stayed put despite the fact that Eastern Conference rival Cleveland made three trades that involved swapping six players for four new faces. The Celtics, meanwhile, only signed free-agent center Greg Monroe to fill out their last roster spot.

Another reason why Boston is comfortable right now is because they currently hold a 7.5-game lead over the Cavaliers, who bounced them from the conference finals last season. Boston (40-17) is in second place in the East, and they sit just a half game back of the Toronto Raptors (38-16).

Ainge Happy with the Current Roster

The fact that Cleveland made three deals at the Feb. 8 trade deadline wasn’t lost on Ainge. However, he wasn’t exactly dwelling on the moves either.

“We’d gotten a little bit of wind that they were making some big changes but without knowing the details of it,” Ainge told ESPN. “But, listen, we have our own problems to worry about and we’re just taking care of the Boston Celtics.”

kyrie-irving-celticsIn the end, Ainge felt like the Celtics roster is really good, and they don’t need to make any drastic moves right now.

“There was an idea that we didn’t need to do anything. We really liked this group of guys and, obviously, they have been having success,” he explained.

“We have a really good core young group of guys too, along with [All-Star big man] Al [Horford]. We don’t really want to make a mess out of that but, at the same time, you just never know when good players could become available. We had to kick the tires, but we didn’t feel the need to do much.”

Busy Summer Negates the Need for Major Trades

The Celtics felt like they needed some major upgrades after being handled in the conference finals by the Cavs. They returned just four players from last season’s squad in an attempt to change their fortunes in the 2017-18 campaign.

The biggest move involved acquiring Irving from Cleveland in exchange for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick.

gordon-hayward-celticsThey also signed free-agent forward Gordon Hayward to a deal. Unfortunately, Hayward broke his ankle in the first game of the season.

Many wondered how this year’s unit would come together, especially since Boston underwent such a makeover. They also dealt a player in Thomas who earned second-team All-NBA honors.

Thomas, who caused some drama in Cleveland, was dealt to the LA Lakers at the deadline. And he wasn’t exactly happy that Boston dealt him to the Cavs.

In hindsight, Boston’s decision to deal for Irving seems like a great decision now. And they’re considered to be favorites in the East by some.

Monroe should Help Boston’s Late Season Push

The Celtics already have Aron Baynes starting at center. But they acquired another starting-caliber big man in Monroe for relatively cheap. Monroe was able to negotiate a buyout with the Phoenix Suns in early February. Now, he’s going to be on a roster that’s already loaded with talent.

greg-monroe-celtics“Greg brings some experience, low-post play, and he’s a terrific passer from the perimeter,” said Ainge. “[Coach] Brad [Stevens] likes to run his offense through bigs out on the perimeter a lot, so that could be helpful, and he’s been a good rebounder.”

Monroe will compete with Baynes and backup center Daniel Theis for minutes. He’s no doubt set for some kind of role, thanks to his rebounding and low-post abilities.

Celtics will be Active on the Buyout Market

While we didn’t see any major trades from Boston, they do have plans to keep looking for solid veterans on the buyout market.

“We’ll look and see who’s bought out,” Ainge explained. “I don’t think there’s a big hole for us, so we’ll look for a good player who’s better than what we have.”

Most of the team’s deep bench players consist of inexperienced rookies. And Boston could use a little more scoring punch off their bench. This is why some expected them to go after Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans.

marcus-smart-celtics-cavsCertain fans felt like the Celtics should’ve use draft picks to go after Evans more aggressively. But Ainge didn’t feel comfortable giving up picks who could eventually become contributing players.

“I know what we think of them. Teams are appreciating the value of first-round picks,” said Ainge. “It’s easy to justify their value away because if you have a pick in the 20s, it has a 10 percent chance of being a rotation player.

“But people are understanding the value of those players and roster building. Most of the good teams around [the league] have players from the middle of the first and second round that are contributing.”

2018 Celtics Futures After Trade Deadline

Considering that Boston was quiet during the trade deadline, their 2018 futures didn’t improve.

In fact, they’re still behind Cleveland on our GTBets futures market, despite being several games ahead of them in the standings. Here’s a look at the top contending teams in the East right now.

2018 NBA Eastern Conference Champion Futures

Cleveland +125
Boston +200
Toronto +375
Milwaukee +1400
Washington +1800
Miami +4000
Indiana +5000

Much of the current futures are based on what LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have done in past seasons. That said, Boston may have to go through LeBron to win the conference, especially since the Cavs have won the East three straight seasons.

Cavs Futures: Title Chances Better After 2018 Trade Deadline?

cavs-2018-trade-deadlineThe Cleveland Cavaliers have been struggling for the past few weeks, especially with regard to their defense. And while the team has a 32-22 record, it’s pretty clear that they’re not living up to the expectations they’ve created over the past few seasons.

That said, it felt like something needed to change. And Cavs GM Koby Altman did more than change something – he traded away half the roster for new players.

Altman’s idea is to make Cleveland younger, faster, and bigger on the perimeter – all three things that they were not before the trade deadline.

Are the Cavs better following these wholesale changes? Let’s discuss the matter below by looking at both the good and bad behind these trades, along with updated 2018 Cavs futures.

What Trades did the Cavs Make at the 2018 Deadline?

Altman and team owner Dan Gilbert deserve some credit for taking big risks at the trade deadline. They dealt a lot of veterans and assets for younger players who must be integrated into the lineup with less than 30 games left.

Here’s a recap of the trades:

  • Trade #1 – Cavs sent Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and 2018 first-round pick (top-three protected) to the Lakers for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson.
  • Trade #2 (three-way deal) – Cleveland receives George Hill and Rodney Hood; Utah receives Derrick Rose (waived) and Jae Crowder; Sacramento receives Joe Johnson (possible buyout), Iman Shumpert, and a 2020 second-round pick.
  • Trade #3 – Cavs send Dwyane Wade to the Miami Heat for a heavily protected second-round pick.

The last trade was done as a favor to Wade, who would’ve seen far fewer minutes with the new perimeter players coming in. Plus, the Heat need a shooting guard after Dion Waiters’ late January surgery. And Wade gets to finish his Hall of Fame career with his favorite team.

What Good Came Out of Cleveland’s Trades?

Cleveland Gets Younger and More Athletic

jordan-clarkson-lakersThe big reason why Cleveland was so terrible at defense is because they had the league’s oldest roster. They also had several rotation players who didn’t make their names through playing great defense.

LeBron has once again done everything he can so far. But it was clear that there were too many holes on defense. The incoming crowd doesn’t include a crop of All-Stars, but they’re clearly upgrades.

Clarkson is a solid point guard who has more all-around ability than Rose and Thomas. Hill, when healthy, is a strong defensive player who can shoot fairly well.

Rodney Hood, who’s averaging 16.8 PPG and shooting 39% from three-point range, was losing minutes to star rookie Donovan Mitchell. But he’ll have no trouble starting for Cleveland and provides more of an outside shooting threat than Wade.

Larry Nance Jr. brings the type of athleticism off the bench that Cleveland has sorely missed. He can also look forward to some nice alley-oops from LeBron.

The Defense will at Least be Average

There’s nowhere to go but up in terms of defense. And this is exactly what will happen now that Cleveland has ditched ancient veterans in favor of guys in their early and mid-20s.

The Cavs have length on the perimeter now after adding Hill (7-foot wingspan), Clarkson (6’5″), and Hood (6’7″). This will help greatly, given that the 5’9″ Thomas had defensive deficiencies that just couldn’t be covered with effort alone.

Nance is also going to be a big help to this defense. The 6’9″ big man can defend screen-and-rolls better than any Cleveland center in recent memory.

Maybe the new players won’t suddenly put the Cavs in Golden State’s range defensively. But if they can become at least average, it’s better than 29th overall.

The Locker Room Becomes Less Toxic

You’d think that a locker room full of veterans would be a good thing. But Cleveland’s situation was a mess, rife with accusations that Kevin Love faked a sickness, the growing feeling that Thomas didn’t fit in with the team, and Rose’s mysterious disappearance at one point.

But with a fresh set of players coming in, the team can start over and build better locker and chemistry.

The Cavs Have 2 Open Roster Spots

Cleveland has two new open spots, which they can use to add veterans from the buyout market.

Joe Johnson will be an obvious target if his buyout goes through as planned. The team is also thinking of adding Kendrick Perkins – a LeBron favorite – who would provide a good locker room presence.

How do These Trades Potentially Hurt the Cavs?

Trades Throw Cleveland into More Uncertainty

larry-nance-jr-cavsMost agree that Cleveland gave themselves a chance down the stretch with the trades. Nevertheless, a contending team trading half their roster over halfway through the season is unprecedented.

The new faces don’t have an entire training camp and 82-game schedule to get acclimated with each other. Instead, they’re going to have to learn on the fly.

And given that Cleveland doesn’t practice much, these young players have a tall task ahead of them. Players like Clarkson and Nance, who’ve only known losing pro teams, are now going to be asked to help Cleveland make it though the East.

Gilbert Has an Even Bigger Bill to Front

Gilbert has been labeled as cheap in the past. But nobody can call him this right now, after taking on a large amount of additional contract money.

Cleveland currently has $110 million on the books for next season, with a salary cap set at $101 million. This leaves them with some very difficult decisions after the season is over.

An obvious goal will be to re-sign LeBron James. They’ll also want to work out a deal with Hood, who can be their shooting guard of the future.

Clarkson has a fairly large contract ($12.5 per season) for his current production value. And Hill is guaranteed $19.5 million next season if the exercises his option.

None of This Guarantees that LeBron will Return

Prior to Altman’s trades, it seemed that there was no chance LeBron would be in a Cleveland uniform next season. After the deadline, it now seems that there’s at least a remote possibility. This is especially the case if the Cavs show enough to LeBron that they can be a serious contender now and in the future.

James told ESPN that he likes the new pieces.

“I think we became a younger team, more athletic. We added some more shooting as well. So, we’ll have to see how it meshes,” said James. “I like the pieces that we have coming in.”

But are these new players going to be enough to keep LeBron around? Perhaps not even James himself knows the answer now.

Furthermore, Cleveland may have just helped the Lakers’ odds of landing LeBron in the summer. After all, L.A. needed to clear cap space if they want to sign LeBron and Paul George. Now they have the chance to do it, with an estimated $60+ million in cap space come free agency time.

It’s very possible that James could give his current team one more season, knowing that L.A. can still keep cap space for 2019. But having LeBron in Cleveland next season is still far from settled.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2018 Futures After Trades

LeBron sounds optimistic about his team improving after the latest deals.

“It’s my job to get these guys integrated as fast as possible,” James explained. “I know the coaching staff and [coach] T Lue is going to do it as well, but it’s my job to get these guys on the same page with us where we want to accomplish what we want to do.

“I look forward to getting them here. … All four of them are pretty smart guys, and it should be fun.”

At the time of this news, Cleveland’s futures have been upgraded for both winning the East and the NBA Championship. Here’s a look at both sets of odds from GTBets.eu:

2018 NBA Eastern Conference Champion Futures

Cleveland +125
Boston +200
Toronto +375
Milwaukee +1400
Washington +1800
Miami +4000
Indiana +5000

2018 NBA Champion Futures

Golden State -230
Houston +475
Cleveland +750
Boston +800
Oklahoma City +2500
Toronto +2500
San Antonio +3000
Milwaukee +5000
Minnesota +6000

Even with Boston playing well right now, our sportsbook is still pinning LeBron as a favorite. And with a cast of new players, it’ll be interesting to see if James and the Cavs can win the East for a fourth straight season.