The 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
The 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
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
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
2018 NBA Champion Futures
Golden State -230
Oklahoma City +2500
San Antonio +3000
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.