Wasn’t it only yesterday when the Cleveland Cavaliers were parading through downtown, celebrating the 2016 NBA championship? They had climbed out of a 3-1 hole against the high and mighty Golden State Warriors, won the title and owned the town. LeBron James was in tears. J.R. Smith was running around bare-chested. It was a magical moment.
That was then. This is now.
Those Cavaliers are gone, replaced in a wholesale roster remake. The first to go was Kyrie Irving, swapped to Boston for Isiah Thomas, in an ill-fated deal before this season. Thomas was damaged goods physically and otherwise. He missed the first 36 games, mending from a right hip injury and never really fit in the locker room that belongs to James.
There was a hint that change was in the air when the Cavs won an emotional 140-138 overtime victory against Minnesota on the night before the trade deadline. James hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer and raced to the bench to bump chests with many of his teammates. Thomas did not receive a bump.
The current Cavaliers, with Kevin Love sidelined by injury, seemed old and slow, a shadow of the team that went to three straight NBA Finals. When they struggled through a 7-13 record over a 20-game stretch after Christmas Eve, first-year general manager Koby Altman pulled the plug. You’d think he’d be shy about wheeling and dealing after the Irving-for-Thomas fiasco but he plunged straight ahead with multiple deals at the NBA trade deadline, one day after the dramatic victory over the Timberwolves.
Altman cleaned house, exiling Thomas, Dwayne Wade, Joe Crowder, Inman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose. In their place came Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr., Rodney Hood and George Hill. Teams rarely undergo that dramatic a roster overhaul in midseason but it was clear that something had to be done with the Cavaliers. They no longer rule the Eastern Conference where Boston (with Irving) and Toronto had taken over the top rungs.
So Altman went shopping. The Wade and Rose moves were no-brainers. Their best days were behind them and they were not helping the Cavs. Hill came from Sacramento and Hood from Utah. Importing Clarkson and Nance from Los Angeles for Thomas, Frye and a first round draft choice was a bold move that the Lakers were only too happy to make. Maybe the change of scenery will help Thomas regain his game. More importantly for the Lakers, the trade creates valuable salary cap room next summer, space to do shopping in the free agent market.
Now let’s see who might interest the Lakers. Well, for starters, there’s Paul George, who might prefer Tinsel Town to Oklahoma City. It’s much more glamorous and there are no tornadoes. He’s an intriguing name but not the most intriguing.
That’s because next summer’s free agent market might include a bigger name, maybe the NBA’s biggest name and it would really be ironic if the Lakers, armed with cap room provided by the Cavaliers, go after this one.
Can you say LeBron James?