OAKLAND -- The prospects of a fourth consecutive Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals, so dim only days ago, were brightened considerably Thursday by the desperate efforts of the front office in Cleveland.
Though the Warriors still have to do their part, which will be quite the challenge in itself, the Cavs utilized the trade deadline to remodel a sagging roster that had become an increasingly heavier burden for LeBron James to consistently bear.
Recognizing the roster was too old, too slow and practically unresponsive on defense, Cleveland general manager Koby Altman took hyper-aggressive actions in search of a remedy.
He did well. In shedding the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Channing Frye, Altman dumped nearly 50 years of NBA experience. That might hurt, but not nearly as much as watching those older (Wade, Frye) and traumatized (Thomas and Rose) legs try and fail to play playoff-caliber defense.
The Cavs also sacrificed to two of their best defenders, Jae Crowder and Iman Shumpert, because that’s the cost of doing business.
Oh, but the gains. The Cavs added four players who will slide right into the rotations of coach Tyronn Lue. Rodney Hood is a 6-foot-8 guard who can score and play reasonably good defense. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., both 25 years old, are frisky and at least capable of playing quality defense. George Hill is the steady veteran point guard that, at his best, keeps the offense flowing while playing acceptable defense.
Voila, Cleveland suddenly is younger, quicker and more athletic -- better equipped to exploit James’ most visible assets.
The Cavs have the live bodies to turn good defense into transition offense, allowing James to run the floor better than any 33-year-old we’ve ever seen. The new Cavs can keep up with the guy who makes them a contender.
There is, however, a flashing yellow light. Remodeling a roster in the middle of a season comes with risks, which in this instance had to be taken.
The Cavs of last week weren’t going to get past the second round. They wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the Celtics and they were weakened to the point that the psychological advantages they’ve had on Toronto and Washington were vanishing. Something had to be done.
Bowing out early in the postseason would have given LeBron an express ticket out of Cleveland, and Altman wanted to at least show the resident superstar that the franchise was determined to do its part to keep him around.
Again, something bold and invigorating had to be done.
The biggest risk of all is the unknown of team chemistry. It’s incredibly difficult to swap out one-third of the roster and expect the new guys, no matter how talented and energetic, to immediately become a unified team.
The Cavaliers will have 27 games -- no point in counting those prior to the All-Star break -- to put it together before the playoffs.
If they succeed, look out. Cleveland would not be an automatic Eastern Conference champion, but it would be lot better off than if Altman, with the blessing team owner Dan Gilbert, had done nothing.
Which is what the Warriors did on the trade deadline. GM Bob Myers was active, but not hyperactive. He had wants, but probably not serious needs, aside from a reserve with a reliable 3-point shot.
Myers’ desire to deal was not nearly as acute as that of Altman in Cleveland.
So the Warriors, who hit the trade deadline with the best record in the NBA, will wait. But know that the roster on March 8 will be different than that of Feb. 8.
There are good players that will be bought out, and Myers will be standing before them, flashing championship rings and perhaps the best team culture in the NBA.
The Warriors will have to get past the Rockets and Thunder, both of whom have the goods to compete. They’ll have to rediscover the defense that has been their bedrock, the foundation of the offense that hogs the highlight packages.
But the possibility of Warriors-Cavs Part IV is real again. If that’s what you crave, your chances of getting are appreciably better than they were a few days ago.