The NBA trade deadline amounted to a quiet day for just about every team in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers being one major exception. They didn't just tweak their roster, they overhauled it by jettisoning a whopping six different players.
Some big-time NBA names left town including Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose. Coming in are four players in Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, George HIll and Larry Nance, Jr. The Cavs will now be aggressive in the free agent buyout market to fill out their roster like they always are.
It was a bold move by Cavs general manager Koby Altman, to flip almost all of his roster outside of LeBron James and Kevin Love and to do so this late in the year and when his team is in a desirable spot, at third in the Eastern Confernce. But Altman saw doom in the Cavs' future and wanted to act on the very last day he could.
Time will tell how smart these moves were for the Cavaliers. At first blush, they have more security for the future, as Clarkson, Hill and Nance, Jr. are all under contract beyond this season. Thomas was set to leave in free agency and Rose and Wade are not getting any younger. The Cavs also kept the 2018 first round pick tied to the Brooklyn Nets, setting themselves up nicely if James ends up leaving in free agency. With Love at the helm, the Cavs could remain relevant and competitive post-LeBron.
The real unkown is how this will affect the rest of the East in the short-term, meaning this year. Do they have enough to continue James' incredible streak of seven straight NBA Finals appearances?
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The Wizards and others in the East will surely be keeping an eye on the Cavs as part of a large group of teams waiting to break through James' stranglehold on the conference. All this change could open the door, it would seem. Yes, the Cavs only lost one game en route to the Finals last season, but they had Kyrie Irving and a completely different cast of characters.
One thing that stands out is the Cavs are now relying on a lot of young players. Experience can be a big difference maker in the postseason and Clarkson and Nance, Jr. have never been there before.
The Cavs are also introducing an unusual amount of new players to their lineup at this point in this season. They have played 53 games, meaning they have 29 remaining to figure out their rotation. Teams have gone through similar overhauls in the summer and made it work early in the season, like the Boston Celtics this year. But that was after a full training camp and preseason. Head coach Tyronn Lue will be doing all of his lineup tinkering on the fly.
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Cleveland now offers intriguing potential on offense with added speed and athleticism from Clarkson and Nance, plus the outside shooting of Hood and Hill. With James running the show and Love set to return before the playoffs from injury, they should be able to keep up with most teams offensively.
On defense, though, there are major questions. This team was already terrible on that end of the floor with the 29th defensive rating out of 30 NBA teams.
HIll has long been a plus-defender, but the same can't necessarily be said about Clarkson and Nance. Also, Hill turns 32 in May. It won't be easy for him to carry a large defensive load against the teams in the East with stars in their backcourt like the Celtics, Raptors and Wizards.
The most curious move the Cavs made was trading away Wade. It's a great story that he's going back to Miami, but even at 36 years old he could help the Cavs in the playoffs. Wade still has his moments and did not seem to be part of the chemistry issues plaguing the Cavs in recent weeks.
That the Cavs needed a change was hard to argue against. But the moves they made may have further opened the door for others in the Eastern Conference. They created uncertainty and lost some experience along the way. It's a bold experiment and it will be interesting to see how it works out.
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