We don’t know how good these new-look Cavaliers will be. There are a couple of camps when you talk to people around the league. Either people are in the “they didn’t really get that much better camp” (often from more analytics-based people who are not high at all on Jordan Clarkson and not in love with Rodney Hood), or they are in the “they got younger and more athletic, that matters, especially on defense” camp.
The bottom line is the Cavaliers had to do something. Cleveland GM Koby Altman put it well, “we were marching to a slow death.” The team had been bad on the court and toxic off it. Thursday’s radical shake-up was needed to give the Cavaliers a chance — a chance to make it back to the NBA Finals. Maybe. And maybe a chance to keep LeBron James as a free agent.
What did LeBron think of the moves? He spoke at shootaround Friday before the Cavs faced the Hawks, as reported by Dave McMenamin at ESPN.
“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,” James said. “I like the pieces that we have coming in…
“It’s always tough when you lose teammates,” James said. “The trade deadline is always a difficult time for everybody. … I wish it could’ve been a lot better than it was. I definitely wish all six guys … the best.”
LeBron knows how to play the game and stick to the script, of course he said he likes the players coming in. I’m sure he means it — George Hill and Larry Nance in particular should play well off him — but what else was he going to say?
There is no precedent for what Cleveland has done — taking a team seen as a contender before the season, the three seed in a conference, and radically blowing it up mid-season. The Cavaliers do not exactly run complex sets under Tyronn Lue — LeBron has a lot of leeway to create and do as he pleases — but they have just 29 games before the playoffs to figure out rotations, develop chemistry, and figure out how to play with each other.
“It’s my job to get these guys integrated as fast as possible,” James said Friday. “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.”
“Fun” is one word for it.
This is a fascinating experiment in Cleveland. The Cavs are likely going to be the three seed in the playoffs — LeBron is too good, he’s energized again, and the players around him fit better now, for them to fall further. Right now that would mean a matchup with Indiana in the first round, but both Milwaukee or Washington could fall into that slot. That’s when the real test of Altman’s mad scientist moves start. (Things get boiling in the second round when the Cavs would have to face Toronto or Boston on the road.)