The Cleveland Cavaliers may have rewritten their season after a series of bold trades at the deadline
This past week, the Cleveland Cavaliers threw caution to the wind and made a series of surprising roster moves that have at once reshaped their team and the National Basketball Association as a whole. Months after acquiring star point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Boston Celtics, it had become clear that Cleveland’s revamp project was faltering in irresolvable ways. Many are wondering if Cleveland’s moves — sending out guards Iman Shumpert, Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade, along with forwards Jae Crowder and Channing Frye, and bringing back a young group of long and athletic players made up of forward Larry Nance Jr. and guards George Hill, Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson — will be enough to get them out of the East and over the hump against the Golden State Warriors, who most believe will have an easy path to a fourth consecutive Finals appearance. Though it is impossible to predict how the rest of Cleveland’s season will unfold with any degree of certainty, one does not need to dig deep to conclude that this move has made the Cavaliers younger, more defensively adept and overall, significantly better.
George Hill, a savvy veteran point guard with two Eastern Conference Finals appearances under his belt, brings the Cavaliers the experience and hard-nosed defense that Isaiah Thomas simply could not provide. Thomas, as offensively creative as he may be, has always been knocked for his shoddy defensive abilities, his 5 foot 9 inch frame precluding him from matching up with the athleticism of the likes of Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry. Hill, on the other hand, stands at 6 foot 2 inches and has the bulk one needs to keep up with increasingly strong and athletic point guards. Moreover, there will be no misimpression as to what Hill’s role will be on this new-look Cavaliers team: run the offense and serve as a low-liability conductor when LeBron is not bringing the ball up the floor. Some are unsure whether Hill can learn Cleveland’s offensive schemes in time for a deep postseason run, but his substantial NBA experience should bode well for his integration process.
Perhaps the most valuable return on deadline day was the unique combination of three-point specialists Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood. Though Clarkson is expected to do little more than provide a powerful scoring punch off Cleveland’s bench — something Jae Crowder could not manage to provide throughout his tenure in Cleveland — Hood will need to rediscover the defensive tendencies that once made him a perfect fit for the modern NBA, in which teams are desperate for athletic, defensively proficient wings. In the midst of a relatively down year for the Jazz, Cleveland fans and coaches are hoping a change of scenery will rejuvenate Hood, who has shown the potential to serve as an important role player on a contending team.
It would be a mistake to overlook the value Larry Nance Jr. brings to the table for the Cavaliers. The 6 foot 8 inch Nance has proven himself a freakish athlete with adequate defensive instincts, and the young forward will have plenty of time to play himself into the rotation with starting forward Kevin Love out until the end of the season with a broken hand. Nance has been criticized for his hesitation to shoot jumpers, but the Cavaliers will not need any more scoring than they already have. The issue that has plagued the Cavaliers’ season has been a defensive ineptitude due in large part to the old age and diminishing athleticism of the collective Cleveland traded away at the deadline. In Nance, Cleveland’s front court got younger, bouncier and more inspired. Ultimately, though it is impossible to predict how things will unfold for the Cavaliers, it appears today that the team came out of deadline day a winner.