Hello. What follows below the break is the climactic ending to the first Godfather film, but as an NBA basketball team.
Here, according to basketball-reference.com, is what the roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers looked like on the morning of February 8th, 2018, the morning after LeBron James blocked Jimmy Butler and then buried a distinctly Laettner-esque jumper in overtime to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 140-138:
And here, according to ESPN, is what that same franchise’s roster looked like by the time the NBA’s trade deadline rolled around, at 3 p.m. Eastern:
Let’s simplify this using the magic of Microsoft Excel, shall we?
On the left, in pink, are the players traded for the ones in green on the right. The Cavs also lost their own 2018 first-round draft pick, which is top-three protected, but NOT the Nets pick that they own, which was widely valued as the most precious future commodity that Cleveland could potentially make available.
If you’d care to track exactly how this happened, well, here is a string of tweets from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, all of which began with a most curious sentence at 11:56 a.m. concerning what is expected to be one of the more prominent suitors for LeBron’s services come this summer:
IS LEBRON GOING TO LOS ANGELES FIVE MONTHS EARLY?
THIS is what they get for the Nets pick? Well, I mean–
WHAT IN TARNATION ARE YOU FEEDING US, WOJ? (Also, are the Lakers really this desperate for star talent right now? They’re having a Ball!)
“Cavaliers also sending ITS 2018 first-round pick…” [Emphasis mine]. This is a reasonable infusion of young talent on decent contracts, so I–
Woj just butt-tweeted Shakespeare like the hypothetical monkeys on typewriters, because there is no way that this is true…right?
Well, if Woj says it, it must be true, so, as The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie points out, you are Derek now, Derek Rose. Pack your bags and move away.
People were asking themselves what the hell was going on already, so at this point, their idiot primate melted brains were just willing to accept this barrage.
Maybe LeBron isn’t the actual GM of the Cavs. Or maybe he actually hates Dwyane Wade, and the banana boat was part of a long game. Maybe he should just ~disappear~.
And none of this even accounts for the seemingly zero-sum Emmanuel Mudiay-Devin Harris-Doug McDermott trade, the Noah Vonleh Freedom Act or Elfrid Payton’s Follicle Treatise of 2018. I was out of breath watching my phone buzz repeatedly, a cascade of Woj bombs raining down like texts about Steph Curry heating up in the second quarter on local TV.
From a basketball standpoint, the Cavs trades make sense, even if, as Zach Lowe and many others pointed out, it ultimately comes down to Kyrie Irving becoming Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and the Nets pick. That’s a sizable sum for a guy whose market wasn’t huge following last year’s draft and the proposed Paul George-Eric Bledsoe megadeal that fell through (Also, not for nothing: the Lakers getting back salary relief without giving up Julius Randle will, I hope, open opportunities for that power forward to expand his game with consistent minutes).
Isaiah Thomas has had a rough few months. He quickly wore out his welcome in Cleveland and, despite having expressed his desire to stay there and play for a championship following the win Tuesday night, is now on to noticeably duller pastures, ahead of his own free agency this summer. It certainly seems as though his fascinating career has peaked.
The formula has always been to surround LeBron with shooters and dudes who can play reasonable and dependable, if not all-NBA-level, defense. The old version of the Cavs, the one you woke up to Thursday morning, did not do that. This version might, and even if it doesn’t, it’s a better-case scenario than the previous known quantities.
What the future holds is as uncertain for LeBron and the Cavs as it is for everyone else. Koby Altman addressed serious aging issues in Cleveland while also arming LeBron with several weapons whose skill sets complement his much more nicely than the previous iteration. An insane trade deadline has given way to what will surely be a captivating stretch run to, and including, the playoffs, perhaps with a rejuvenated LeBron James leading his team to the Finals for the eighth consecutive time.