30 Teams in 30 Days: Despite changes in Cleveland, one constant remains for Cavaliers
More so than ever before, LeBron James bearing Cavs' hopes of another Finals
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Who’s new: Isaiah Thomas (trade), Jae Crowder (trade), Ante Zizic (trade), Derrick Rose (free agency), Jeff Green (free agency), Jose Calderon (free agency)
Who’s gone: Kyrie Irving, James Jones
The Lowdown: For the third straight season, the Cavs won the East and met the Golden State Warriors in The Finals, losing for the second time.
It’s quite possible that no team rode a roller coaster of a summer quite like the Cavs, who experienced the kind of upheaval usually restricted to developing teams, not a conference kingpin.
And when the smoke finally cleared in late August, the Cavs arguably found themselves in a better position than when it all started.
Cleveland traded the guy who made the biggest shot in franchise history and one of the best one-on-one players of this generation … and actually improved in certain respects. Who would’ve thought this in the chaotic month of July, when Irving asked to be traded and owner Dan Gilbert fired GM David Griffin and LeBron was depicted as a lame-duck superstar on his way to the Lakers in 12 months?
But the Cavs, and specifically new GM Koby Altman, swung an amazing deal. They received fair return for a star — something that’s seldom done — by reeling in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, a prospect (Ante Zizic) and the prized 2018 Brooklyn No. 1 pick for the disgruntled Irving.
Suddenly, the Cavs not only improved itself for the present, but grabbed insurance for the future with the Brooklyn pick. On the surface, it was a masterstroke by Altman, a little-known executive-in-training when elevated to the top spot. And it could eventually be the deal that convinces LeBron to stay next summer when his contract expires.
Make no mistake, Irving is a top-five-point guard and perhaps a top-15 player, with out of his world handles and an ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He’s also only 25. But evidently, he wanted to be freed from the overwhelming shadow of LeBron, for some reason, discounting the fact that LeBron as a teammate means you’ll always contend for a title as long as he’s healthy (and he never gets hurt).
The market for Irving was vast but few teams could offer a combination of veterans, young players and/or picks. Boston was one of them, and lo and behold, the Celtics agreed to part with the Nets’ pick, which essentially swung the deal.
Thomas is only a small downgrade at point guard; he averaged 28.9 points per game last season and remains in the prime of his career. He did have a hip injury, and it could prevent him from being 100 percent for a period of time that nobody knows right now. The bigger question is his future — he’s up for renewal next summer and, in his words, wants to “break the bank.” That’s a lofty ambition for a small guard who’ll turn 30 next year.
Signing him and dealing with the luxury tax implications will be tough to swallow for the Cavs. And, don’t forget, LeBron’s deal is up next summer, too. If LeBron stays, he’ll likely demand his max deal instead of settling for one-year deals again. That’s a ton of cash staring at Gilbert.
LeBron has a good reason to stay besides money as he’ll have his best Cleveland team ever. Crowder adds stability on the front line and the Brooklyn pick should fetch someone special from the Draft, or be used to trade for an impact veteran who can help right away.
LeBron certainly gained great respect for Altman, who pulled off a big trade despite everyone in the NBA realizing he had to deal Irving before the season. Cleveland wasn’t in the greatest negotiating position but grabbed a nice haul anyway. Regardless, LeBron-to-the Lakers is an issue for July 2018.
Before the Irving trade, the Cavs signed Derrick Rose on the cheap. The market for the former Kia MVP was mild, mainly because Rose has stubbornly refused to change his game. Rather than become more of a pass-first point guard, Rose insists on being a scorer at this point in his career, even though his shooting is at its lowest ever. Still, with much of the Cavs offense running through LeBron anyway, Rose’s mentality won’t damage the Cavs. And besides, he’ll be relegated to backup for the first time in his career.
Overall, the summer flip-flopped in Cleveland’s favor as it progressed. After they were sent reeling by the Warriors in June, then dealt with a front-office shakeup during the height of free agency — which probably cost them a shot at Paul George — then received a trade demand from Irving, the Cavs rebounded nicely.
Somehow, the best team in the East had arguably the best offseason in the East.
Coming Next: Boston Celtics
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