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Cleveland Cavaliers undergo series of trade makeovers

Cavs rebuild around LeBron James by trading veteran players for some youth

Matt Petersen,

In the span of roughly an hour, the Cavaliers’ swapped out six players with an average age of 30.3 years old for four players with an average age of 26.5 years old. All of the latter are meaningful rotation players. Cleveland did all of this without giving up Kevin Love or the its much sought after 2018 first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets.

Two questions remain: is it enough to 1) turn around the floundering Cavs and 2) keep LeBron James in Cleveland beyond this season?

The answer to the latter won’t be known until at least July. It is easier to see why the Cavs think this midseason overhaul will right the ship in the short-term.

Thomas’ Time Was Up

Cleveland’s first deal will garner the most headlines because of the names involved. Isaiah Thomas, the most significant player acquired in exchange for Kyrie Irving just seven months ago, is now on the Los Angeles Lakers (as is Channing Frye). The Cavs shipped those two, along with their own 2018 first-round pick for high-scoring sixth man Jordan Clarkson and athletic forward Larry Nance Jr.

If the Cavs had sincere hopes of Thomas playing a meaningful role before, it is clear those hopes were all but gone after his return from a prolonged hip injury. In 15 games, the two-time All-Star averaged just 14.7 points per game and shot 36.1 percent. In his 406 total minutes played, Cleveland was a whopping minus-132 with him on the court, by far the worst mark on the team. Thomas publicly criticizing teammates and the coaching staff in recent days likely did not help his desires to remain with the Cavs.

On paper, the move makes Cleveland healthier, more athletic and better on defense. The Lakers sported a defensive rating of 100.4 with those Nance Jr. and Clarkson on the floor at the same time. For context, the Spurs rank second in the league with a defensive rating of 101.2.

Clarkson, however, is shooting 32.4 percent on 3-pointers this season, while Nance is a none-threat from deep. The hope is that Clarkson will be more efficient with James and Love drawing defensive attention from him. Nance provides an athletic finisher that will no doubt feast on LeBron-led fast breaks.

The long-term concern for Cleveland is not so much what they gave up, but to whom. Thomas and Frye are both expiring contracts, which enables to the Lakers to dangle max-level contracts to free agent this summer. The Cavaliers might have given Los Angeles the means to pursue James, among others, this offseason.

More Youth, More Shooting

The second deal that surfaced on Thursday was a doozy: a reported three-team transaction in which Cleveland acquired Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood and Sacramento Kings guard George Hill. The Cavaliers gave up Iman Shumpert (to Sacramento), Jae Crowder (to Utah), Derrick Rose (to Utah) and a second-round pick (to the Miami Heat) in the trade.

Rose, Shumpert and Crowder shot a combined 31.4 percent from 3-point range. Enter Hood and Hill, who are hitting a combined 41 percent from downtown.

The deal does carry financial ramifications for Cleveland. Hood’s contract is cheap now, but he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Wing players with size, speed and shooting are valued commodities in the NBA. The Cavs may be forced to shell out serious money to keep him.

Hill, meanwhile, is locked into a contract that pays him roughly $37 million after this season and through 2020 (though the last year is not fully guaranteed). For now, he gives Cleveland a point guard who can shoot, defend and run an offense without demanding the ball nearly as much as Thomas.

Cavs Ship Wade’s Talents To South Beach

The Dwyane Wade era in The Land is over after he was reportedly dealt to Miami for a second-round pick. To their credit, the Cavaliers made this move to appease Wade as much as to help themselves. Cleveland gets a modest return on Wade, who is 36 and putting up career-low numbers across the board.

That being said, the three-time NBA champ felt he could contribute more than Cleveland was asking. Now he gets the opportunity to show it on behalf of his original team, which is very much in need of a jolt after dropping its fifth straight game. The Heat also get the obvious bonus of welcoming back perhaps the best player in franchise history.