The Cleveland Cavaliers came into the Thursday trade deadline as a troubled team with distressed assets. Isaiah Thomas’s short tenure in Cleveland was proving to be an abject failure. LeBron James had spent much of 2018 looking dispirited and subtweeting possibly everyone he knows. Key cogs like Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith were listless, and the new players acquired in the offseason were not contributing. Reports of tension and dysfunction have dogged the organization. But none of this matters, because the Cavs have a brand-new team.
In a matter of hours, GM Koby Altman and owner Dan Gilbert shipped out Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, and their 2018 first-rounder in return for Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., George Hill, Rodney Hood, and a draft pick. The IT trade would have been shocking on its own. Sending Wade away threatens everything we thought we knew about the Banana Boat brotherhood. Seismic shifts like these call for definitive rankings, and thus we present a list of the Cleveland deals, from most destabilizing to “who’s surprised?” — Juliet Litman
1. Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and the Cavaliers’ own 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
The Winner: Clarkson just lowered the average age of 2017–18 Cleveland point guards. Jose Calderon, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Thomas have an average age of 33. Clarkson is just 25, so that’s a win, but how much his acquisition helps the Cavaliers remains to be seen. Moving Clarkson and Nance is undoubtedly a win for the Lakers. In addition to a first-round pick, L.A. sheds Clarkson’s salary, which would’ve cost $12.5 million next year and $13.4 million the year after. Thomas and Frye are both on the last year of their respective deals and will become free agents this summer.
All the speculation around the Cavs’ Brooklyn pick ends, because Cleveland can no longer trade it until after the draft. Sorry, everyone. On to new discussion topics.
The Loser: Thomas is not the lane-scorching firebrand he was last season. That much was clear during his first game as a Cav, on January 2. Without the normal burst in his step, Thomas wasn’t providing anything to Cleveland: He shot 36.1 percent overall and 25.3 percent from the 3-point line, but ball-hogged anyway, taking the most shots per game of anyone not named LeBron.
And without his propulsive offense, Thomas’s faults became too much of a liability for the Cavaliers. When he was on the floor, the Cavaliers allowed 118.6 points per 100 possessions — the worst defensive rating of any player in the past 20 years. His postgame quotes were chock-full of shade and slights. IT — the 2018 edition, anyway — was only adding to the struggles of an already-struggling team.
Thomas’s time in Cleveland wasn’t the tour of vengeance he was hoping for after being traded from Boston last summer. Instead, after 15 games, the franchise will be another on Thomas’s growing list of those who didn’t believe in him.
(Channing Frye was actually doing pretty well for the Cavs of late, so his farewell might have a different tone.) — Haley O’Shaughnessy
2. Dwyane Wade to Miami for a heavily protected 2020 second-rounder
The Winner: Wade! ¡Bienvenido a Miami (otra vez)!
“For me, I’m at the point where you get this high up in years played in the NBA, you kind of take the summer to think about what you want as a player and go from there,” Wade said earlier this year. “For me, the arena that I walked in to play, I would like to leave in.”
The opportunity might’ve presented itself earlier than he expected, but at this point, there is nothing Wade has left to prove — three rings, a place as a top-five shooting guard of all time. Budding star Josh Richardson gets his old mentor back, and Heat fans get to salute the player who will retire as their most important player in franchise history. Wade has been coming home, in one form or another, for the past two seasons. This one will be his victory lap. (Also, how good is Wade going to look in those sleek Miami Vice jerseys?)
The Loser: Unless you’re still mourning the death of a pipe dream in which the Cavaliers ran back the Heatles in 2018, there are no losers here. — Danny Chau
3. Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose to Utah for Rodney Hood
The Winner: Youth! Shooting! Hood was one of the hottest names on the market in the lead-up to the deadline — the Jazz were said to be in talks with 20 teams at one point. The fact that the Cavs nabbed him says a lot about their direction. They need shooting now, but want to prepare for a potentially LeBron-less future with young, athletic wings.
Hood is having a career year, averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 38.9 percent from 3 despite coming off the bench for much of the season. Hood, 25, will be a restricted free agent this summer, and how he performs for the rest of the season will determine how much the Cavs are willing to invest in him.
The Loser: Utah. For at least a little while, Derrick Rose will be a member of the Jazz. What a world we live in. Rose is on an expiring deal, and Yahoo’s Shams Charania has reported that Utah plans to waive him, but the thought of him in those sunrise uniforms still makes me chuckle. Meanwhile, the Jazz also added Crowder, who is under contract for two more years at about $7 million, but has fallen off a cliff this season, both defensively and offensively — he’s shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3, averaging only 8.6 points per game. I don’t see the upside for Utah, though I guess there’s enough belief that Quin Snyder can get out of Crowder anything close to what Brad Stevens did in Boston. — Paolo Uggetti
4. George Hill finally gets to Cleveland, and Iman Shumpert is officially a King
Winner: Hill. All he wants is to make a push for the playoffs. That’s reportedly why he signed with the Kings in the first place, after former Sacramento GM Scott Perry sold him on the idea (?) with the Kings (??) last summer. When it became obvious that a roster with Zach Randolph as the first option wasn’t getting him there, Hill detached himself from the team. (Which is OK, because Dave Joerger would have eventually created that separation, anyway.)
Now Hill will play alongside LeBron, and before long will be joined by Kevin Love. It’s the best chance of making it to the championship round he’s had in his entire career; sure, he went to the Eastern Conference finals twice with the Pacers, but was stopped both times by the best player in the world — who is now, of course, his teammate.
Cleveland’s spacing and perimeter defense also wins with this trade. (I would say here that Hill is a superior defender to Thomas, but that bar is too low to really mean anything.)
Loser: Hill and Shumpert are officially in a sliding-doors situation, which means Shumpert is the big loser here. But the Kings aren’t far behind. Sacramento and Hill never had any use for each other. Whatever return came back would’ve probably been good enough for the Kings’ front office, which had a three-year, $57 million contract it very quickly wanted out of. The real losers here are in the other conference. Suddenly, it’s going to take much more than a nationally televised game to beat the Cavs in the playoffs. — O’Shaughnessy
Now that the Cavs have gone full Kevin O’Connor and blown up the team, pressing questions still linger. A starting lineup of LeBron, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jeff Green, and Tristan Thompson (a prediction proffered by our Jonathan Tjarks; Nance could swap in for Thompson, and Kevin Love will return eventually) is an upgrade over the team from this morning. But is it good enough to beat the Raptors in seven games? Can the Cavs figure out how to play together fast enough? And, of course, what is LeBron’s plan?
James’s involvement with the deadline deals is unclear, but ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that he has not committed to staying, while his team just cleared the way for the Lakers to sign two max players. The Cavs are in a better spot — particularly at point guard — if he leaves, but that single question matters more and looms larger than any midseason deal ever could. — Litman