The Cavaliers settled all family business before Thursday’s trade deadline, making three deals to revamp the roster in hopes of assembling an actual contender instead of a sullen squad of LeBron hangers-on incapable of beating the Orlando Magic. Whether it works is yet to be seen, but the Cavs did succeed in jettisoning three former All-Stars who weren’t working out: Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and Isaiah Thomas.
All three players were disappointments: It was clear that none were capable of starters’ minutes on a team with title hopes. And while James has often kept around vets for their mind-sets and kinship, apparently none were willing to be an inspirational buddy at the end of the bench. Which had the most depressing season in Cleveland?
Wade was traded for literally nothing—a “heavily protected” second-round pick in the 2024 draft. (Hey, can I have that bag of chips? I’ll give you a coin in three weeks, and the coin isn’t allowed to be a dollar, quarter, or dime.) The trade is a favor to Wade—he’s going to Miami, which is now home. But still: Dwyane Wade, 12-time All-Star, is worth next to nothing now, which is sad.
Wade is playing somewhat reasonable basketball this season, averaging 11.2 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting. But that’s a huge drop-off for him: His previous career-low in scoring was 16.2 points per game in his rookie season. This was also the first time he’s regularly come off the bench—he has about four times as many games off the bench this season (43) as he did in his first 12 seasons (11). But it’s not just a playing-time thing: He’s posting the second-lowest field goal percentage of his career and the lowest free throw percentage, and he’s averaging the fewest points per 100 possessions of his career. Before the deal, the Cavs were planning on giving new acquisition Jordan Clarkson and youngster Cedi Osman most of Wade’s minutes.
How depressing was this? This was supposed to be a celebration of one of the NBA’s most famous friendships: Wade began the season drinking wine at LeBron’s house, toasting to their reunion. Wade and James are still pals—LeBron issued his approval for Wade’s Miami return via an IG post. But it’s sad that LeBron, at some point, had to admit that to win a championship, his best bud would have to ride the pine in favor of Cedi Osman.
Rose might be neither interested in nor capable of playing basketball. He was already a shell of his former self when he averaged 18.0 points per game for the Knicks last season. This season, he’s down to just 9.8 points per game. Now he’s been traded to the Jazz, who will cut him.
For the second straight year, Rose left his team during the season—last year it was just for a game; this year it was for about two weeks. He was dealing with an injury, but, like, you’re not just allowed to leave your team because you’re injured! He reportedly left to re-evaluate his future. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn’t sure whether Rose actually rehabbed his injury while he was absent, and noted that Rose’s apology upon returning to the team was “not particularly emotional.” It’s likely that Rose is only continuing to stay under NBA contract because he’d lose the $80 million-plus remaining on his monstrous Adidas deal if he retired.
How depressing was this? No more or less depressing than anything that’s happened with Rose, on or off the court, since the ACL tear that turned him from an MVP to just another NBA player. The good news is Rose apparently got married during his time off from the team. Congrats to the happy couple.
Sports Illustrated summarized the Isaiah Thomas Era in Cleveland with a perfect video:
Here’s a tribute to Cleveland Cavaliers legend Isaiah Thomas... pic.twitter.com/Tx8XBJYI0V— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 8, 2018
I think Thomas just played the worst extended stretch of basketball in recent memory. He shot 36 percent from the field while making the Cavaliers worse defensively than any player has made any team in the past 25 years. The Cavs were minus-146 with Thomas on the court over his final 13 games with them. He was bad enough that LeBron James had a negative plus-minus over a stretch of about a month. The Cavs were 24-12 when he played his first game in January; they are 7-10 since. Thomas always had defensive problems but they were worse this season, and his dynamic scoring from last season disappeared. It turns out being tall might be helpful for basketball players.
But somehow, he was just as bad off the court. Thomas tried to get the team to turn on Kevin Love, called out his teammates’ effort, said nobody on the team trusts each other, and said that the coaching staff doesn’t make in-game adjustments. It was clear his teammates hated him:
@ IT small ass and LeBron ignoring him #tension pic.twitter.com/MG6KIl6QtG— (浪人 (@LordBalvin) February 8, 2018
How depressing was this? Massively. With the Celtics last season, Thomas was one of the best players on one of the best teams in the NBA. This season, he is virtually unplayable. Last season, Thomas was one of the most likable players in the NBA—his size and low draft position made his late-career surge particularly fun. This season, he was a caustic complainer, throwing as many people as he could under the bus. Wade and Rose both had sad half-seasons, but they were somewhat predictable considering their career arcs. I don’t know where Thomas’s staggeringly bad season came from, but I will never forget it.