Written by: Scott Steinberg
Expectations were sky-high for the NBA trade deadline on Thursday. With big names such as DeAndre Jordan, Tyreke Evans, and Kemba Walker popping up in rumors, the 2018 trade deadline looked to be one for the ages. Ultimately, none of those players were moved, but the deadline lived up to the hype nonetheless. In the two weeks leading up to Thursday, 41 players were moved (the most since 2015) and 16 trades were completed (the most since 2009).
The big story of this season’s trade deadline is the massive overhaul of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster. Through three trades, the Cavs sent packing Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, their own 2018 first-round pick, and a 2020 second-round pick in exchange for Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, George Hill, and a heavily-protected second round pick that probably won’t convey. Let’s digest all of this and dig in to some analysis.
Speculatively, these trades could mean that the Cavs don’t expect LeBron James to re-sign with the team this summer. The fact that they kept the Brooklyn Nets’ valuable 2018 first-round pick and traded for young, promising players like Nance and Hood suggests that the Cavs are looking to the future. However, they haven’t sabotaged their championship outlook; all four new players can slide in as role players on a championship team, and a new look in the locker room should be a breath of fresh air for the struggling Cavs, who are only 7-10 since New Year’s Day.
The table below clearly demonstrates many of the Cavs’ strengths and weaknesses prior to the trade. Thanks to the dominant-as-ever play of arguably the greatest NBA player in history, Cleveland still generated an efficient offense, and the presence of LeBron James on the floor created an abundance of open threes; especially from the corner. Their faults came on the other side of the court. They’re rated among the worst defensive teams in the NBA; their lack of big man depth really hurts their rim protection, and their perimeter players have surrendered way too many 3-pointers.
|3-point attempts per 100 possessions||32.8||4th|
|3-point percentage||36.4 (%)||12th|
|Points per 100 possessions||109.3||5th|
|Field goals per 100 possessions||83.5||28th|
|Opponent points in paint per 100 possessions||47.5||29th|
|Opponent 3-point attempts per 100 possessions||32.5||29th|
|Opponent 3-point percentage||37 (%)||24th|
Thomas, Crowder, and Rose not only had the three lowest defensive ratings of the Cavs’ rotation players, but they also shot a combined 30% from three. In order to contend this season, moving them was a big step in the right direction. Thomas, Rose, and Wade are being replaced at guard by Hill and Clarkson. George Hill’s 45.3% leads all qualifiers in 3-point percentage at the deadline; although his 112.9 defensive rating is by far the lowest of his career, a move to a legitimate contender could revitalize him and allow him to reassert himself among the best ‘3-and-D’ point guards in the NBA. Jordan Clarkson’s 104.2 defensive rating this season is the best of his career; he’s not much of a 3-point shooter at this point in his career, but he’s a solid, athletic scorer and playing alongside LeBron could do him wonders.
The two big additions to the Cavaliers are Rodney Hood and Larry Nance. Hood has scored 21.8 points per 36 minutes on a high 27.9% usage rate for Utah this season. He’ll slide in as a secondary scoring option with Kevin Love injured, and even though his high volume of mid-range jump shots limits his efficiency, his 38.9% 3-point percentage will fit in well in the Cavs’ offensive attack.
Larry Nance, on the other hand, could slide in as the starting power forward while Love heals. He’s well-regarded as an uber-athlete; per NBA.com, he runs the floor at an average speed of 4.54 miles per hour, which is faster than the likes of Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, and Victor Oladipo. He also shoots 76.2% at the rim, and although he won’t space the floor nearly as well as Frye or even Crowder, he’ll provide energy, athleticism, and some rebounding and interior defense to a team that badly needs it.
The Cavs made the biggest splashes by far during this trade deadline, and they may very well pan out. Even if Cleveland’s championship hopes don’t pan out this season and King James takes his talents elsewhere, they still have the Brooklyn pick and a younger core including Hood, Nance, and Clarkson. There’s a good chance that these savvy deadline moves will really look good in a few years, as LeBron’s potential departure won’t leave this team in nearly as bad shape as it did in 2010.
The Cavs aren’t the only team who made moves leading up to the deadline this year. To summarize a few deals that have changed the landscape of the NBA:
- Two weeks ago, the Detroit Pistons acquired 5x All-Star Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers for a package including Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and a first-round pick. Though many critics questioned his fit in Detroit’s offense, Griffin hasn’t missed a beat since arriving in Motor City, and the Pistons are 4-0 since his first game with the team.
- Last week, the Chicago Bulls traded Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first-round pick and three players, including Omer Asik. Mirotic has slid into the Pelicans’ starting lineup with DeMarcus Cousins hurt and has averaged 11.5 points per game in two games with the team.
- The New York Knicks traded disgruntled center Willy Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets for Johnny O’Bryant and two second-round picks. Even though playing time could’ve possibly opened up for Hernangomez in New York with Kristaps Porzingis out for the season, the Knicks let him go anyway. He’ll fight for minutes in Charlotte’s big man rotation with Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller.
- The Los Angeles Lakers acquired the expiring contracts of Thomas and Frye, as well as a first-round pick, from the Cavs in exchange for Clarkson and Nance. The Lakers intend to keep both players, so they’ll try to build up their value prior to free agency. Magic Johnson has made it clear that he wants the Lakers to make the playoffs this year; they’re 5.5 games back from the eighth-seeded Pelicans, so it’s unlikely but not impossible. Thomas, however, has shown that he thrives as an underdog, and a change of scenery could be what he needs to revive himself and help the Lakers make a playoff push.
- The Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings were two of the three teams in the deal sending Hood and Hill to Cleveland. Crowder and Rose were both sent to Utah, with Joe Johnson heading to Sacramento. Rose has since been released, and the Timberwolves are a likely suitor in the buyout market. Johnson should be bought out soon; he’ll garner interest from the Celtics, Warriors, and Thunder. Crowder, on the other hand, is a reclamation project for Quin Snyder. He, like Isaiah Thomas, is in the midst of a down year after being traded from Boston, but he’ll help Utah make a playoff push.
- Dwayne Wade is heading back to the Miami Heat! He’s quietly been a solid scorer for the Cavs this season with his lowest usage rate of his career (24.3%). Though he’s certainly lost a step (especially on defense), he’ll help the 7th-seeded Heat, especially with Dion Waiters out for the season.
- Emmanuel Mudiay is headed from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks in a deal that is also sending Doug McDermott to the Dallas Mavericks and Devin Harris to Denver. Mudiay has been a disappointment since being drafted 7th overall in 2015, but maybe he can put it together with a change of scenery.
- The Orlando Magic are sending Elfrid Payton to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round pick. This clearly indicates that Orlando had no plans to re-sign Payton this offseason. He’s having the best season of his career and he’s still just 23, so Phoenix got a solid deal here. Orlando, meanwhile, might be going all-in for Trae Young in the draft.
- The Toronto Raptors traded Bruno Caboclo to the Sacramento Kings for Malachi Richardson. It’s a shame; he’s only one year away.