Turnover: Cavs overhaul roster with stunning trades
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — With their NBA title hopes fading fast, the Cavaliers got aggressive at the trading deadline.
They swapped teams.
Cleveland completely changed its look — and perhaps its chances of winning a championship this season — on Thursday with a stunning sequence of deals. General manager Koby Altman traded six players, including Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, and two future draft picks in moves designed to not only help them in the short term but could potentially help keep LeBron James beyond this season.
Just like that, the Cavs traded nearly half their roster, got substantially younger and more athletic and wedged themselves back into contention to make a fourth straight Finals appearance against Golden State.
Following a long day that left him “numb,” Altman said his main objective in making the deals was to alter the chemistry of a team that was no longer playing with joy.
“We were really worried that what was going on the floor and sort of our culture in the building that we were marching a slow death and we didn’t want to be a part of that,” he said on a conference call. “So with the window we have with LeBron and with this team, we figured it was time to do something to re-energize the group but also to have sustainability going into the future.”
Watching from the West Coast, the defending champions took notice.
“It’s interesting, really interesting,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said of Cleveland’s drastic midseason renovation. “It’s probably obviously something that they felt was needed. I feel like they made some good moves. I don’t know, we’ll see. A lot of action. That’s a completely different team now than the team we faced the last three years.
“They’ve still got LeBron James. I think everything else at that point is irrelevant.”
The Cavs began their shocking overhaul by sending the disappointing Thomas along with forward Channing Frye and one of their two first-round picks to the Los Angeles Lakers for point guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr.
Thomas, who came over in last summer’s blockbuster trade with Boston for Kyrie Irving, played in just 15 games and wasn’t fitting in with Cleveland on or off the floor after he returned from a hip injury.
As the Thomas swap was being digested around the league, the Cavs completed a three-team deal with Utah and Sacramento. The Cavs sent Rose, who has also been slowed by injury, and forward Jae Crowder to the Jazz for forward Rodney Hood, a 25-year-old averaging a career-high 16.8 points.
Cleveland is also getting steady veteran guard George Hill from the Kings in exchange for guard Iman Shumpert.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the Cavs then dealt Wade to Miami for a protected 2024 second-round pick. It’s a homecoming for the 36-year-old Wade, who played 13 seasons in Miami, winning three NBA titles — two with James. Wade has said he wanted to end his career with the Heat, and he’ll get his chance.
James went on Instagram to endorse the move for one of his best friends , posting “truly happy for my brother @dwyanewade!! It’s how it’s suppose to be. Love you my guy!! #WadeCountyBack.”
Although he enjoyed being reunited in Cleveland with James, Wade was coming off the bench and his role was going to be further diminished by the other new additions. Altman said he approached Wade out of respect to see if he wanted to be moved and the Cavs were able to get a deal done with the Heat.
“I think he and his representation were very, very appreciative of that,” Altman said.
The massive makeover is intended to help the Cavs make another title run in 2018 with James, who can opt out of his $35.6 million contract this summer and become a free agent. The 33-year-old James has said he would like to finish his career in Cleveland and Altman, who has only been in charge of the roster since July, gave James a team he can lead back to the Finals.
In Jordan and Nance, whose father played for Cleveland, the Cavs are adding a pair of young players with upside.
“We added some talent, some athleticism and the overwhelming thing for us was to create a culture here that I think everyone wants to be a part of,” Altman said. “This trade really puts some wind in our sails.”
The Cavs also protected themselves if they lose James by hanging onto the first-round pick they acquired last summer from Boston for Thomas, Crowder and center Ante Zizic.
Thomas seemed to sense his strange stay in Cleveland was over.
After James hit a buzzer-beating jumper to beat Minnesota in overtime on Wednesday night, Thomas stood at his locker and wondered if he would be on the move again.
“I’m tired of being traded,” he said. “That’s not a good thing. But I just want to be where I’m wanted. I like it here. It hasn’t been as planned, but I definitely want to be here.”
The Cavaliers, though, had other plans and needed to do something rash while in a prolonged slump and with All-Star forward Kevin Love out with a broken left hand.
Thomas, who turned 29 on Wednesday, wasn’t working out. He missed Cleveland’s first 36 games while coming back from a torn right labrum that knocked him out of last year’s playoffs. The Cavs tried to incorporate him into their offense, but it was forced and bogging them down.
Cleveland is just 7-13 since Christmas Day, and the club’s slide has coincided with Thomas’ comeback. He played better on Wednesday night, scoring 13 points with seven assists in 31 minutes. But he’s a defensive liability on a defensively challenged team and the Cavs felt it was best to move him.
“It’s not something I wanted to do,” Altman said. “Certainly when you bring a player the caliber of IT back in a trade this summer, selfishly you really wanted to see it work.”
While Thomas struggled on the floor, he didn’t help himself with some peculiar off-the-court comments.
Following Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the 17-win Orlando Magic — the Cavs blew a 21-point lead and scored nine points in the fourth quarter — Thomas questioned whether the team makes enough in-game adjustments.
Those remarks were dismissed by coach Tyronn Lue, who said, “That’s not true.”
Lue tweaked his rotations against the Timberwolves, giving more minutes to rookie Cedi Osman, who provided an infusion of needed energy. Late in the game, Thomas was pulled off the floor by Lue and the guard stood near Cleveland’s bench and shook his head in disappointment.
Moments later, James dropped his game-winner over Jimmy Butler to edge the Timberwolves and was mobbed teammates.
It turned to be a going-away celebration.
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, California contributed.
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