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Cavs dominate the NBA trade deadline

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The 2018 NBA trade deadline came and went this past week, and despite being dominated by one team, the deadline certainly lived up to the hype. When the dust settled at the 3 p.m. deadline on Feb. 8, the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had completely restructured their roster, although little else of significance had taken place across the rest of the NBA.

The trade deadline is a significant moment in the NBA season, when star players are often traded to rival franchises. Traditionally, the deadline falls on the Thursday after the All-Star break, but it was moved forward 10 days this year in order to give players more time to acclimate to their new teams and new cities.

“[There] was the sense that it was more unsettling to have a player traded right after the All-Star break, that the All-Star break would have been an opportunity for the player to move himself, his family, get his family readjusted and get readjusted to the new team when they have that four- or five-day period to do that,” explained NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at the conclusion of the annual NBA Board of Governors meeting.

This year, 12 trades took place on deadline day, with the Cavaliers involved in a quarter of those deals. The Cavs were in desperate need of sweeping roster changes. Despite making the NBA Finals for three years running and despite sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference this year, the team has struggled in recent months. Since Dec. 17, the team’s record sits at a measly 10-12, with two of those wins — and no losses — coming after the trade deadline. The losing spell culminated on Feb. 6, when the team turned a 20-point lead into an 18-point loss against Eastern Conference bottom dwellers, the Orlando Magic. In addition, there have been reports of faked injuries, dissatisfaction with coaches, and a competition of egos among the plethora of star players in the Cleveland locker room.

In order to rebuild and restructure around their star player, LeBron James, the Cavs made three substantial moves on deadline day. These moves turned over 40 percent of the team’s roster on a single day and left the organization with just five players (James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and Kyle Korver) from last year’s Eastern Conference Championship squad. First, the Cavs sent All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired by Cleveland at the start of the year, role player Channing Frye, and a 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for up-and-comers Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson, who is averaging 14.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists this season, will provide energy and scoring off the bench, something the Cavs have struggled with this year. Nance, a gifted defender and athlete, will also give depth to Cleveland’s roster.

This trade was the biggest of the day, but hardly surprising given Thomas’ inability to fit in to the Cavs organization. Thomas missed 36 games this year recovering from a hip injury, and after his return, struggled to perform on the court. As a member of the Cavs, he posted a minus-18.5 on/off rating, which measures the difference between a team’s success when a player is on the court and when he is on the bench. In addition, Thomas was at the center of the team’s locker room drama and was perceived by teammates and fans to be cocky, arrogant, and selfish.

One NBA scout said, “Cleveland definitely needed a culture/chemistry change. That team did not like each other.”

The Lakers also benefited from the Thomas deal. By acquiring two expiring contracts and handing Clarkson’s large contract ($26 million owed over the next two seasons) over to Cleveland, the team freed up enough cap space to sign two maximum contract free agents in the offseason. A maximum contract describes the maximum amount of money a player can sign for based on his experience in the league and the salary cap. Max contracts ensure that one player is not being paid more than the rest of his team combined and that teams are more balanced throughout the league. In other words, as a result of the Thomas trade, the Lakers will be able to bring two superstars to Los Angeles this summer.

The Lakers also received a first-round pick in the deal that can be used to add a young role player or prospect to the team’s already youthful core.

The second deal of the day was a three-team trade between the Cavs, the Utah Jazz, and the Sacramento Kings that saw swingman Rodney Hood and veteran point guard George Hill move to the Cavs. In the deal, Cleveland sent small forward Jae Crowder and former MVP point guard Derrick Rose to Utah, while shipping defensive specialist Iman Shumpert to Sacramento along with a 2020 second-round pick.

Like Nance and Clarkson, Hood and Hill will provide immediate upgrades to Cleveland’s roster. Cagey veteran Hill, who has played in 83 career playoff games, will provide the Cavs with experience and solid defending, and will help the team space the floor with his stellar three-point shooting (45.3 percent this year, first among all NBA point guards). Hood will provide the Cavs with a playmaker who can act as a third scoring option behind James and Love.

Following the trade, Cavs General Manager Koby Altman, described Hood,

“He’s a 6-foot-8 2-guard, and that’s just not normal. He’s a lefty, so he’s unorthodox. He’s hard to guard. He can move his feet, can defend. We found out a kid with that much talent was on the market, and we wanted to explore it.”

The Cavs’ final move of the day was a sentimental deal that saw 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade return to the Miami Heat, the organization with which he spent 13 seasons and won three NBA Championships, in exchange for a second-round pick. Wade, a hero in South Beach, was interested in a larger role than the one he had in Cleveland.

Overall, Cleveland successfully maneuvered the trade deadline. The organization added three 25-year-olds (Hood, Clarkson, and Nance) to add energy and youth to the team, acquired an experienced, skilled player in Hill, and got rid of aging stars and competing personalities in Rose, Wade, and Thomas. In Cleveland’s first game with all of its new pieces, the team blew out then Eastern Conference leaders the Boston Celtics 121-99, while looking far more cohesive, energetic, and happy.

Cleveland head coach Tyron Lue described his team’s changed attitude during the Boston game. He stated, “I thought our spirit was different. I didn’t know what the outcome would be. But I knew we would compete and play hard. Move the basketball and move bodies. Those guys are flying around and it was good to see.”

The Cavs’ acquisitions do come with some financial drawbacks. Cleveland will inherit Hill and Clarkson’s large, guaranteed contracts, meaning that the organization’s already-exorbitant payroll will be bumped further above the salary cap. As a result, the Cavs could owe the league in excess of $50 million in luxury tax penalties this summer. The NBA’s luxury tax rules require NBA teams to pay the league a penalty greater than a dollar for every dollar by which their payroll exceeds the salary cap. The intent of this rule is to prevent teams in major markets with high incomes from signing all of the league’s best players and to keep the league competitive.

In addition, if the Cavs continue to struggle this season, James, who will be a free agent in the summer, may decide to move on to a host of suitors willing to offer him a max contract, such as the Lakers. 

Ultimately, however, the Cleveland Cavaliers won on deadline day. The aging team became younger, more unselfish, and more of a complete team. Before the deadline, many NBA analysts and fans had written off the Cavs as serious NBA Finals contenders. But now, the organization looks back on track to win its fourth consecutive Eastern Conference crown and potentially even challenge the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets for the title of NBA Champions.

Analyzing the first month of the NBA season

in Sports/Uncategorized by

As the 2017-2018 NBA season nears the conclusion of its first month, several unexpected and exciting storylines are emerging. In the Eastern Conference, only three of last year’s NBA Playoffs participants would make the postseason if the season ended today (Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors). In fact, the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, sit 12th in the standings at 4-6, having dropped games to perennial bottom-dwellers such as the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. The Cavs have struggled on the defensive end, placing near last in the NBA in several major defensive statistical categories, such as opponent adjusted field goal percentage and opponent three-point percentage. The Cavs have also been sluggish out of the gate in many games, trailing seven of their ten opponents after the first quarter.

Due to their poor starts, tension is mounting within the team. Following Sunday’s loss to the struggling Atlanta Hawks, shooting guard Dwyane Wade, a 12-time All-Star, called out the Cavs’ starters for their subpar performances. Wade recently bought out the final year of his contract with the Chicago Bulls in order to be reunited with Lebron James, with whom he won back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s no secret we’re starting games off awful. Terrible. And [Atlanta] got it going early, and the effort or the focus just wasn’t there to start off, and you try to battle back, you waste a lot of energy trying to come back from 16-18 down, and it’s tough nightly to do this. And we all know this. It’s no secret in this locker room, but our first unit, we got to start off better,” Wade said to reporters in a post-game interview.

On the flip side, the Boston Celtics, despite losing recently signed star forward Gordon Hayward to a gruesome ankle injury in their season opener, have won eight straight games to sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Kyrie Irving, acquired from the Cavaliers in a controversial offseason trade in exchange for beloved and hardworking All-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, defensive specialist Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, and a 2018 first round pick, has led the balanced charge, averaging 21 points and 5.6 assists per game. Other key contributors include savvy veteran, Al Horford (14.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists), rookie Jason Tatum (13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds), and Hayward’s more-than-capable replacement, Jaylen Brown (15.8 points, 6.6 rebounds).

One team in the East that has exceeded expectations up to this point is the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, a team that finished eight games under .500 last year and missed the NBA Playoffs, currently sit at 7-3, only one game off the pace in the East. Off to their best start since 2008-2009, the Pistons’ success can be attributed in large part to improved offensive efficiency and the drastic improvement in free throw shooting of their star center, Andre Drummond. Prior to the season, Drummond held the record for the worst free throw percentage in NBA history (38.1%) but through ten games in 2017-2018, Drummond is shooting a very respectable 75% from the foul line. Even if Drummond’s “hot” free throw shooting cools down, it is still likely that he has improved substantially from his career averages. Drummond is not the Pistons’ only hot offensive performer, however, as the team’s top seven scorers are all averaging point totals above their career averages.

In the Western Conference, after a shaky start, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors seem to have righted the ship, winning their last three games by an average of 22.3 points. The Warriors’ potent offense, led by All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, once again tops the league in points per game (120.7). Although still early in the season, all five of the Warriors’ starters are shooting a very impressive 50% or better from the field. NBA General Managers’ overwhelming pick to repeat as NBA champions (93% of GMs selected the Warriors to win in an annual pre-season survey), the Warriors seem to be hitting their stride, and at their best, they are nearly unbeatable.

One team in the West that has failed to meet expectations is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last season, the Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Over the offseason, in an attempt to bolster their roster and improve on last year’s results, the Thunder acquired two superstars, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to assist reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. However, despite a drastically improved supporting cast, the Thunder are a mediocre 4-5. One would expect the team to improve over the course of the season as George, Anthony, and Westbrook gain experience playing with one another, but the three superstars have not yet figured out a way to share the ball. The Thunder are averaging barely over 20 assists per game, only good for 13th in the NBA.

It is too early to know how the 2017-2018 season will end, but I expect struggling teams like the Cavaliers and the Thunder to finish the season near the top of their respective conferences, while teams lacking stars, such as the Pistons, the Magic, and the Indiana Pacers, will likely cool down from their hot starts. Anticipate the NBA’s “superteams,” such as the Warriors, Cavs, Thunder, Rockets, and Celtics, to battle it out for the NBA crown. That being said, it will be difficult for any team to wrestle the title away from Curry, Durant, and the rest of the Golden State Warriors. I expect the Warriors to once again dominate the NBA and take home their third title in four years.

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