The Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the NBA trade deadline, saying good-bye to six players and welcoming four new faces. With LeBron James’ future in Cleveland up in the air, the next few months are going to be critical.
Sunday was our first chance to see the revamped Cavaliers in action. And the (very) early signs were emphatically positive. Cleveland crushed the Boston Celtics in a 121-99 win, with all four newcomers getting some minutes. The body language was better, the effort levels were higher and, most importantly, James looked unburdened. He finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds in just 28 minutes. Suddenly, it seems silly to have cast doubt on their chances of reaching the NBA Finals yet again this season.
Given the instant impact from the reinforcements, it was easy to see why James was all smiles.
In George Hill, Cleveland now have a solid defender at the point guard position for the first time in several years. Offensively, Hill is a decent shooter (especially corner three-pointers) and does not need to dominate the ball. He has playoff pedigree and bothered Kyrie Irving for much of the afternoon.
Rodney Hood is going to be a nice fit. He can be a streaky shooter, but he will get no shortage of open shots and he could absolutely swing a playoff series. Injuries have been an issue but he has had 30-point nights this season. He hit the ground running with 15 points on Sunday.
Larry Nance Jnr might be the most intriguing talent across all of Cleveland’s deadline day activity. Whether he eventually starts or comes off the bench, he brings the kind of energy that this team has lacked. Jordan Clarkson, who came from the Los Angeles Lakers with Nance Jnr, has his critics but he played with confidence on the way to 17 points against Boston.
The Cavaliers desperately needed these changes. The offseason moves for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade simply did not work - and this season was slipping away. The Celtics and the Toronto Raptors were starting to leave them behind in the East, increasing the possibility of James leaving this summer. So credit Cleveland for shaking things up and putting themselves firmly back in the picture.
Now we get to watch how the Cavaliers come together over the final weeks of the season - and whether they have time to reach a championship level. It is amazing how the NBA landscape has shifted in just a matter of days.