The NBA trade deadline is an annual barrage of rumors, lies, false narratives and, well, trades. This year didn’t have the sheer volume of deals, but it certainly had the drama, thanks to the Cavaliers and Lakers. With that in mind, let’s examine the winners and losers.
“They needed something to pick their morale up,” an Eastern conference assistant coach told Yahoo Sports. One league source added that he believed Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was to blame for this mess. Bottom line? With Cleveland desperately needing fresh blood, GM Koby Altman shrewdly unloaded the barrel. No more Isaiah Thomas. No more Jae Crowder. Those are both positives for the league’s most powerful player in James. Adding a younger, quicker, longer and better shooting swingman in Rodney Hood (39 percent on 3-pointers) is another benefit, considering the cratering Crowder was connecting on less than 33 percent of his threes. And, based off of his success with Gordon Hayward in Utah, Hood is extremely comfortable playing off of a star. “They’re trying to do whatever they can to win a championship and keep LeBron,” a former NBA head coach told Yahoo. “Have this many moves ever even happened before?”
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) February 8, 2018
So much for experience. Altman also nabbed Larry Nance Jr., whose athleticism and effort enables him to defend multiple spots — which will alleviate pressure on James — and play the screen-and-roll game. Nance is an excellent rim-runner as well. Joining him is Laker teammate Jordan Clarkson, a combo man who, unlike the pavement-pounding Thomas, can play off the ball while using his 6-foot-5 frame to guard both backcourt spots.
Don’t sleep on the acquisition of George Hill either. George is, for lack of a better term, a pro. His pestering individual and help defense, as well as his steady hand, will help LeBron. In turn, this will help the Cavs become a more efficient offense. Altman’s strategy was to add athleticism, quickness, shooting and length to the perimeter, and with the exception of close friend Dwyane Wade being dealt to Miami, LeBron should be ecstatic. Or perhaps he’s happy with Wade being moved as well. “Those were LeBron’s moves, including Wade,” said one coach via text. “I think he was looking out for him.”
Los Angeles Lakers
This may be the rare occasion in which a trade works out well for both teams. For the Lakers, their deal with the Cavs was about cap space and cap space only. “They are clearing all of the cap to try and get LeBron and Paul George [this offseason],” the former head coach told Yahoo. “Great moves,” the Eastern conference assistant added. Firstly, the Lakers got rid of Clarkson’s salary, which would have amounted to $12.5 million next year and over $13 million in 2019-20. Additionally, Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas are both unlikely to be back next season (although a one-year deal for Thomas is possible). Should GM Rob Pelinka not re-sign potential restricted free agent Julius Randle and then stretch Luol Deng’s contract, he will then have an incredible $69 million in cap space. That is significant because it’s enough money for two max contracts. Think about names such as Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler in the summer of 2019. With a potential young star in Kyle Kuzma, a point guard of the future in Lonzo Ball, a promising second-year player in Brandon Ingram and a replenished first-round draft pick thanks to the trade with the Cavs, things are looking up in Tinseltown.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers traded a top-20 player in Blake Griffin, easily the best home-grown product ever to wear the red and blue. Their return however, was substantial. Remember, just last summer Griffin inked a five-year, $173 million contract, an investment that the front office (Jerry West and Lawrence Frank, especially) quickly realized was a mistake. In dealing the 28-year-old power forward, the Clippers received a first-round draft choice this year, a second-rounder next year and a trio of expiring contracts either this year or next.
Tobias Harris is the most exciting of the return, an intriguing blend of scoring and versatility who at 25 years old remains on the upswing of his career. Perhaps pairing him with not one but two potential top 10 picks in June’s draft will give the Clippers a nice core to build around. Don’t sleep on the three-year extension for Lou Williams either. Few guards at this price — $8 million annually — offer Williams’ dynamic blend of scoring and playmaking. Now the Clippers are cash secure on a really good player who can play on or off the ball. Remember, too, that the Clippers secured a partial guarantee of $1.5 million on the final season on Williams’ deal, a concession he did not have to make.
It’s hard not to feel for Thomas, who just last season earned second-team All-NBA honors. He played in just 15 games for the Cavs, struggling to find his identity on both ends of the court. When he was on the floor, Cleveland allowed 118.6 points per 100 possessions , which is the single-worst defensive rating of any player over the past two decades. “He can’t guard anyone,” one former league executive said. Whether that’s fair, IT has been made the scapegoat for part of the Cavaliers’ demise. Now he heads to a Lakers team firmly entrenched with Ball running the show as a lead guard. Regardless of where Thomas ends up, his upcoming free agency prospects look a helluva lot different than they did last season.
Not executing a deal for Tyreke Evans isn’t the end of the world — the Grizzlies can ink him to the mid-level this summer — but Memphis, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported, was hoping to acquire a first-round draft pick for him. Evans has had one of his best and most efficient seasons as a pro (though he shot just 29 percent from three last month) and with the rebuild project underway, a No. 1 pick would have been a huge get for GM Chris Wallace.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.