Basketball: Cleveland ring the changes

The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Clarkson in the final hours before the National Basketball Association's annual trade deadline.
The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Clarkson in the final hours before the National Basketball Association's annual trade deadline.PHOTO: REUTERS/USA TODAY SPORTS

Dramatic trading sees Clarkson, Nance, Hill, Hood drafted in, and six veterans shipped out

NEW YORK • The Cleveland Cavaliers desperately needed a makeover, and they got a dramatic one on Thursday.

They drastically reshaped their roster in the final hours before the National Basketball Association's (NBA) annual trade deadline, agreeing deals to acquire Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr from the Los Angeles Lakers, George Hill from the Sacramento Kings and Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz.

To make those moves happen, Cleveland shipped out six veteran players - including former All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas - and swung a third trade to allow another former All-Star, Dwyane Wade, to return to the Miami Heat.

The result of all that dealing? The Cavaliers are once again the favourites to return to the NBA Finals with a squad that boast a blend of youth, athleticism, shooting and defence.

The average age of the four players acquired is 27 years old while the average age of the six players traded away is 30.7 years old.

In the first trade, Cleveland dealt the expiring contracts of Thomas and Channing Frye - along with their protected first-round pick in June - to the Lakers for Clarkson and Nance.

Clarkson is averaging 14.5 points per game this season - the most points for a player averaging fewer than 25 minutes per game (23.7) this term.

Nance is a big, defensive player who has the ability to play above the rim and may be a better starting option than Tristan Thompson.

Either way, the Cavaliers got a much-needed boost to what has been one of the worst defences in the league this season.

"Jordan and Larry add athleticism, energy and length to both ends of the court for us," Koby Altman, the Cavaliers general manager, said in a statement.

"This trade is also a reflection of our continuing commitment to invest in our roster in ways that help us evolve and compete at the highest level now and into the future."

The second trade is a three-team deal with Utah and Sacramento that will send Cleveland's Iman Shumpert and Utah's Joe Johnson to Sacramento, along with a 2020 second-round pick via Miami and US$3.2 million (S$4.26 million) in cash considerations, with Sacramento's Hill and Utah's Hood going to Cleveland and the Cavaliers' Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose joining the Jazz.

Hood is enjoying career-high numbers in points per game (16.8), field-goal percentage (42 per cent) and three-point field-goal percentage (38.9) this season.

Hill, with his length and ability to both play on and off the ball and guard multiple positions, will help Cleveland's defensive issues.

The third trade, to accommodate Wade's wish to rejoin the team that drafted him, will send Wade back to Miami for a heavily protected future second-round pick.

The succession of moves, however, does not come without great risk for the Cavaliers, whose trade with the Lakers could help Los Angeles immensely in their expected pursuit of LeBron James in free agency this summer.

The Lakers are projected to have about US$50 million in salary-cap space this summer, after shedding the contracts of Clarkson and Nance. That figure could increase to the US$70 million range if the Lakers can find a trade home for Julius Randle by July 1 and waive and stretch the salary of Luol Deng, which would give them more than sufficient cap space to pursue both James and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George.

Lakers president Magic Johnson told reporters the deal was key to the team's rebuilding process.

"We want to get back to the playoffs, then we want to get back to being a championship team," he said.

"This gives us the flexibility to achieve those things… One day, we can have a superstar or two come to this organisation with our incredible young talent that we have that we will continue to grow."

The Cavaliers, though, clearly felt they had no choice but to swing multiple trades amid rising tensions in the locker room. They are 7-13 since Christmas and apparently felt they had to ship Thomas out in the quest for better team chemistry.

He is shooting 36.1 per cent from the floor and 25.3 per cent from three-point range on a high volume of attempts while still providing little defence.

Acquired in the August blockbuster deal that sent All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to Boston, he missed the first 36 games to complete his recovery from a hip injury.

Thomas then struggled to fit in with his new team upon returning and publicly clashed with coach Tyronn Lue when he said the Cavs were struggling to make in-game adjustments.

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2018, with the headline 'Cleveland ring the changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe