Koby Altman, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers remade themselves over the course of an afternoon last week in a truly stunning sequence of trades. The results have been immediately obvious, as the Cavs have gone from a sinking ship to the new favorites in the Eastern Conference.
Altman reportedly met with James before making any moves as the trade deadline approached, and told him he needed the best player in the world to buy back in. Altman reportedly conveyed that he understood LeBron’s frustrations, but for any transformation would have to start with the 33-year-old refocusing on basketball and the Cavs.
James has always needed shooters around him on the offensive end, and Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose just weren’t cutting it. James doesn’t need guys who can get into the paint and score, that’s his job. So Altman, a rookie general manager, went out and shaped the roster around his best player. A novel concept, right?
Altman went out and got George Hill and Rodney Hood in the three-team trade involving the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. Hill ranks fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage (44.9), while Hood hits a solid 39.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Hill is also solid defensively at the point guard position, while at 6’8″ with good length, Hood can both get his shot off and be a pest defensively on the wing. They have what Cleveland was missing.
Altman was also able to unload a problem child who simply didn’t fit next to LeBron by sending Thomas to the Los Angeles Lakers. While he had to tack on Channing Frye (no big loss) and a first-round pick, he also got energy and athleticism for his second-unit in the process.
Jordan Clarkson is essentially a 25-year-old water bug who was second in the NBA in scoring off the bench (14.5 points per game) with the Lakers. Larry Nance Jr. provides the kind of hustle and elite athleticism the old, slow Cavs were sorely missing. Both guys are active, hungry and attack the basket relentlessly. While not stars, they could be key pieces that keep the Cavs’ bench energized and take pressure off the starters.
In two games (both on the road) since the new group has been together the change has been obvious. LeBron is re-energized and engaged, the new players are all stepping up and even Cedi Osman has broken out of his shell, providing a spark for the starting unit.
The Cavs blew out the Boston Celtics 121-99 on Sunday, then followed that up by besting the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-112 Tuesday night. In both games, the new guys were outstanding. It’s clear they simply fit better with LeBron. None of them need the ball in their hands constantly to be successful. They can play second-fiddle to James while he creates for himself and them.
After just two games it’s plainly obvious the new-look Cavs are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The team is actually playing defense, and the second unit is now a strength, not a black hole. While the Cavs probably don’t come close to measuring up against the Golden State Warriors or even the Houston Rockets, this team looks worlds better than it did a week ago. And remember, Kevin Love isn’t even playing.
Altman deserves a ton of credit for pulling off this transformation. LeBron looked like he had completely checked out of Cleveland a month ago, now he looks like he’s having fun.