'These Trades Put Them Over the Top': Scouting the New-Look Cleveland Cavaliers

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterFebruary 12, 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 11: LeBron James #23 and Jordan Clarkson #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate during the game against the Boston Celtics  on February 11, 2018 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Cavaliers are about to look a whole lot different.

Following trades with the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Miami Heat, the Cavs turned over six of their 15 players in a matter of hours.

This leaves just four players (LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith) from the 2016 NBA championship team and only one other from last season (Kyle Korver). Cleveland's four biggest offseason acquisitions (Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade) were all shipped off before Thursday's deadline.

Adding a trio of 25-year-olds in Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. dropped the Cavs' combined average age by nearly two years, while 31-year-old George Hill gives them a veteran three-and-D point guard with 83 games of playoff experience.

Despite one limited practice together, James' new squad trounced the Boston Celtics 121-99 on Sunday, making a clear statement about who should once again be favored in the Eastern Conference.

Is this newest version of the Cavs for real? Can Cleveland leapfrog the Toronto Raptors and Celtics in the East standings? Should the new additions make the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets even a little bit nervous?

Bleacher Report talked to two NBA scouts to help break down the trades and what to expect from the Cavaliers moving forward.


On the Lakers Trade

In Cleveland's first deal of Thursday, Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cavs' 2018 first-round pick were sent to Los Angeles for Clarkson and Nance.

Giving up on Thomas just 15 games into his Cavaliers' career was a risky move for general manager Koby Altman, especially since the two-time All-Star point guard was supposed to fill Kyrie Irving's signature shoes.

"(Trading Thomas) is not something I wanted to do," Altman said during a conference call. "Selfishly, I wanted to see it work. The level of value we got back in the Kyrie Irving trade was pretty good. Did it fit? Did it work? Probably not."

Outside of Altman, no one in Cleveland shed a tear with the departure of Thomas. His on/off rating of minus-18.5 was by far the worst of any Cavalier and 25.7 points per 100 possessions worse than Irving registered with the Cavs the previous year.

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 6: Isaiah Thomas #3 talk with Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on February 6, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. The Magic defeated the Cavaliers 116 to 98. NOTE TO
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Thomas was viewed as moody and arrogant, quick to pass blame onto others while never really absorbing any himself. The locker room was deteriorating, and Thomas appeared to be a major reason why.

"(Cleveland) definitely needed a culture/chemistry change," the first NBA scout told B/R. "That team did not like each other."

Losing Frye was necessary given his expiring $7.4 million deal. Unlike Thomas, Fyre was a beloved member of the team and seemingly did his best to keep the ship from completely sinking.

The fact that the Cavs had to give up Frye, Thomas and a first-round pick seemed like a lot for Nance and Clarkson, whom the Lakers needed to move anyway to open up two max salary free-agent spots this summer.

"I didn't like the Laker deal," the first scout said. "I didn't like (Cleveland) giving up the first-rounder. At least they kept the Brooklyn pick."

While neither scout was surprised that Thomas was traded, they had varying opinions on who the Cavaliers were getting in return.

"(Jordan) Clarkson is a lot better than what they had," the second NBA scout told B/R, referring to a 36-year-old Wade and an injury-prone Rose. "He's actually a good all-around player."

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Jordan Clarkson #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 11, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

At 25 and in his fourth pro season, Clarkson doesn't have nearly the mileage on his tires as Wade or Rose. He averaged 14.5 points (third on the Lakers), 3.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists as the team's sixth man. His ability to score and push the pace should be a welcome addition to Cleveland's second unit, as evidenced by his 17 points in 23 minutes against the Celtics.

His usage rate of 27.5 percent led the Lakers and is somewhat of a cause for concern when it comes to sharing the floor with James, Love and other high-volume scorers.

"I don't think LeBron will like playing with Clarkson; he's a scorer who had the green light in L.A.," the first scout said.

Nance will begin by coming off the bench behind Thompson, but his defense, bounce and ability to do all the little things right may promote him to the starting lineup before playoff time.

"I've heard nothing but great things about Nance," the first scout said. "He's limited (in overall skill set), but he's a good guy and will hustle."


On the 3-Team Trade

The Cavs completed their trade-deadline dealings by landing Hood from the Utah Jazz and Hill from the Sacramento Kings. Cleveland sent Crowder and Rose to the Jazz and Iman Shumpert to Sacramento along with a 2020 second-round pick (via the Miami Heat) acquired in the Irving trade.

The move also opens up minutes for rookie Cedi Osman, a 6'8" burst of energy who is quickly becoming a fan favorite. In two starts since the trades, Osman is averaging 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals while hitting on 58.8 percent of his shots.

Hood and Hill both fill needs for Cleveland both now and in the future, starting at point guard.

Moving from Thomas and Rose to Hill is a huge upgrade on both ends of the ball. Hill is first among all point guards in three-point shooting (45.3 percent). If Thomas and Rose had enough attempts to qualify, they would come in 31st (Thomas, 25.3 percent) and 32rd (Rose, 25.0 percent) out of 32 floor generals, per ESPN.

"Hill gives them that playmaker that spaces the floor," the second scout said, referencing what Irving used to provide.

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 11: George Hill #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes the ball during the game against the Boston Celtics on February 11, 2018 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

"I didn't like the Laker deal, but they followed it up nicely with Hood and Hill," said the first scout. "You're taking on a lot of salary, but it's probably the right move if you have any chance at all to keep LeBron."

Hill will cost the Cavaliers $20 million this season, $19 million in 2018-19 and $18 million in 2019-20 if he's still on the roster. The third year is only partially guaranteed for $1 million.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer who will likely command at least $10 million per season. He's an athletic scorer who's been an inconsistent defender in his career. Don't be surprised if he takes over as the team's starting shooting guard sometime this season.

"He's a 6-foot-8 2-guard, and that's just not normal," Altman said. "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."

Both scouts cited the additions of Hood, Nance and Clarkson as much-needed athletes to plug into an aging rotation.


Where Do Cavs Stand in East, Title Race?

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11:  Lebron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers is guarded by Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of a game at TD Garden on February 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Even though Cleveland is six games behind the Raptors and five-and-a-half below the Celtics in the East standings, there appears to be a consensus about who's going to represent the conference yet again.

"I think these trades put them over the top to get out of the East," the second scout told B/R.

"(Cleveland) is right back in contention in the conference," said the first scout, referencing the ground the Cavs could still gain on Toronto and Boston with 27 games left to play.

The 121 points the Cavaliers hung on the Celtics was the most Boston had allowed all year and were 22 above their season average. Cleveland's 53.6 percent shooting was also the best anyone has shot against the Celtics this season. This was with four brand new players and without injured All-Star in Love.

Making it out of the East is one thing, but winning a title over the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets or whoever may come out of the West is entirely different.

Does Cleveland have a chance for a second championship in three years?

"I don't see them as title contenders," said the first scout.

"I think they get out of the East," said the second scout, who refused to give a Finals prediction. "LeBron is still playing at a very high level. I never bet against him."


Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers lead writer for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary numbers by Spotrac.


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