Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James disagreed with the notion he was visibly more upbeat after the team remade its roster at the NBA trade deadline. However, the four-time MVP did acknowledge he had "re-focused" in preparation for the rest of the season regardless of the team's composition.
"Before the deadline happened, before the trades happened, I re-focused myself to understand that I'm the leader of this team and I have to be mentally sharp and mentally strong throughout anything. Even before the trade, I planned on us having that team for the rest of the season. That was just my mindset and you saw that in the Minnesota game. We hadn't made the trades then and in the Minnesota game, I just started to change my mindset. That's just who I am. Where I am now, I think we can be really good. Like I said, we got 20-plus games left to try to figure it out."
James had a triple-double (37 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists) and hit the game-winning shot in the Cavs' 140-138 overtime over the Timberwolves on Feb. 7.
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That victory may end up as the turning point in Cleveland's season. It followed a four-game stretch in which the team had lost to a shorthanded Detroit Pistons roster by 11 points, fell to the Houston Rockets by 32 points and threw away a 21-point lead in a 116-98 defeat to the Orlando Magic.
Then came the Minnesota game, where James demonstrated why he remains the NBA's best player when he's fully engaged. A day later, the Cavaliers completed their much-needed makeover by acquiring George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood.
Between James' "re-focused" demeanor and the team's deadline-day deals, Cleveland once again looks like the strongest team in the Eastern Conference, even after Thursday's loss.
The implications of that go beyond just putting the Cavs in a great position to reach a fourth straight NBA Finals.
Prior to the trade deadline, it seemed certain James would bolt in free agency. Cleveland's roster construction clearly wasn't working, and The Athletic's Jason Lloyd laid out what appeared to be a strained relationship between James and the team's front office.
With the Cavaliers turning things around, the prospect of James re-signing in the summer only increases. Sure, he could still leave anyway, but reaching the NBA Finals with a squad that's better suited for its best player will make Cleveland's free-agent pitch to James a lot easier.