By: Jeffrey Newholm
Movie buffs know that James Bond wants his martini shaken, not stirred. For the Cavs, the chalice of victory was running on empty heading into Thursday’s trade deadline. The franchise shook things up in a big way by trading six players (including Isaiah Thomas and Dwayne Wade) for four others headlined by George Hill. Wade returns to Miami to finish his career while the Lakers unloaded some big money contracts to potentially land LeBron in the offseason. Oh yes, about him…
King James may just be a nickname, but as seen by the firing of first-place David Blatt, LeBron really does control the Cavaliers. A franchise perpetually accustomed to losing now expects to be in the Finals every year with the league’s best player on the roster. But the Kyrie Irving trade, while purportedly one-sided in favor of Cleveland, proved to be a disaster. Thomas didn’t seem to gel with the team at all, and added to the trouble with an indifferent attitude. James seemed rather indifferent on the court as well, assuming that the team would somehow get things turned around. But the only turn the Cavs made was towards the lottery.
After stretches of both fair and poor play, trouble slowly began to stir in Cleveland. The offense, without a reliable point guard (Derrick Rose, also traded Thursday, couldn’t contribute enough), sputtered to a complete halt. The team would frequently lose its nerve in the fourth quarter, sometimes looking so inactive that it seemed no play was being run. The defense, rarely a strength for any team, was such a concern that the Rockets and Thunder practically ran circles around the lazy Cavs, leaving James, a player known to shake up the media, at a loss for words. So certainly management had to make a move. But will the gamble pay off?
If LeBron leaves again, Cleveland could be without a seat in the NBA game of superstar musical chairs. But the team still has its life vest on deck in the form of its coveted Nets first round pick. The other players picked up in the trade-Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance-aren’t exactly big-name players. And that’s precisely why the trade bodes so well. There were too many egos on the old Cavs, and yet some bit players, such as Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith, were contributing quite well. LeBron can now use his basketball vision to mix some intriguing ingredients into a high-proof cocktail.
What had become a snooze of a race in the East suddenly has the feeling of dreaded inevitability. The clichéd talk about the other team “putting on their pants one leg at a time” doesn’t have a leg to stand on when the experience, athleticism, and fearlessness of LeBron James is combined with sound roster management and tempered coaching. Come May, the Warriors and Rockets will sprint to win the West with a torrent of threes. But whoever makes it out could very well, for an eighth year in a row, be in for more than a fair shake against one of the game’s all-time greats.