LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were not equipped to run the table. So they flipped the table. They did what Frank Underwood would do.
“If you don’t like how the table is set, turn the table over,” said Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s character in Netflix’s House of Cards.
Let’s face it: the Cavaliers situation was abysmal before the trade deadline. The talent (?) they’d accumulated for the 2017-18 season looked decrepit. The biggest problem wasn’t that they weren’t playing to their potential. They didn’t want to play to their potential. They didn’t want to play together at all.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors were and are still the favorite to win the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors have exceeded expectations. The Cavaliers’ situation looked dire. Reporters were asking if they thought the Cavs thought they’d make the playoffs. The NBA seemed to have the Cavs in a checkmate.
Then Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers flipped the chess board over.
They flipped assets at the NBA trade deadline after James and the rest of Cleveland’s roster staged a coup during an anonymous press conferences where the players (and LeBron was doubtlessly there, right?) requested the roster get restructured at the deadline.
An emotional implosion followed that anonymous press conference — until Gilbert deconstructed the roster. Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder were all gone. To replace them, the Cavaliers added Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance and George Hill.
The incomers’ average age was 26.5. The out-goers’ average age was 30.3.
In their next game, they blew out the Celtics, 121-99. During that game, LeBron was downright likable. He was enjoying himself, most obviously when Clarkson drained a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. LeBron was supposed to be on the bench, but was nowhere near the bench. He jumped out of his seat and ran onto the floor to celebrate.
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Cleveland had energy. They got it with a roster reset that brought in young two-way role players — as opposed to whatever the heck Wade, Thomas and Rose are at this point in their careers.
How long can Cleveland keep this positive energy? That will determine whether they’re going to make it to the NBA Finals. The Celtics and the silent-assassin Raptors still have a shot at dethroning this Cleveland team. If LeBron decides to hold a grudge and starts posting Arthur memes, the Cavaliers might regress, and he might head to Los Angeles.
For now, there’s buy-in.
It’s definitely a small sample size, but the difference is obvious. This roster is better composed of players who can play well during the playoffs. While Cleveland’s roster before the deadline looked unable to mesh in a way every one of LeBron’s teams have, the newest iteration of the Cavs looks capable of just that.