“In The Scope With Joshua M. Hicks” is a weekly column from the Managing Editor of WARR
Isaiah Thomas has always been a person that spoke his mind, but that aspect of his personality really came to light during his short time in Cleveland.
As a Cav, IT openly criticized his coaching staff on not making the right game or roster adjustments, criticized his teammates in team meetings and then he opens up about how he does not want to be traded again, showing the desire to want to work things out even through Cleveland’s recent team struggles.
“I’m tired of being traded,” Thomas said, via Cleveland.com. “That’s not a good thing, but, I just want to be where I’m wanted. I like it here. It hasn’t been as planned, but I definitely want to be here. We definitely have a real chance to win an NBA championship and I want to be a part of that.”
Unfortunately, IT’s wishes were not considered as he was included in a package deal that was traded to the Lakers at the NBA trade deadline, surprising all followers of the Association and setting off a flurry of action in the final hours leading up to the deadline Thursday afternoon.
Channing Frye and the Cavs’ required 2018 first-round pick (not the pick they received from Brooklyn via Boston in the Thomas-Kyrie Irving trade) were sent with IT to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
This trade was a win for both teams, but the Lakers made the biggest impact to their future by pulling off their deal, which actually makes the Yellow and Gold the true winners of the deadline.
If you want to keep your thinking more in the present, then the Cavs won this trade because they cleared out one of the biggest problems in the Cavs locker room in Thomas. It has been reported that IT was not getting along with teammates on and off the court, messing up the chemistry of the team and making bold and vulgar comments about his teammates and coaching staff combined with his poor performance since his return from his hip injury does not make the situation any better.
The Cavs realized that their summer trade was a bust, and with no sign of improvement in sight, shifted course. The same could be said with all of their moves Thursday — jettisoning Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose also sent the message that summer 2017 just didn’t work for Cleveland. In response the team got back quality young talent that can help the team for several years to come, with or without LeBron James.
Evaluating The Land’s Deadline Haul
Combo-guard Jordan Clarkson is a little bit of an upgrade defensively amongst your guard depth but most importantly 15 points off the bench as your sixth man spark off the bench, a young valuable asset under contract until 2020.
Rodney Hood is a lengthy 6’8 starting guard who can guard all perimeter positions while giving you 17 points a game. Whether he starts next to King James or comes off the bench, he will be a young valuable asset that contributes offensively and defensively, especially in the late game moments for at least for the rest of this season and possibly next season as well.
George Hill, the only player Cleveland acquired Thursday over 25 years old, will assist in the point guard department, controlling the tempo of the game offensively and giving you 11 points a game and 45 percent shooting from three, something that will come in handy come late game moments, especially in the playoffs. Hill can also continue his already known stature on the defensive end, strengthening the defense along the perimeter. But most importantly, he can help ease the locker room issues, being another veteran leader among the young guys and reshaping that winning culture that the Cavs seemed to lose since the Kyrie Irving trade, he is locked under contract until 2020.
Larry Nance Jr., Akron-born during his father’s late 1980’s-early ’90s run as a Cav, brings 9 points and 7 rebounds a game to your bench, and a strong young defensive presence that can work great with Tristan Thompson, he is under contract until at least 2019.
We have to give rookie general manager Koby Altman and owner Dan Gilbert credit for taking command by improving the roster and attempting to address Cleveland’s locker room issues efficiently in one day.
The Show(Time) Must Go On
As prickly as things may have got with the Cavs, the franchise surprisingly gave IT an ultimate chance to redeem his horrific season and increase his chances of drawing max money next summer in free agency.
The Lakers are not expected to make the playoffs this season in the difficult Western Conference. Without the pressure of trying to contribute to a playoff push, IT can use his opportunity with the Lakers to serve in the role that best fits the team (most likely coming off the bench), play heavy minutes and use this opportunity as “rehab” to redeem his status as an elite player, he’ll most likely not get the max contract he feels he deserves, however, if he finishes the season strong he can get max-like money with less years on another team or even with the Lakers, a team he has always wanted to play for.
The rise of Lakerland continues to be more pronounced, the team so associated with winning having took a huge step towards getting back to that familiar place with all-NBA talent providing a bit of showtime atop the standings.
With this trade, LA has now opened up cap space for two max deals in free agency for 2018 or 2019. The Lakers recently announced their intentions to focus more on 2019 due to a higher number of elite players being available and the team having cap space clogged up by Jordan Clarkson and the expiring contracts of Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle, but the Cavs relieved them of their responsibilities to Clarkson and Nance Jr.
The path to go after LeBron James and Paul George officially opens up for the Lakers in the wake of this deal. If they fail in drawing one, the other or both, they’ll still have money to sign players like IT or Kenneth Faried to one-year deals with high salary pay to keep the team relevant for a year. An extra first-round pick in an upcoming loaded NBA draft has also come the Lakers way and the draft has been a major area that has contributed to the success of the team and management in recent years.
The Lakers job in creating space for two max players comes into fruition. It is now Magic Johnson’s time to seal the deal these upcoming summers if the entire plan is to become a reality.
But What of Bron?
Dealing with the absence of Kyrie Irving, the consistent absent Derrick Rose controversy, IT’s lack of production on the court but high volume of progression regarding lucrative amounts of chastisement off the court and the questioning of the King having any possibility of being traded are just a few of the issues that turned a team once seen as locked in favorites to the Finals to a team that many considered might not even make it past the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, the Cavs made it an urgent priority to save their season and protect their future this trade deadline, they did both successfully, but the real question still has not been answered: were Thursday’s roster moves enough to keep LeBron James in a Cavs uniform past this season? The answer is no.
With significant strides made in mere hours Thursday Cleveland made itself more playoff relevant and possibly more appealing to James, however, I think the moves were a little too late to keep James happy in Cleveland.
The uphill battle to win the Finals may be as difficult as its ever been in James’ second Cavs run, beyond the assured tough competitor out the West, the top of the East in Boston and Toronto may be tougher than James has seen since returning home. Remember the Cavs were a No. 3 seed entering Thursday and that is the place they remain entering Friday, even with an improved roster.
But the roster is the least of the Cavs’ worries right now. The biggest worry is the relationship between James and management, specifically the owner Gilbert.
The James-Gilbert relationship has never been fully restored since the King’s departure from The Land to Miami. When LeBron came back, it was not because of a repairing of their relationship, but because of his want to fulfill his legacy by bringing his home city its first NBA championship. Now that he has done that, James isn’t obligated to stay in Cleveland and Gilbert might have lost sight of that, at least until the team’s disastrous January, which made the moves yesterday so necessary.
Reports that James was not in any discussion regarding most of the trades reveal a continued lack of trust and disconnection between James and the organization. He still is not committed past this season and Gilbert may be tired of waiting on the King to make his move.
With the deadline trades, it is clear the Cavs sent the message stating they intend to be alright whether James stays or not. And even though it could be argued those moves were the moves LeBron wanted last summer while keeping Irving, it does not solve life going forward without his former iconic sidekick. It does not make sense to play for an owner that has taken you for granted all of these years and try to fix a relationship that does not look like will be restored anytime soon.
No matter how the season plays out, we must not take for granted the greatness of the King being in a Cavs jersey, because we’re likely seeing James’ last season in his hometown.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio