On deadline day it was clear the Cavaliers needed to make a move. The consensus was that there was nobody on the market who would make Cleveland a true threat to the Warriors. No one man who could right their sinking ship. This remains true. DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams, Tyreke Evans, none of these guys would have tipped the scales enough. What Cleveland needed was a change, not help. Watching them play in the days leading up to February 8th, it was clear that the joy of basketball was nowhere to be found in that locker room. A malaise had washed over their troubled roster and the tension had built to a breaking point. Isaiah Thomas was under performing and over reaching with the media, Lebron seemed distant and despite the front office voicing their support, Tyronn Lue's seat grew hotter by the day.
In the past, Cleveland has dealt with similar adversity and found ways to flip the switch, add a piece or shake off poor habits that had appeared in the first half of the season. This year was different, this episode was toxic. We all know about the off season that saw Kyrie leave, David Griffin dismissed and a bus full of aging stars arrive. Bringing in a handful of guys with exceptional playoff experience had appeal, no doubt about it, but the egos attached were destined to be problematic. At the time the Cavaliers had freshly replaced Griffin with Koby Altman and the moves made in the summer fell under the new general managers responsibility. We all accepted that Derrick Rose, Jeff Green and Dwyane Wade were Altman's moves, but were they? Word is that everybody's favourite owner has more than just his fingers in the Cavalier's pie. I have no evidence that those short sited acquisitions were Dan Gilbert's, but the relationship between him and Lebron and his need to please the king immediately have Gil's fingerprints all over those James pleasing moves.
We know how that roster worked, or didn't. Koby Altman was stuck with a team who seemed intent on tearing itself apart from the inside, and it would take a masterful array of transactions at the deadline to mend what little remained intact. Who knew he was so capable. The Cavaliers' moves didn't look all that incredible on paper. Sending out Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Dwyane Wade and bringing in Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. looks nice but not incredible. What looks incredible is a smile on the faces of the Cavaliers' bench while they destroy the Celtics in their first game together. What Altman did was more than just upgrade talents and get younger, he emptied a can of febreeze the size of a truck in that locker room and got the stink out.
Here's how the new guys performed in their Cavs debut:
12 Points, 3 Rebounds, 1 Assist in 21 Minutes
15 Points, 3 Rebounds a Block and a Steal in 18 Minutes Jordan Clarkson
17 Points, 3 Rebounds, 1 Assist and 2 Steals in 23 Minutes
Larry Nance Jr.
5 Points, 4 Rebounds, 3 Assists in 20 Minutes
A solid start no doubt, but the way they really affected the game wasn't represented in the box score. It was evident however in the smile on Lebron's face and the sense that maybe, just maybe the Cavaliers were having fun again.
What Altman managed to do is a small miracle. Changing the culture and getting young is exactly what the Cavs needed. Humiliating the Celtics on Paul Pierce's jersey retirement night was damn rude, but when you've sucked as hard as they have, you need a statement game. Not so much for the league but for yourself. What we saw on Sunday afternoon was the exact result that Cleveland needed, not just a win but a fun win. A happy Lebron is a dangerous Lebron and it seems like Toronto and Boston are about to realize that the east was never really theirs to win.