I know it’s only been two games, but I can’t get enough of the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers.
They look younger. They look faster. They look like they give a damn.
This wasn’t the case as recently as last week. Were it not for an astoundingly hectic trade deadline, this team might have continued its depressing march to a season finale scheduled far earlier than expected. However, Cleveland GM Koby Altman completely changed the complexity of the team, as well as the outlook for the rest of the year.
With that said, I think we can go ahead and forgive him for the failed Kyrie Irving deal. His coming to terms with this misstep was a crucial aspect in making last Thursday’s trades. As a result, Altman was able to revamp his team and ensure his lasting legacy wouldn’t be the deal which blew up in his face.
To be fair, the Irving trade wasn’t always seen as a black mark on Altman’s resume. When the deal was made last August – sending Cleveland’s star point guard to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and the Brooklyn Nets‘ 2018 first round pick – it was generally well-received around the NBA. Some even labeled the Cavs as the winners of the trade, claiming they were able to get the best possible returns for Irving.
Months later, praise for Altman had all but dissipated.
Thomas clearly wasn’t recovered from the hip injury he suffered last May, which resulted in his dreadful on-court performance. His nonstop criticism of his teammates only made things worse. Meanwhile, Crowder openly admitted to being lost for essentially his entire time with the team.
Suddenly, Altman was the man who ruined the Cavs. The team kept losing, effort was a foreign concept and many assumed the failed trade would grease the wheels for LeBron James‘ departure this summer. He had no reason to trust Altman when it came to fixing the problems, since the only trade he’d made looked like a lopsided loss.
This all led to us expecting a lackluster trade deadline in Cleveland. At the time, Altman was described as inexperienced, overwhelmed and essentially a puppet GM for owner Dan Gilbert. He had to make a choice – keep holding out hope his first major trade would eventually work out, or swallow his pride and try to improve the team by any means necessary.
As the dust settled last Thursday, two things were clear. First, Altman proved he was willing to admit the Irving trade was a flop. Second, it’s clear we underestimated his ability to wheel and deal.
The Cavs have looked like a completely different team since acquiring George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Gone are the days of watching the ball stick on offense while nobody bothered to guard anyone on defense. Instead, Cleveland’s youth movement has improved just about everything the team was struggling with. Simply put, the Cavs have looked better in the past two games than they have all season.
Many marvel at how quickly the new players have acclimated to the team. This, in part, is due to the blatantly obvious culture change we’ve seen since the trades were made.
Everyone, including James, has looked more engaged. There’s an energy present on the court we haven’t seen since early December. Part of it is due to the younger, more athletic players available. Just as much of a factor is how many bad apples the Cavs no longer have to deal with.
It all goes to highlight just how impressive Altman’s day of deals really was.
Nobody thought it was possible for Cleveland to get younger overnight. It was assumed the pathetic effort we were seeing on defense was going to last for the rest of the year. On top of this, James’ potential summer departure was starting to look like a certainty.
However, Altman miraculously figured out the first two issues in the span of an hour last Thursday. It remains to be seen if these deals convince James to stay in Cleveland, but we can all agree the Cavs’ chances look significantly better than they did at this time last week.
While the real proof won’t arrive until the postseason, what Altman was able to do on the deadline is truly praiseworthy. Suddenly, Cleveland’s GM no longer appears as overwhelmed as everyone thought.
He also may have single-handedly saved the Cavs season.