The Cavaliers find themselves in a 0-2 hole after the Boston Celtics have handled them with relative ease in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. If Game 1 was a “feel out” game for LeBron James and company, Game 2 was a bit more discouraging as James put forth, as Deadpool might say, maximum effort early en route to a 42-point triple-double yet still came up short.
As has been the case for most of the season, the conversation after the Game 2 loss was about the lack of help from LeBron’s supporting cast. Kevin Love did his part, but the rest of the Cavs were downright pitiful on the offensive end, which is bad because that’s the only thing Cleveland as a team has been good at this season.
With this series being played against Boston, many have looked into the poor performances of the players who the Cavs got out of the Kyrie Irving trade. That deal netted Cleveland Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder (and the 8th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft). Both were dealt at the trade deadline to the Lakers and Jazz, respectively (along with other veteran pieces and Cleveland’s 2018 draft pick), with the Cavs receiving Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, and George Hill in return.
The first three combined for two points in Game 2, with Clarkson falling completely out of the rotation, and Hill somehow managing only three points, two rebounds, and one assist in 33 minutes of play — to his credit, Hill has been the best of that group by a large margin over the course of the postseason. Much has been made about that trade deadline move, with initial excitement (we’re guilty of that as well) after a hot start eventually giving way to the reality, which is, outside of Hill, none of those players are really capable of giving them anything this postseason.
That brings us to Jason Lloyd’s latest column in The Athletic, in which he notes that, while LeBron seemed pleased initially with the results of the trade, neither he nor coach Tyronn Lue got their main target, DeAndre Jordan (via CBS Sports).
Now, however, they can no longer say they’re “All-In.” They cannot say they did whatever they could to keep LeBron here this time. Doing whatever they could to keep him would’ve meant dealing for DeAndre Jordan at the trade deadline, the rim-protecting center Lue coveted and James equally wanted badly. Instead, the Cavs hedged, collecting a group of twenty-somethings that can grow together in the event James is off to Houston or Philadelphia or Los Angeles or some other contender next season.
The Cavs were rumored to have interest in Jordan months before the deadline, but the Clippers never received the offer they wanted from Cleveland (or anyone else) and chose to keep their star center. The sticking point for the Cavs was the Clippers’ request that the Brooklyn pick (now No. 8 overall) to be included, which Cleveland balked at.
If the Cavs had known that pick would’ve landed at No. 8 and not higher, they might’ve been more willing to make that concession in a package that would’ve almost assuredly had to have included Tristan Thompson, due to salary matching needs, and other contract filler. It also begs the question of how much better the Cavs would be with Jordan on the roster. One would assume his presence inside would be a major help to one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams, but he wouldn’t do much for the Cavs’ offense, which desperately needed an upgrade in creativity.
Maybe Jordan would get the Cavs past the Celtics — literally just removing Hood and Clarkson from the Cavs roster and adding nothing else would improve this team in the playoffs — but they needed backcourt bodies desperately and would’ve had to find another way to unload Isaiah Thomas, who clearly wasn’t working out, at the deadline because they would no longer have been allowed to trade their own draft pick.
The Cavs’ entire existence this season is a giant question of “What if?” What if Kyrie Irving doesn’t demand a trade? What if Isaiah Thomas wasn’t damaged goods when he arrived? What if Thomas and Dwyane Wade hadn’t (reportedly) destroyed the Cavs locker room from the inside? What if Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith didn’t have the closest thing to immovable contracts this side of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng?
So, naturally, it makes sense that their possible postseason exit will come with its own “what if?” scenarios pouring out of it, with LeBron offered plenty of reasons to want to escape this summer.