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NBA Trade Deadline: Cleveland Cavaliers Make All the Wrong Moves

BelieveLand may have transformed their roster again, but the real problem remains...LeBron James.

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He’s Just Not That Into You.

Let’s get this straight, after going to the NBA Finals, you trade one of the best PGs in the league for an undersized guard coming off a major injury during the off-season. When the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to Boston for the package of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and others, we thought the franchise was insane. Now we know they are. Before today’s NBA trade deadline, the Cavs have radically altered their roster again. Unfortunately, all the wheeling and dealing is masking the franchise’s real problem–LeBron James refuses to commit to the Cavaliers long-term.

Sporting News | 2017

The Moves

First, the Cavaliers traded Isaiah Thomas, Cameron Frye, and a protected first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers. In return, Team LeBron received Lakers’ swingmen Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The Cavs didn’t stop there. Multiple news reports confirmed Cleveland traded for Utah guard Rodney Hood and Sacramento guard George Hill in a three-team deal. Ex-Bulls and league MVP Derrick Rose will be waived by the Jazz and Iman Shumpert ends up on the Kings. Former LeBron James’ homie and teammate Dwayne Wade was traded back to the Heat for a second-round draft pick. Readers take notes, there will be a test later.

The Royal Court Are Jesters

James has caused all the instability in Believeland. First, the relationship between James and owner Dan Gilbert has soured over disagreements about payroll. James insists the team spend more money on talent. However, the Cavs have already spent more than any other NBA team since 2014 to construct a roster specifically for the King.

James demanded Tristan Thompson be re-signed, as well as J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. All three players’ productivity has gone down since signing their new contracts. The Cavs are spending $127.6 million in salaries and $27 million in luxury taxes this season, but James isn’t satisfied. So the Cavs acquired Derrick Rose and his best friend Dwayne Wade in the offseason, only to trade them months later because they’re past their prime. Makes total sense, right.

Solo Act

LeBron James is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but FTS has argued since day one that it’s impossible to construct a sustainable winning team around him. James’ versatility is a double-edged sword. He’s a 6’8 forward who is strong enough to play with his back to the basket, but so fast and agile that he is unguardable on the perimeter. He’s an above average passer and can guard all five positions on the floor. What does this all mean? James can do it all and believes he can do it all. It creates a team environment where teammates are forced to watch the King operate rather than work as an efficient unit.

Cavs perform Harlem Shake in Locker Room

Bow Down

Yes, LeBron James has been successful in the NBA. But look at what it takes for it to happen. The first time he made the finals (2006-07) the second best player on the roster was Anderson Varejao or Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. James wised up as he got older, he realized he needed better players around him.

He forced his way out of Cleveland and took his talent to South Beach. He created a “Big Three” along with NBA Champion Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade was forced to hand over the keys of his Heat team to James. Chris Bosh, an All-Star center for the Toronto Raptors, who was a 20-10 guy, was forced to become a spot-up shooter. Why? So James could operate on the floor unobstructed. The team won, but eventually, the act wore thin and the Big Three was broken up.

The Return

In 2015, the King magnanimously returned to Ohio to bring a championship to Believeland. Cleveland welcomed back their prodigal son with open arms, but a controversy loomed–could the Cavs’ 2011 number one draft pick Kyrie Irving play with James? After a period of adjustment, the NBA had a new Batman and Robin. All seem great in Cleveland

Playoffs and championships followed, but the King would not share his throne. Irving felt humiliated by James even though his play led the Cavs to victory over the Warriors in 2016. James ‘sonned up’ Irving constantly, calling him a kid in interviews and on social media. Irving had enough of playing second fiddle to James and forced a trade. It got so bad between the teammates Irving told the Cavs he would sit out a year and have surgery than play with James any longer.

Team Chaos

Coming into this season, Isaiah Thomas “IT” was expected to lessen the pressure on King James to carry the Cavs’ offense. Thomas finished fifth in MVP voting in 2017, averaging nearly 30 PPG and leading the NBA in fourth quarter scoring. Thomas missed valuable practice time and training camp recovering from hip surgery. He never developed any sort of chemistry with his new teammates.

Since January, the Cavaliers were 7-10, highlighted by losing a 21-point lead to the Magic on Tuesday. In the game, the team scored only nine points in the fourth quarter. Thomas’ poor shot selection, over-dribbling, and poor defensive play have come under fire. As the team continued to lose, Thomas became a vocal critic.

In a tense players-only meeting in January, Thomas allegedly “questioned why [Kevin] Love had left last week’s blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder early.

On February 3, Thomas told the media:

B/R reported, “The Cavaliers had a minus-14.8 net rating with Thomas on the floor. He was also sixth from last in the NBA in ESPN.com’s real plus-minus (minus-4.27). “If IT is going to be high-volume, no-efficiency and a poor defender, that’s pretty hard to absorb,” an NBA executive told Bleacher Report’s, Ken Berger. “The pieces don’t fit.”

No Guarantee

All this drama and dysfunction and there’s still no guarantee that Lebron James will remain a Cavalier. He’s told the media that he will remain on the team this year and do everything possible to make the Finals. But he refuses to discuss his long-term plans. So once again, the organization is held hostage by its star and is forced to remake its roster.

Sure with today’s moves, the Cavs got younger, longer and more athletic, but they lost championship experience. They also lost a draft pick and may lose their star player in the off-season. James could end up signing with the very team they traded with, the Lakers. Worse, James could sign with the Celtics or Rockets. The question remains. How do you construct a winning team around the King? What elite player wants to spend his career as a spot-up shooter? How many players must be traded and acquired team owners realizes the real problem? LeBron James himself.

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