The Cleveland Cavaliers had an intriguing roster at the start of the 2017-18 season, but several mid-season trades potentially cost them a title.
After having lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals the year prior, the Cleveland Cavaliers established one of the league’s most dynamic rosters to start the 2017-18 season and looked like they had a chance at the title. To name of few of their more significant additions, the team brought in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, former league MVP Derrick Rose, and LeBron James’ former teammate Dwyane Wade.
Compared to the roster that had just played in the Finals last year, this group seemed like an immediate upgrade on paper. However, after a mediocre season filled with injuries up until the trade deadline in February, the Cavaliers decided it was time for a severe roster revamping.
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In a little over an hour, the team traded away Thomas, Channing Frye, Rose, Crowder, Iman Shumpert, and Wade, nearly half of their roster. After the dust settled, the team acquired Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, and George Hill in total.
It seemed as if Cleveland wanted to go in favor of a much younger group, as aside from the veteran point guard Hill, who was 31, the other three were all 25 years old at the time. Depending on who spoke, the moves were either loved or hated, but regardless, the team made it back to the NBA Finals, only to be swept by the Warriors.
After their second consecutive loss in the Finals, many questioned if the Cavaliers might have stood a better chance if they kept their original roster rather than having traded half of it away. Was it a mistake to do so? Although there is no definite way to tell, it would appear so.
In the postseason that year, although they made it to the NBA Finals, the team lacked veteran experience with these new players, which the players formerly on the roster could have provided. Yes, the team had LeBron James, Kyle Korver, and Kevin Love, but the holes left by their trades were too significant to fill, even with them.
Throughout the playoffs, the four of Cleveland’s new acquisitions were basically non-existent in terms of the contributions the team had hoped for when they traded for them. When it was said and done, Hill finished as the leading scorer for the new players with 9.2 points per game. Hood followed with 5.4 points, while Nance finished with 4.8 points and Clarkson with 5.4 points over 19 games.
As for the players that they traded away, only three of the six made the postseason: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Jae Crowder. This group only played in a combined 21 playoff games for their respective teams, but their numbers were fine. Wade led the way with 16.6 points, followed by Rose with 14.2 points, and lastly Crowder with 10.0 points per game.
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These three were crucial pieces for their team’s postseason runs, even if they were all short-lived. Although the other three did not make the playoffs for their teams, Isaiah Thomas was an All-NBA player the year before, while Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert know what it takes to be a part of a championship-caliber team like they were in 2016. This group was experienced from top to bottom, unlike the squad that came in.
Between the four players that joined the Cavaliers after the trade deadline, they had a combined 94 playoff games between them at the time. Hill was responsible for 83 of these, Hood for 11, while Clarkson and Nance contributed 0 games.
For the six players that Cleveland traded away, this group has achieved much more postseason experience, as their playoff game appearances before that season added up to an astounding 393 total. The Cavaliers had their issues all season leading up to the deadline moves, but ultimately made a mistake when they traded away this veteran group full of postseason experience in favor of in-experienced players and George Hill.
Had the Cleveland Cavaliers had this group of veterans and not the fresh faces they brought in, their chances of winning their second title may have been better. While it remains a significant “what if” scenario, it is fascinating to think about what this team might have accomplished if the trades never occurred.
Although that Golden State team they faced in the Finals seemed unstoppable, Cleveland’s pre-deadline roster likely would have given them a better chance compared to the team that got swept. With their season ending in a sweep, it seems clear that the deadline moves made by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018 were indeed a mistake.