CLEVELAND >> LeBron James moved on quickly.
A day after the Cavaliers overhauled their roster with a tornado of trades that ripped through the NBA, James didn’t dwell on what’s lost, who’s no longer around or how much time Cleveland has left to salvage its season.
“It is what it is, so let’s get it going,” he said today following the team’s shootaround in Atlanta. “The front office made changes that they felt best fit this franchise. It’s time to go to work.”
In the hours before Thursday’s trading deadline, the Cavs unloaded six players, including Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade, James’ best friend, in three separate deals designed to make the team younger, more athletic and as general manager Koby Altman put it, to revitalize a team he felt was “marching a slow death.”
Cleveland added guards George Hill and Jordan Clarkson as well as forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood, and all will have to take a crash course in Cavaliers 101. The team sent some of medical staff to Atlanta in hopes of completing physicals before today’s game, but it’s unlikely any of the new additions will play until Sunday in Boston.
On paper, the Cavs look better. James is cautious.
“We have to see how it meshes, obviously,” he said. “But I like the pieces that we have coming in.”
The makeover was also aimed at placating James, who can become a free agent and leave Cleveland this summer.
Teams already are lining up for an audience with The King should he turn down $36.5 million and opt out of his contract. So the Cavs turned their roster upside down in hopes of convincing James he doesn’t have to go anywhere.
“He’s the guy that is going to take us back to the promised land,” Altman said, “so you want to put the right pieces around him.”
The Cavaliers have been in a freefall, losing 13 of 20 games since Christmas Day and getting blown out on national TV several times. More troubling to Altman was the sense that the Cavs were miserable, disconnected and on a self-destructive path.
So the 35-year-old GM’s first move in the overhaul was bold, requiring him to swallow his pride and scuttle the blockbuster trade that brought Thomas and Jae Crowder to Cleveland last July in the deal for Kyrie Irving. Crowder was also traded Thursday to Utah.
A former All-Star, Thomas struggled while recovering from a serious right hip injury, and there were no signs he was going to improve enough to make a difference this season. He and James were a forced fit, and it became obvious to the Cavs they had to pull the plug on the experiment.
And it wasn’t just Thomas’ poor shooting and defensive holes, he irked teammates and coaches with public comments. He was also in the middle of a heated team meeting when he questioned why Kevin Love left a game early and missed a practice.
Cleveland could afford to go on with him, so they sent Thomas, Channing Frye and one of its 2018 first-round picks to the Los Angeles Lakers.
James took the high road when asked about his time with Thomas.
“The small little doses that I was able to play with Jae and IT, I wish it could have been better than it was,” James said. “I want Isaiah to get his bounce back, get his spring back, get healthy. Being out seven months is difficult for anybody. I just feel like he was playing behind the eight ball, not only on the floor, but just trying to get himself back to where he’s accustomed to playing. I wish the best for him in LA right now and his future.”
Altman’s renovation also included trading Wade back to Miami, where he’ll finish his career with the franchise that drafted him and the one he put on the map by winning three titles — two alongside James, who was thrilled for him.
“He gets to go back home and that’s how it should be,” James said. “I’ve always felt like that’s where his heart and his mind was and I think it’s going to be great for him.”
While Altman’s main objective was to repair Cleveland’s culture, he also wanted to spark James, who hasn’t been himself in recent weeks. However, with the deadline hours away, James put together a 37-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound game on Wednesday that he capped with a buzzer-beating shot in overtime to edge Minnesota.
“This guy is so good he dictates outcomes,” Altman said. “He’s going to compete every night and try to get whatever team he’s on to the Finals, but I wanted to see a renewed sense of joy in him and being around him the last 24 hours has been great.”
Just last week James expressed doubts about the Cavs’ commitment to fixing their roster. He watched other All-Stars get traded since the end of last season and wondered if Cleveland was going to make changes.
He doesn’t have any doubts now. The Cavs made their moves.
James gets the next one.