The Cavaliers made no big splash at NBA trade deadline, and that’s cool | Michael Arace

Detroit Free Press

A year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired big guard Caris LeVert, the pride of Pickerington Central, in a deal that went down a few days before the NBA trade deadline. The Cavs were clawing their way toward the top of the Eastern Conference and general manager Koby Altman wanted to shore up the wing.  Nice move.

Alas, the Cavs slid down the ladder into the play-in tournament, where they were undone by injuries (and Atlanta’s Trae Young). Still, what Altman did at the deadline is what a good GM does under the circumstances: He got help for his team, sent a positive message to a happy locker room, and left his talented, young core untouched. 

A year later, LeVert was one of the few Cavs players subject to any trade rumors before Thursday afternoon’s deadline. The rumors were not unfounded: LeVert is on an expiring contract worth $18 million and teams looking to clear cap space in the summer would find him attractive.

Altman didn’t have a lot of space to deal. He has to manage the cap and postpone luxury taxes in the years to come. He has to keep his core together. And he has to be careful with his future assets after shipping off one first-round pick to get LeVert and three to get Donovan Mitchell. 

Remember how, when Mitchell was acquired on Sept. 1, there were some NBA chin-rubbers who were wondering how he and point guard Darius Garland could share the ball? Or how Spida might somehow weaken one of the Cavs’ greatest strengths, that being team chemistry? Bah.

The Cavs have been on the rise since the John Beilein experiment failed and J.B. Bickerstaff was hired to coach in 2019. The rebuilding project has been nearly flawless: The Cavs won 22 games (in a shortened 72-game season) in 2020-21; they were 44-38 last season; they were 35-22, and fourth in the Eastern Conference (behind the Celtics, Bucks and 76ers) heading into Thursday’s trade deadline. This is called “trending well.” 

This month, they’re 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 21 points. Wednesday night, they rested their nicked-up Garland-Mitchell backcourt and beat the Pistons by 27 in Cleveland.

Mitchell, averaging 27 points and five assists, has somehow managed to play like a superstar while stashing his ego. He has woven his game into the Cavs’ joyful expression of basketball. If you’re a Cavs fan, you’re already uncomfortable when you look ahead to 2025-26, as Mitchell holds a player option for that season. So, let’s not look too far ahead. Let’s just look at Mitchell and Garland, rapidly improving Isaac Okoro on the wing, and Evan Mobley-Jarrett Allen as the one-two in the low block (with “block” being the operative word).  

This team is terrific theater, partly because they play excellent basketball and partly because they have so much fun doing it together. Is Bickerstaff the game’s next great coach? 

Tremorous trade-deadline action was kicked off Sunday: Former Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, who is an unbelievable basketball player but seems to have been put on this earth for other, as yet unfathomable, reasons, requested a trade away from Brooklyn and was shipped to Dallas to play with Luka Doncic. Kyrie and Luca? That might be something. Here’s a question: If you’re a Cavs fan, would you trade Garland and Spida for Kyrie and Luca? I wouldn’t. 

Former Ohio State guards D’Angelo Russell and Mike Conley Jr. were part of a three-way megadeal that involved the Lakers, Timberwolves and Jazz (and Russell Westbrook). Then, in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Phoenix Suns sent every first-round pick they have for the next century to the Nets to get Kevin Durant. Here’s another question: If you’re a Cavs fan, would you trade Allen, 24, and Mobley, 21, to the Suns for Deandre Ayton, 24, and KD, 34? I wouldn’t.

The Cavs were relatively quiet as this year’s NBA trade deadline came and went Thursday afternoon. All good. I don’t know what this team will do in the playoffs this spring, but they’re going to be better than they were last year. It’s an impressive building project, and it’s not even done yet.

marace@dispatch.com

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