In the off-season of 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers had just lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and they granted Kyrie Irving's trade request, which shipped him to Boston for a package of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick which turned out to be Collin Sexton.
The Cavs were heading into the season with new faces like Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Jeff Green, to name a few. Their first game was against former Cavalier Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics, and the Cavs won with some unfortunate events occurring in the ballgame.
They were doing sort of mediocre, streaky streaks here and there, and it seemed like they were pieces away from consistency and a return to glory. LeBron James, however, was doing the exact thing he was expected to do since Kyrie was gone; he played 82 games that season averaging just around 28-9-9 on 54-37-73 shooting splits.
Right around the deadline, Cavs General Manager Koby Altman had his sights set on acquiring Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, but a deal never got close since the Clippers were looking for a team willing to take Cleveland's Iman Shumpert. LA was not intending to take on either JR Smith or Tristan Thompson, hence, finding a third team to facilitate a trade and look for a center replacement. Before the Irving trade, Cavs had their hopes of acquiring both Paul George and even Eric Bledsoe crushed as George was traded to Oklahoma City, and Cleveland had to settle for the remains of the Irving trade, which looked like the best offer at that time.
Cleveland was going into the trade deadline just a game above the Washington Wizards for the third seed in the East with a 31-22 record, but with a dismayed LeBron James and a locker room full of dissatisfied veterans. The Cavaliers performed three trade deadline deals in 2018, hoping to return to the NBA Finals that season. Below are the trades done by Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman.
Trade 1: The LeBron and Lakers Prequel
Cavaliers Received: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr.
Lakers Received: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, 2018 Protected CLE First Rounder
Before the trade, there's a sense that Altman had a feeling about the Lakers' intent to get LeBron James next offseason, and with a big market like Los Angeles, there was just no way Cleveland could say or do anything to keep him. This trade did not only help the Lakers land LeBron James in the following season, but it created more cap space that allowed them to go for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who both ended up with the LA Clippers a year after.
Both Clarkson and Nance Jr. would then find themselves traded a couple of seasons after; Isaiah Thomas, who looked dispirited with Cleveland and reportedly had a sour ending with them, is now out of the league with hopes of returning once again. Frye is retired, and that first-rounder turned out to be big man Mo Wagner.
Trade 2: The George Hill Obsession
Cavaliers Received: George Hill (from SAC), Rodney Hood (from UTA)
Kings Received: Joe Johnson (from UTA), Iman Shumpert (from CLE), 2020 second-round pick (via MIA)
Jazz Received: Derrick Rose (from CLE), Jae Crowder (from CLE)
This trade, reportedly, took a lot out of Koby Altman. Kings reportedly made problems for the Cavs by including another player that Utah and Cleveland didn't want and instead settled for cash considerations.
I called this a George Hill obsession mainly because of how frequent Hill came in rumors to Cleveland a month before the deadline. The Cavs' needed Hill because he was shooting 45% from three, which the Cavs and LeBron desperately needed. And as for Rodney Hood, he had great outings in recent seasons with Utah but just got lost in that rotation.
Utah agreed to take on Crowder, who didn't look right with Cleveland but was a fantastic role player with his next few teams, and another minimum player in Rose or Wade, who would be waived. Rose ended up being part of the deal and was waived by Utah and signed by Minnesota. He revived his career as a solid contributor and veteran role player. As for the Kings, both Johnson and Shumpert are now out of the league. Shumpert had a veteran role with them but couldn't find enough long-term interest from other teams.
Trade 3: The One Where We Forget Dwyane Wade Ever Wore a Cavs Jersey
Cavaliers Received: Protected Second Rounder
Heat Received: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade's reunion with LeBron in Cleveland was sort of a forced one. He was coming off a buyout with Chicago, and signing with Cleveland seemed like taking a shot at another ring with a close friend. Unfortunately for them, it just never worked.
Wade would find himself back where he belonged and would immediately make an impact with the Heat and is now a retired Heat legend. Most recently, he became a minority owner of Utah Jazz.
The Cavs had some fun times after those trades, even spoiling Paul Pierce's jersey retirement at TD Garden as well as pounding on Boston in the face of former Cavalier Kyrie Irving. Getting younger was a step for GM Koby Altman as he kept in mind the impending free agency of LeBron James.
As for the rest of the playoffs, I think we can all agree that LeBron James had the most contributions, and his 2018 playoff run was among the best we've seen. King James did damage in the postseason, getting buckets after buckets, game winners here and there, and of course, the famous LeBronto series. He poured in stat averages of 34-9-9 while playing 42 minutes a night, carrying the Cavs to the Finals.
In some games, the young players they acquired were deemed unplayable due to experience, and of course, they would later lose to the mighty Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. And yes, never forget the JR Smith moment, one of the most tragic plays in the history of the NBA Finals.
James would go on to the Los Angeles Lakers and win a championship in '19-'20, and the Cavaliers, who just drafted a young and hungry Collin Sexton, were in a position to rebuild and get even younger as they look promising now in coming into the upcoming season.