Amid growing speculation that Akron native and NBA mega star LeBron James would be leaving the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Lakers President of Basketball Operations and NBA icon Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson swung a deal with Cleveland that while clearing essential cap space to sign to Max free agents this summer, also may have gave The King a reason to stay at home.
Johnson sent arguably the Lakers most productive player Jordan Clarkson and their most intriguing player Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavs for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye along with a late first round draft pick.
Both Thomas and Frye are playing on expiring contracts while Clarkson and Nance Jr. are young players under contract through the next couple of years. Nance Jr. is the son of Cavs legend Larry Nance and is returning home.
However, the Cavs were not done with just shedding the complaining diminutive Thomas, General Manager Koby Altman then added the sweet stroking Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz and steady point guard George Hill from the Sacramento Kings.
The Cavs shipped off a couple of fading stars in Derrick Rose to Utah and Dwayne Wade back to Miami, and an injured Iman Shumpert (to Utah) in that deal. The Jazz immediately waved Rose who is considering joining the Washington Wizards.
Altman is proving to be quite a general manager in his rookie season with the bold moves that paid stellar dividends with a 121-99 shellacking of the East leading Boston Celtics on Sunday.
In making the splash at the trading deadline, Altman did so without having any commitment from James beyond this season, but he may not have to now. If the Cavs go back to the NBA finals and possibly win it, James would be foolish to leave and if they make a deep run and falter then the Cavs are better prepared for the future with that Brooklyn Nets draft pick in their pocket if James decides to go.
The big loser in all of this could be Magic and the Lakers. Ask yourself what core group of younger players is better now, the Lakers with Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball or the Cavs with a rising Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson, Nance Jr., Hood and Clarkson?
Clearly at this point it apples and oranges since the Cavs may not retain Hood and the Lakers may not keep Randle after this season.
Most observers would not favor either team over the Golden State Warriors or maybe even the Houston Rockets with James on their roster, but James on the Cavs with that group would be favorites to win the East every single year and The Finals is a crap shoot that could roll a 23 anytime.
No one knows for sure what James will do or what motives he may have for doing what he will do, but Altman thanks in large part to Magic may have made that choice more difficult for him.
Altman transformed the Cavs from one of the oldest teams in the league muddling in the Northeast Ohio snow to one of the youngest and most exciting bristling with enthusiasm, and not since James was playing with the Fab Four at St. Vincent St. Mary has be appeared to have as much fun as he did on Sunday.
When was the last time the Cavs could afford to sit James for the entire fourth quarter? If you can shave minutes off James legs, then you can thus extend the career of undoubtedly the greatest player next to Michael Jordan.
Thanks Magic Johnson…