From Isaiah Thomas to Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, the Cleveland Cavaliers loaded up on big names last summer.
None will be there if the Cavaliers get back to the NBA Finals.
In what felt like an unprecedented do-over for a contending team, the Cavaliers simply changed the pieces that weren’t fitting for new ones on Thursday at the trade deadline.
Fans who usually marvel at LeBron James were instead praising his general manager, as Koby Altman used a series of swaps to strengthen a sputtering team and leave open the possibility for more moves.
“They got better. They made the moves they wanted to make and I’m sure they’re going to make it work over there,” Golden State’s Kevin Durant said. “It’s fun for all the fans and the media to kind of see what’s going on with the trade deadline.”
Cavs’ fans probably had the most fun, and for good reason. Cleveland was the story Thursday .
The Cavaliers acquired Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. in the deal with Los Angeles, which also got Channing Frye and a first-round pick from Cleveland.
George Hill came from Sacramento and Rodney Hood from Utah as the Cavaliers dealt away Rose, Wade, Jae Crowder and Iman Shumpert — changing nearly half their rotation.
All that wheeling-and-dealing stole headlines even with nearly two-thirds of the league making deals.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the other newsmakers on deadline day — though their moves were to try to win this summer, not this season. Their deal with the Cavaliers, in which they acquired Thomas, got them out of future salary and set themselves up to offer perhaps two maximum contracts in free agency.
“This is what I came here to do, was to create flexibility for our organization,” Lakers President Magic Johnson said, “so that one day we can have a superstar or two come to this organization with our incredible young talent that we have, that we will continue to grow.”
Wade returned to Miami , mending fences with Pat Riley and finding a soft landing in a place where he won three championships following the fallout in Cleveland. The Heat struggle to score and used a second-round pick to bring back the player who did that more than anyone else for their franchise.
“The fact that he decided to come off the bench in Cleveland has minimized and also limited his opportunities to do certain things that he has always been capable of doing, so I would imagine he would morph right back into the role of being a scorer, a front-line scorer for us, a crunch-time scorer for us, a defender on the ball in niche situations,” Riley said.
Most of the moves outside Cleveland on Thursday were minor, for a few reasons.
One is so many difference-making players had already been traded, from Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler in the summer to Blake Griffin last week. There simply weren’t many blockbusters left to be made.
Also, teams have become hesitant to trade first-round picks, which teams often want when they’re dealing a top player. But teams like keeping their picks because it allows them to have affordable talent for a few years on rookie contracts.
“Draft picks, especially first-rounders, are becoming like gold to a lot of franchises,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “In these markets where cost-certainty for a young player is something you can have, it’s a big thing.”
But teams are just taking a breath, they are not done.
Some players traded Thursday were immediately waived. Players who are on NBA rosters have to be waived by March 1 to be eligible to play for another team in the postseason.
That means the high-spending contenders can try to add talent without giving any up by signing veterans those took buyouts to become free agents. Boston did that Thursday when it signed Greg Monroe, and the Warriors and Cavaliers — who will have open roster spots after Thursday’s moves — will surely be watching to see if players like Evans or Joe Johnson become available in the coming days.
There were some teams that didn’t want to wait and did some tinkering Thursday.
Detroit, unbeaten since acquiring Griffin from the Clippers, acquired point guard Jameer Nelson from Chicago. The Denver Nuggets brought in Devin Harris and sent out Emmanuel Mudiay in a three-team trade with New York that landed Doug McDermott in Dallas.
The Warriors stayed put at the deadline, as did contenders Houston and Oklahoma City. DeAndre Jordan remained with the Clippers and Tyreke Evans didn’t get a trade out of Memphis, meaning two of the names receiving heaviest speculation ahead of the deadline will be right back where they started.
But things were far from boring.
The Cavaliers made sure of that.
AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in Oakland, California, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, and freelance writer Christopher Stock in Miami contributed to this report.