CLEVELAND -- When LeBron James put the Cleveland Cavaliers organization on blast a month ago, challenging the team’s decision-makers to address perceived roster deficiencies, few could imagine that when Thursday’s trade deadline expired without the Cavs making a move, James would be OK with it.
Yet lo and behold, after Cleveland couldn’t strike a last-minute deal, James, on his Uninterrupted platform hours later, posted a video saying, “It’s great to see where our team is right now.”
And a few hours after that, he put up 18 points, 15 assists, 13 rebounds and three blocks (one of the pin-it-against-the-glass, chase-down variety reminiscent of his regal rejection in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals) for his sixth triple-double of the season, helping to secure the Cavaliers' fourth win in a row and eighth in their past nine games with a 119-104 handling of the New York Knicks.
James’ comments from that night in New Orleans were interpreted myriad ways, including his "I just hope that we're not satisfied as an organization” line considered by some to be him alluding to a desire to shake things up and acquire the costly Carmelo Anthony for a team already saddled by an exorbitant luxury-tax bill.
Well, Anthony was still in a Knicks uniform Thursday, putting up 20 points that were largely inconsequential because they came on 9-for-25 shooting with five turnovers. Meanwhile, James was flanked by a couple of alternative pickups: Kyle Korver and Derrick Williams, who combined for 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting. They joined the plus-sized second unit coach Ty Lue continues to experiment with -- with James, Korver, Williams, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, all measuring 6-foot-7 or taller -- and Thursday saw the group once again wreak havoc on its opponent.
Neither Korver nor Williams were true deadline additions -- Korver came in early January and Williams was brought in on his first 10-day contract just before the All-Star break (he’s on his second 10-day deal now, which will be followed by a pact to last the rest of the season) -- but they are proving to be as impactful as the other in-season roster revamps Cavs general manager David Griffin pulled off the past two seasons: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov in 2015, followed by Frye and Dahntay Jones in 2016.
“Just fit in perfect,” James said of the pair. “Vets. No ego. Just want to do whatever it takes to help us win. And D-Will adds something that we were looking for in an athletic wing -- he can play both sides of the floor, he can defend, he can rebound, make shots. And Kyle gave us another knockdown shooter, so it’s just perfect for our team.”
Maybe not as perfect as how the Golden State Warriors are finding a former MVP in Kevin Durant fitting in with their team (not to mention fringe additions in David West, Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee finding roles), but the Durant move was unlike anything else in league history.
There wasn’t a thing the Cavs could have done from the summer to now to replicate that move through one player.
But with Korver and Williams making an impact, plus the potential for another face or two to be added at guard (Deron Williams, Mario Chalmers, etc.) or big man (Andrew Bogut, Larry Sanders, etc.), not to mention the expected healthy returns of Smith and Kevin Love next month, suddenly the Cavs’ repeat title hopes don’t seem so remote, even with Golden State clearly formidable.
“It just makes our team that much deeper,” Lue said of Korver (who has made 52.3 percent of his 3s since joining the Cavs) and Williams (who has made 57.1 percent of his shots overall). “I’m glad they’re getting a chance to play and figure things out, understand how we play, and we can kind of understand who they are and how they play. We get Kevin and J.R. back, then we can understand each other and fit pieces where they need to fit.”
Suddenly, the Cavs’ adopted mantra in recent weeks -- “We got what we got” -- doesn’t sound so resigned as much as it’s a prideful perspective.
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“I got that from Larry Hughes,” Lue said of the phrase. “A long time ago we played for the Wizards, and he was like, ‘We got what we got.’ That was just like a little joke. I guess everybody’s using it, but we’ve got what we’ve got. I like what we have. We’ve got to lace them up. This is our team, so let’s do it.”
Who would have thought that Cleveland would have such a quiet trade deadline and come out on the other side of it seemingly breathing new life?
“I’ve always felt good about the team,” James said. “Coming into the season, even in January I felt good about our team, but you know, it’s just about the way we were playing. So now I feel really good about the way we’re playing right now.”
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