In a move that will have ramifications long beyond the 2018 trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers have traded Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and their own first round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
The Cavaliers have struggled all year long, well below the level of expectations set for them. They’ve defended poorly and had troubles incorporating several new players after a summer of change. Some thought this might turn around when Thomas returned from rehabbing a hip injury, instead things have only gotten worse for Cleveland.
In a stunning move, the Cavaliers have remade their roster on the fly by sending out Thomas and Frye and bringing back two younger options. Clarkson will give Cleveland a good bench scoring guard, who is capable of playing both the one and the two. The starting point guard spot will likely revert back to Derrick Rose or Jose Calderon, who split the starts while Thomas was out. Clarkson overlaps a bit with Dwyane Wade, but with Wade likely to rest plenty as the season goes along, the Cavs now won’t see as much fall off when he does so.
Nance is actually the more intriguing player for Cleveland, at least for the rest of this season. He’s the energetic, bouncy big man the Cavs haven’t had coming off their bench. He can rebound, block shots, run the floor and get up for lobs. When Cleveland needs a burst of energy off the bench, he can provide it. And any defense he provides will be a boon to a team that lacks any sort of viable rim protection.
The Cavs also gave up their own 2018 first round pick in the trade. This is important to note, as it now means Cleveland can’t trade the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick they acquired from the Celtics in the Thomas trade, without acquiring an additional 2018 first round pick. As they owe their own 2019 first round pick to Atlanta from the Kyle Korver trade, the Cavaliers are blocked from being without a 2018 first rounder due to the Stepien Rule. Keeping that Brooklyn pick was key for the Cavs, as it is their best piece, should they need to rebuild after this year.
That brings us to what is being overlooked here: any improvement for the 2018 season is likely offset by the chances Cleveland could lose LeBron James as a free agent this summer. The number one suitor for James has reportedly been the Lakers. And by making this trade, the Cavs just gave the Lakers the room to open up two max contract slots for free agents this summer. Unless James brings home another title this season, this trade may end up being one the Cavaliers regret.
Grade for the Cavaliers: C-
Don’t be fooled by any reports that come from Los Angeles about the team being excited to have Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye. This move wasn’t about that for the Lakers. This trade was about clearing out the combined $14.7 million owed to Clarkson and Nance for the 2018 season. By doing so, the Lakers are now positioned to make follow up transactions to clear enough space for two maximum contract offers this summer. One of those offers is widely expected to go to LeBron James.
To get to the two max spaces, the Lakers likely path is to renounce all of their free agents this summer, which would get them to approximately $59 million in cap space. They would then waive and stretch Luol Deng’s contract over five years, which would create the remaining room necessary to get to two max slots, which is approximately $65.7 million.
Reports were that the market for Clarkson was tepid and that the Lakers were going to have to attach one of their young players to him in order to make a trade. They did so by sending out Nance. By trading Nance they were also able to get a first round pick in return from Cleveland, which makes this an even more beneficial deal for Los Angeles.
Reports are that the Lakers will not buyout either Thomas or Frye. Thomas can give them quality point guard play and something to watch until Lonzo Ball returns from knee soreness. Frye will be a solid bench veteran for a young big man group. He’ll likely work with Kyle Kuzma on his perimeter game as a stretch four, as Frye will be more of a coach on the floor than a contributor the rest of this year.
To clear out the cap space necessary to chase two max contracts this summer is a homerun for the Lakers. To get a first round pick while doing so makes this deal a grand slam.
Grade for the Lakers: A