Cavaliers

Will Gibson returns to talk Cavs remodel and WFNYX

Nick Wass / AP

As I write on Thursday February 8, the day of the NBA trade deadline, I’m happy. The Cleveland Cavaliers have made a series of trades which, if not strictly good, are at least interesting and exciting. That’s an upgrade over the past couple weeks, when the Cavs have played some of the worst, laziest, unhappiest basketball I can readily recall. One LeBron game-winner and a few deals later, basketball is fun again.

Immediate thoughts on the Lakers deal:
• Fare thee well, Isaiah Thomas. Come at the king, you best not miss.
• Welcome home, Larry Nance, Junior! For a franchise that has never had a strong sense of culture, bringing in a second-generation Cavalier is a heartwarming thing. I’m not sure what he can do beyond dunk, but 1) dunking is very cool; 2) he’s young, athletic and on a team-friendly contract; and 3) again, his name is Larry Nance.
• I don’t love that the Cavs gave the Lakers a draft pick, but Thomas’ locker-room presence could fairly (at least “fairly” by sports-talk standards, which should not connote good things) be described in cancerous terms, and in America healthcare does not come cheap. They didn’t surrender the Nets pick, now off the table per league rules, which seems a hedge by Dan Gilbert.
• The Cavs helped the Lakers clear cap space to theoretically go after LeBron in free agency, and I just don’t care. Wake me when one of the Lakers’ summertime coups comes to fruition.
• I’ve not watched much Jordan Clarkson footage. The numbers suggest he’s not much of a shooter or defender. On the bright side, he is literally eight inches taller than Isaiah Thomas.
• My biggest takeaway from this trade is that I will miss Channing Frye. His impact off the court, along with that of Richard Jefferson, has rightly been discussed at length. He has been, in interviews and on Instagram and Snapchat, one of the most chill bros in NBA history. He embraced his role perfectly. He carried no outsized ego. He has perspective and is genuinely funny. I’m glad the Cavs did him a solid by sending him to L.A. and not, say, Sacramento. He will be missed.

The Kings/Jazz deal:
• Fare thee well, Derrick Rose. Were we still in a pre–advanced stats world, you still might be making $20 million a year.
• I always liked Iman Shumpert. I liked him more when he flashed that big beautiful smile than when he dribbled his way into midrange jumpers, but I liked him nonetheless. He delivers babies with headphone cords better than any NBA player I’ve ever seen.
• Jae Crowder is better in theory than practice. He is to traps what Dwight Howard is to shoulders.
• George Hill should be able to defend opposing point guards roughly 500 percent better than Thomas and Rose, and he’s leading the whole damn league in three-point percentage. If moving from a lottery team to a contender adds a little pep to his step, color me excited.
• Rodney Hood has struggled a bit with injuries and inconsistency, but he’s a 6-8 wing who’s shooting 39 percent from deep this year. Advanced stats aren’t particularly kind to him, but he’s just 25 and reportedly respected around the league.

The Heat deal:
• Dwyane Wade was a bit like Shaq in that it felt like a Big Deal when he, once a legitimate superstar, arrived in Cleveland. It was fun seeing him and LeBron back together. I’m glad the Cavs did right by him, and I hope he enjoys going back to Miami.

Now, sports fans, say hello to your new-look Cleveland Cavaliers. Gone are Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, two point guards who made the Cavs demonstrably worse. Gone are Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert, who colored the past few years with their personality as much as their play. Gone are Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade after just 99 games combined in the wine and gold.

In comes George Hill, a reasonably capable defender who is shooting as well as he ever has. In comes Rodney Hood, a rangy wing who perhaps hasn’t realized his potential (and who, depending on the market, could be re-signed at a decent price this summer). In come Nance and Clarkson, bounding with youth and energy. And now the Cavs have a couple open roster spots for buyout candidates in addition to keeping the Nets pick.

A considerable portion of the conversation surrounding the Cavs and their potential moves suggested a dichotomy—either go all in (#AllIn?) now to maximize one last ride with LeBron, or face the fate of his departure and build for the future. Koby Altman, about whom I have said disparaging things within the past 24 hours, seems to have gotten the best of both worlds. Today’s Cavaliers are longer, younger and more athletic than yesterday’s. Whether or not this group can actually play together, who the hell knows, but it isn’t hard to imagine things working out.

Basketball in many ways is about accepting roles. Rose and Thomas showed little interest in doing so. Wade gamely took to life on the bench, and sending him back to Miami could be seen as rewarding that selflessness. I never got the sense that Crowder was a boat-rocker, but he struggled nonetheless. If the new Cavs stay in their lanes—if Hill and Hood defend and hit threes, if Nance plays with a Tristanian energy, if Clarkson can pick his spots—the sum could be greater than the parts.

I’m generally loath to give Dan Gilbert credit because, well, I think he’s a toad, but kudos to him, I suppose. The front office in Independence seemed to be in total disarray, but now a series of sense-making moves have been made, enabled in no small part by his largesse. (I still hold on to a perverse dream in which LeBron declares he will stay in Cleveland on the condition that Gilbert sell the team.)

And now, a few words on 10 years of Waiting For Next Year.

The NBA trade deadline will always be special to me. It is a microcosm of everything that makes the modern NBA what it is, what with the tweets and unpredictability and roster shuffling, but it’s more than that. I will always think of it with fondness, for it brings to mind the work I once put in to this very website.

In the summer of 2014, I returned home to Cleveland after years abroad in South Korea. I had neither a job nor any strong leads toward getting one. I spent plenty of time watching sports, basketball especially, and reading everything I could about them. I had dabbled in writing previously, so I figured I’d try to get involved with one of the fine Cleveland-focused sporting outlets. I sent out a few pitches. Scott at WFNY saw something he liked and gave me a shot.

WFNY was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. It gave me something to dive into, a respite from the drudgery of browsing job boards and sending out ill-fated resumes. To tie in the site’s tagline: I had the misery. WFNY offered hope. That inspired passion.

It never felt like work, though in retrospect I suppose it was. I spent quite a few early-morning hours cobbling words together, editing copy, or faking my way through Photoshop. I loved when the Cavs were on the west coast despite the fatigue that was sure to ensue the next day. Staying up to watch and then write about Kyrie’s 57-pointer against the Spurs is a happy memory, subsequent transactions be damned. I poured myself into WFNY, and I felt better for it. As a fan of Kyle Welch’s ‘90s Song of the Day knows, you only get what you give.

Back to the NBA trade deadline: I endeavored to cover the 2015 version, which saw scores of players moved across roughly a dozen deals. It was one of the more exhilarating undertakings I can remember. News broke like gas pipes, sending shrapnel to every corner of the NBA map. I spent much of my workday—by then I had gotten an actual job, the responsibilities of which I occasionally shirked—glued to Twitter and jotting notes as best I could. Once I got home, I stayed up until the wee hours trying to suss out the details of each transaction.

I’m not sure my so-called analysis has aged particularly well—Arron Afflalo didn’t quite put the Blazers over the top, eh?—but god, it was fun. Much of what I’ve written in this space makes me cringe if I read it now, but it’s the experience more than the product that I cherish. Diving into a topic, seeking to understand it, trying to say something interesting about it and then serving it up to the world is a hell of a task. It’s a rush.

I haven’t felt that rush as much lately. My thirst for sports isn’t what it used to be, I’m afraid. I’m a thirty-something now. I’ve written a couple things for WFNY over the past year, but more often I’ve felt as though I don’t have anything to say. Worrying about the world and planning for retirement and all that crap has seeped into my headspace more than I ever would have hoped. Often a familiar refrain comes into my mind, something in the vein of How much do sports really matter? They’re fun, and I like watching them and all, but how much time and energy can an alleged adult spend on this stuff? Shouldn’t I devote myself more to truly worthwhile?

I suppose I should, yes, but I don’t. Sports may not matter all that much compared to, I don’t know, human rights and gerrymandering and these sorts of things, but they matter nonetheless. They matter because they bring people together.

As I write this from my home in Philadelphia, for instance, millions of Eagles fans are celebrating their team winning a championship, just as Clevelanders did in the summer of 2016. Philly is a famously surly town (though I think they’re secretly a bunch of sweethearts), but it’s been all sunshine and rainbows the past couple weeks. To walk up Broad Street last Sunday was to swim in a sea of humanity, with all ages, races, sizes and shapes bound together in joyous revelry.

Last night I had a coworker tell me, unprompted, that she chose not to watch the Super Bowl in Philly because she wanted to watch it with her older brother at their childhood home in New Jersey. Football was among the things they bonded over as kids and has been a string connecting them ever since. Together they learned the nuances of the game, the lyrics of the Eagles fight song, the rhythm of the action. Theirs is the sort of connection that we all have. Perhaps you felt it today, your phone lighting up as news of the Cavs’ moves spread.

As is often the case, my train of thought is losing steam. The point, insofar as I have one, is one that has been made countless times before: Sports are good. I often get frustrated because the conversations surrounding them are often so stupid, but we mustn’t let the shouting heads dupe us into missing the forest. Sports are a right and good and joyful thing. They make us cheer and laugh and cry and scream. They bring us together as families, as cities and as strangers.

I haven’t met in person most of the creators and contributors to WFNY, and I certainly haven’t met most of the readership. Yet for some 10 years a bond has persisted among the entire community. That’s a cool goddamn thing. Ten years for a website is like 100 years for a bluesman, and that goes double if they’re independent. I’m proud to have been part of it. I’m proud of those who still make it go on a day-to-day basis.

May we all be reading about another championship soon.

 

This post has been edited for clarity and to clean up some dumb errors.