The narrative was set to write itself. If the Cleveland Cavaliers carried momentum from their sweep of the Toronto Raptors and punched all of Boston square in the mouth, fond light would be cast upon the team’s front office. Conversely, if Boston were to use their home-court advantage and pull the rug out from under Cleveland’s feet, nothing—perhaps outside of a few ping-pong balls bouncing their way—would stop the headlines from being penned.
Late last summer when Koby Altman made his first substantial move as general manager of the Cavaliers, the clock began ticking. The trading of a top-15 player is guaranteed to come with its fair share of analysis and hindsight. The trading of a top-15 player in advance of a superstar’s free agency summer only serves to add a new prism through which the trade is judged. For Altman, getting “return” on the deal is one thing. In a vacuum, the Nets pick was highly coveted. In a vacuum, getting an All-NBA guard, a wing, and a young center seemed to make sense. The eventual outcome of both, however, is what will be judged, and following what took place on Tuesday night, it’s difficult to think of a worse scenario unfolding than what transpired last August.
When the NBA Lottery netted the Cavaliers the eighth-overall pick, and the Conference Finals netted the team another loss wherein the role players—especially those acquired over the course of multiple deals—hurt the team, there is a complete absence of any perspective that could paint the Irving deal as a success.
We have enough evidence now to call this how it is: The Kyrie Irving trade has been a disaster. Jae Crowder never adjusted to his role here, and Isaiah Thomas never returned to the player he once was. Instead, he was run out of town right about the time he opened his mouth and missed his first shot. The flurry of trades Altman made to right the wrongs haven’t served this team any better in these playoffs. When asked how he assesses the Irving trade now that he knows where the Cavs are selecting, Altman pointed to the success of the current team.When asked how he assesses the Irving trade now that he knows where the Cavs are selecting, Altman pointed to the success of the current team. But none of the success is because of the players acquired through the Irving deal. In fact, the Cavs have made it this far in spite of all the trades.
On paper, Crowder should have been the piece to help LeBron James defensively. The guy who could hit threes and potentially stick on Kevin Durant during another Finals matchup, he should have been the ideal, flexible fit. Instead, he was one of the reasons why the locker room was divisive, unhappy with the impact James had on decision making on and off the court.
On paper, Thomas should have helped ease the pain, producing a scoring punch from the backcourt and giving the Cavaliers a weapon to deploy when James would need rest. Instead, he clearly was not healthy, would not budge in terms of his role — he scoffed at the notion of getting his rhythm back in the G-League — and was a main player in the us-versus-them story that led to the blow-it-up deal in February.
On paper, that Nets pick was the jackpot. A pick teams coveted for years, it was finally in the hands of the Cavs. Instead, Cleveland didn’t help themselves at all, losing to Brooklyn in October and having them win one more game than the Sacramento Kings come season’s end. The Kings are picking second this June; the Cavs have to wait six more picks before they get to hand in a card.1
While Altman and the Cavaliers can at least say things looked better on paper, it’s tough to feel the same about Mark Chernoff and the Cleveland Indians. Outside of production from Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Michael Brantley, the Indians’ offense has been largely unable to produce runs. Home runs have been there, but much like the Cavaliers’ willingness to live and die by the three-pointer, run-producing hits have been few and far between.
Compiling issues is the team’s bullpen which has been nothing short of a disaster. Letting players from last year’s unit sign elsewhere while playing the “limited resources” card while Rome burns, the Indians continue to be haunted by ghosts of offseasons past.
Here’s The Athletic’s Zack Meisel:
In their past 21 games, the Indians have averaged 6.2 runs per contest. That has secured an 8-13 record, a reflection of a bruised and battered bullpen that has posted a 9.16 ERA during that stretch. Three weeks ago, the Indians ranked fourth in the majors in bullpen ERA. Last season, the Indians ranked first. Now, they rank dead last. … So, that meant no Hector Rondon (two years, $8.5 million), no Brandon Kintzler (two years, $10 million), no Tony Watson (two years, $7 million), no Luke Gregerson (two years, $11 million). It meant no true replacement for a hell of a lot of lost production. It meant a ton of hoping and praying. And now, the Indians are paying for their sins of winter.
The Indians were to be contenders. A young core and solid rotation were to lead them back to yet another postseason appearance. Instead, they’re mixing nights of low scoring output with those of head-shaking defense and batting practice from the seventh inning on. There is an understandable level of “well, they play in the AL Central” to be had, but all this does is mask the undeniable flaws. Making the playoffs because you’re the least bad of an entire division isn’t a moment of pride if it leads to nothing more than hoping randomness and luck can loft a team into the next round. It’s May and the Indians are providing soundbites of “finite resources” and the likelihood of near-term trades being low.
Both situations between the Indians and Cavaliers are completely fixable with some hard work, resources, and a little luck. It takes an awful lot for the Cleveland Browns’ front office to have the highest level of fan perception in the city, but it could be argued that John Dorsey’s group leads the pack when it comes to fan confidence. Sure, it could be a little bit of the Shiny New Toy effect, but the Browns did offseason work in free agency, trading for and/or signing Jarvis Landry and others who are undeniable upgrades at their respective positions. They utilized hard-earned draft capital to address needs, adding Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward to the fold. And yes, the Browns still have a long way to go, winning just one game in the last two seasons, but there are reasons to be optimistic while the other two teams appear, at least for now, to be trending in the wrong direction.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “Bomani Jones Has a Funny Joke for You” by Eve L. Ewing (GQ Magazine)2
- “The Original Blog Boy” by Brian Curtis (The Ringer)
- “Two Hours Inside — Sort of — the NBA Draft Lottery” by Zac Jackson (The Athletic)3
- “An Open Letter About Female Coaches” by Pau Gasol (Player’s Tribune)
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “How Ryan Murphy Became the Most Powerful Man in TV” by Emily Nussbaum (New Yorker)
- “Inside the Final Days of Robin Williams” by Dave Itzkoff (Vanity Fair)4
- “Inside the Ecosystem that Fuels Amazon’s Fake Review Problem” by Nicole Nguyen (Buzzfeed)
- “Univision is a F— Mess” by Kate Conger, David Uberti, and Laura Wagner (Gizmodo Special Projects Desk)5
This Week in #BleacherReporting:
- “Have LeBron James and Co. Figured Things Out, or Was Sweep of Raptors a Mirage?“
- “‘I’m Definitely Not a 1-Man Army’: LeBron Considers His Role in Casey Firing“
- Who knows? Perhaps Altman can call this year’s NBA Draft deep so many times that he can eventually swing that eighth-overall pick for a young star player to sell to James. For now, it’s the only thing that can save what has otherwise been a disastrous set of deals. [↩]
- “In the context of ESPN, being loud and certain isn’t exactly an uncommon contribution unto itself. But compared to, say, Pardon the Interruption or the walking, talking YouTube comments section that is Stephen A. Smith, Jones offers something different: a nuanced look at sports, backed up by rigorous evidence and a refreshing willingness to admit mistakes. [↩]
- “An official-looking official wearing what appears to be a Secret Service-quality earpiece tells a cohort that the lottery room has been “locked down,” and that the ballroom will get the same treatment at 6:50 sharp. This man appears to be joking with his co-workers on some level, but in addition to his earpiece he’s carrying a paper that appears to have been meticulously highlighted.” [↩]
- Celebrity deaths rarely impact me, but of those that have, Williams was one of the more recent. Whether or not you share my feelings, this excerpt is worth the time. [↩]
- I hadn’t known it existed until now, but a “special projects desk” is bad ass. [↩]