Dribbles: Culture change already evident in happy Cavs

LeBron James and the Cavaliers were all smiles in humbling the Celtics.

Random dribbles following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ incredibly impressive 121-99 hammer job of the host Boston Celtics on Sunday.

1. It took all of four or five days (and what must have felt like a thousand phone calls to opposing executives) for Koby Altman to fix the Cavs.

2. Altman is the Cavs’ general manager and he was the man in front and center at the trade deadline last week. He is in his first year on the job. I’ll be honest, I was like most Cavs fans — I had my doubts.

3. It had nothing to do with Altman. Before the deadline, he was clearly capable of holding down the job. It’s just that the Cavs were losing, looking bad, desperate. I felt like no matter who Altman called, the opposing GM would have the upper hand.

4. I was wrong.

5. Seriously. Let’s think about the trades for a minute. Altman turned Isaiah Thomas (still somewhat hobbling and a terrible fit) and Channing Frye (34 years old) into Larry Nance Jr. (25 years old) and Jordan Clarkson (ditto). “Nice trade,” I thought.

6. No sooner did I think that then I heard the Cavs landed Rodney Hood (yes, also 25) from the Utah Jazz for Jae Crowder (another bad fit) and Derrick Rose (on his way out after a stellar career). “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Rodney Hood?!?”

7. Honestly, about two hours before I found out the Cavs traded for Hood, I marveled at a recent Jazz box score. It showed Hood had scored 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting. “Wow,” I thought. “The Cavs could use a guy like that.”

8. They got him. So I was already beyond impressed with their deadline dealings.

9. It was later revealed that Hood was part of a three-way trade with the Jazz and Sacramento Kings — and meant George Hill would also be headed to the Cavs. Hill is a heady, tough and experienced point guard who always seemed to be at his best on good teams (San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers).

10. All of this was stunning. I went on radio shows, wrote columns and rambled on during my own podcast, and the point was always the same — “If the Cavs are going to make a big trade, they will need to attach the Brooklyn pick,” I kept insisting.

11. Well, Altman and the Cavs made THREE trades. And guess what they still possess? Yeah. The Brooklyn pick. Yet another example why I write about basketball and am not really in charge of anything.

12. Of course, you knew about all the trades already. So why am I bringing them up again? Because I felt, on paper, the Cavs improved their team with an infusion of youth, calmness and four players who would immediately help what was a downward spiral in team culture.

13. On Sunday, they showed that, hey, maybe that is indeed the case, and in every possible facet.

14. On Sunday, seven Cavs reached double figures in scoring — with three of the four newcomers included in that group. Clarkson scored 17 points, Hood had 15 and Hill went for 12 as the starting point guard.

15. And on Sunday, LeBron James and J.R. Smith (yes, J.R.) looked reinvigorated, as if the new batch of talent gave them a real reason to believe again. Mostly, James and Smith and the Cavs appeared to be having a lot of fun. That is something Altman set out to do, and something he likely learned from David Griffin, the Cavs’ former GM and Altman’s former boss and mentor.

16. When Griffin got the Cavs’ job back in February 2014, he held a press conference where he emphasized the need for the Cavs to “start having fun again.” This was before James returned to the franchise, but it rings true no matter where you play or who is on the team. If you don’t enjoy playing the game, then what’s the point?

17. More than that, happy teams are typically winning teams — or at least competitive teams. For a good month, the Cavs were none of those things.

18. Then came the deadline, and Altman brought in players with a reputation for being fine basketball players, and even better people. They don’t have the big names of the players who were sent packing (Thomas, Rose, Dwyane Wade and even Iman Shumpert), but they do have the games. In fact, the team suddenly looks younger, fresher and doesn’t have any hangups about things like image or brands.

19. Nor do any of the newcomers seem concerned with anything but the present and future.

20. Hill to reporters on that very subject: “I don’t care what happened before. We’re here to start something new.”

21. For more notes and quotes, be sure to check out at least two of the many posts by AmicoHoops writer Colton Jones: LBJ, new-look Cavs have a ball blasting Boston, as well as Runnin’ and gunnin’ Cavs clobber Celtics.

22. Oh, and let’s not forget this from Colton, too: The New 4 helps jolt Cavs back to life.

23. Oh, and while Nance didn’t score in double figures, he did take flight for a massive dunk and offer lots of athleticism, energy and selflessness in making an underrated impact near the rim. Get used to it, Cleveland fans. That’s his game.

24. By the way, James finished with 24 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Smith scored 15. Rookie Cedi Osman had 12 and Jeff Green 10.

25. As for Kyrie Irving and the Celtics, well, it was an afternoon to forget. After a close first half, the Cavs (33-22) turned the final two quarters into just about 24 minutes of garbage time. The Celtics (40-18) are still ahead of the Cavs in the Eastern Conference standings, but they are probably feeling anxious about things today.

26. All this and the Cavs still have an All-Star power forward in Kevin Love expected to rejoin the lineup. He appears to be headed for a late-March return. It’s hard to tell where the Cavs may be by then — but already easy to believe it could be a very good place.

27. And it all started with Altman understanding the culture needed to be changed and not stopping until he did something about it. Or in the case of these new Cavs, a lot of somethings about it.

8 Comments on "Dribbles: Culture change already evident in happy Cavs"

  1. Great original content at 1am!

    I have a feeling this team won’t give up big third quarter leads because they have fewer holes on defense.

    • Thanks Thomas! Appreciate you following along — and reading at 1 a.m. 🙂

      And I have a feeling you may be right about the third quarters. They’re off to a great beginning, that’s for sure.

  2. Very excited to see what this team can do. I’d like to see if Rodney hood can become a true second option. If not, maybe the cavs can get Michael porter Jr. With the Brooklyn pick. Even though they didn’t get a rim protector, I still think Larry Nance Jr will be a great small ball center when it matters though

  3. Good stuff Amico!

  4. These trades also free Lue to coach. I never understood why Cedi wasnt playing. The Kyrie trade is what allowed the Cavs to reset their outlook for the future with or without LeBron. Now even if they dont win it all this year and they add a top 5 pick next season wow.
    LeBron has no reason to leave now. I saw LeBron having fun acting like a 22 year-old in the last 2 games. Its also fun to watch the Cavs again.

  5. Lue is the key moving forward. How he fits the new pieces into a cohesive rotation will determine our success in the playoffs. The other big issue will be how quickly Love can get back to form and mixed back in on his return. Hopefully we can get at least the second seed in the East and see what happens from there.
    Also worth mentioning, 5 teams are only 1 win behind the Nets as of today. The worst team is only 2 wins behind them. That Nets pick could still really pan out for us.

  6. No question we will be a more aggressive defensive team. But do you think this roster will wind up taking less 3’s than the previous roster?

  7. Seems like they acquired another player…Cedi Osman! Nice to see him getting PT! Love it!

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