Historically speaking, the Cleveland Cavaliers under Koby Altman have been fairly aggressive on the trade market. Since taking over the organization’s front office, Altman and his staff have acquired twenty-six players through trade with the most recent, and also most franchise-altering, being landing superstar Donovan Mitchell over the summer. So, when the annual trade deadline came and went for the Cavaliers, it was a bit surprising to many to see Cleveland be involved in zero trades, Altman included.
“I think we were one of two or three teams that didn’t make a move at the trade deadline, which is abnormal,” said Altman to the media on Thursday afternoon. “It’s cyclical, right? We would normally be the high-volume team and I’d be coming here describing to you what we did and the strategy behind that.
“I think we were good to just sit this one out and let the chaos happen and just be quiet and internally grow, which is a good place to be.”
“It was not easy for me,” later joked Altman. “As you know, I’m volume heavy.”
To be fair to the fans that were foaming at the mouth leading up to the trade deadline, the Cavaliers did have one asset to work with in Caris LeVert’s expiring contract worth approximately $18.8 million and a bevy of second-round selections. It wasn’t much to work with but Cleveland did have a clear need to upgrade perimeter shooting and overall wing production. Unfortunately, those same fans became even more rabid when seeing players like Luke Kennard, Josh Richardson, Josh Hart and Cam Reddish, players that Cleveland was linked to, go for a similar price to teams not named the Cavaliers.
In Altman’s eyes, these players weren’t enough to make a swing for at the end of the day. To Cleveland, none of these players moved the needle for them that takes the Cavaliers, a team currently on a path to a top record in the Eastern Conference, closer towards title contention. Altman did say prior to the start of the season that was never the goal, mind you. But, with how well things have been going for the Cavaliers nearly 60 games into the season, you can empathize with the fans a bit on wanting to cash in some future assets to kick things into a higher gear.
But, to be fair to Altman and Company, Cleveland didn’t have the assets to be like the Phoenix Suns and acquire Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets. They didn’t have the pieces to get O.G. Anunoby from the Toronto Raptors either. Those players would shake things up from playoff aspirations to title contention. Instead, they emptied their clip to acquire Mitchell over the summer and, based on how things are going, the Cavaliers are seemingly a lock to make the playoffs for the first time without LeBron James since the 1997-98 season. Is it enough to push Cleveland over the edge right now? Not at all. But, with how young and inexperienced this team is across the board, that’s more than okay!
“We have the second-youngest starting lineup in the NBA,” said Altman. “We’re an average of 23.2 years, and I just ran that today to make sure I was sure. We’re tied for the second-youngest in the NBA and we still have to go through those experiences. We’re gonna have to go down the stretch here and battle for our position. We’re going to have to go and, hopefully, knock on wood, go into a playoff series and see what that feels like.
“I’m excited about that. That’s the growth. That’s the maturation that I want to see from this group down the stretch and take a step back and let them experience this. This kind of basketball is very, very new for us and we have to give them the runway to achieve, have setbacks and grow from those experiences.”
Clearly, Altman’s vision and direction haven’t shifted much from the beginning of the year to now. Sure, things are much better than expected right away between Mitchell and co-star Darius Garland. But, the goal for this season was never championship or bust. It was about continuing to grow as a team all while reaching the playoffs for the first time and then figuring out the next steps from there.
Granted, it’s a very delicate tightrope walk between the two and not an enviable position for head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be in. Nevertheless, he’s found a way to prioritize winning and player development at the same time and the on-court production has formed one of the most balanced overall teams in the NBA. Sure, grabbing some extra shooting at the deadline would’ve helped make things a bit easier – it’s something Altman said the organization explored. But, in order to keep the powder dry for the future, all while not finding an inspiring acquisition, it makes sense why the Cavaliers remained inactive leading up to the 3 p.m. deadline.
Can that be a tough pill to swallow for fans? Absolutely. But, again, the goal is and always has been about making the playoffs if you’re Cleveland. With the Nets tearing down their star power, it feels all but certain that the Cavaliers can lock up homecourt in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. It’s certainly a level up from where the team was three years ago at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and, thankfully, it’s only going to get better from here for Cleveland. Garland is better than last year, which is hard to believe. Isaac Okoro is showing steady signs of development as a two-way wing. Evan Mobley is a superstar big man growing into his own. There are signs of growth internally and, to Altman’s point, the Cavaliers need to see how this plays out in full.
Now, it’s maintaining this delicate tightrope walk the Cavaliers have been going through all while shifting focus to the remainder of the year. Altman said that Cleveland will explore the buyout market to possibly add a player that fits what they’re building. But, they won’t try to rock the boat too much either. When this summer hits, it’s likely that the once-expiring LeVert signs an extension with the Cavaliers and Cleveland looks ahead to their options to fix whatever flaws they have left.
The Cavaliers have always been patient and pragmatic throughout this entire process, with the trade deadline being no exception. With how well things have gone so far, it’s more than fair to give Altman the benefit of the doubt in his approach. It’s certainly not the sexiest way to go about things but NBA organizations don’t function like MyLeague in the NBA 2K series. Trades just don’t manifest at the press of a button nor do they always work out exclusively in your favorite team’s favor. So for now, the focus shifts to Friday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans on ESPN. After that, the rest of the season awaits.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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