Originally Published: February 8, 2018 5:57 p.m.
CLEVELAND — With their NBA title hopes fading fast, the Cavaliers got aggressive at the trading deadline.
They swapped teams.
Cleveland completely changed its look — and perhaps its chances of winning a championship this season — on Thursday with a stunning sequence of deals. Cavs general manager Koby Altman traded six players, including Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, and two future draft picks in moves designed to not only help them in the short term but could potentially help keep LeBron James beyond this season.
Just like that, the Cavs traded nearly half their roster, got younger and maybe wedged themselves back into contention to make a fourth straight Finals appearance against Golden State.
Watching from the West Coast, the defending champions took notice.
"It's interesting, really interesting," Warriors forward Draymond Green said of Cleveland's drastic midseason renovation. "It's probably obviously something that they felt was needed. I feel like they made some good moves. I don't know, we'll see. A lot of action. That's a completely different team now than the team we faced the last three years.
"They've still got LeBron James. I think everything else at that point is irrelevant."
The Cavs began their shocking overhaul by sending the disappointing Thomas along with forward Channing Frye and one of their two first-round picks to the Los Angeles Lakers for point guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr.
Thomas, who came over in last summer's blockbuster trade with Boston for Kyrie Irving, played in just 15 games and wasn't fitting in with Cleveland on or off the floor after he returned from a hip injury.
As the Thomas swap was being digested around the league, the Cavs completed a three-team deal with Utah and Sacramento, said a person with direct knowledge of Cleveland's moves. The Cavs sent Rose, who has also been slowed by injury, and forward Jae Crowder to the Jazz for forward Rodney Hood. They'll receive guard George Hill from the Kings in exchange for guard Iman Shumpert, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity while the teams awaited league approval.
And if all that wasn't enough, the Cavs then dealt Wade to Miami for a protected 2024 second-round pick. It's a homecoming for the 36-year-old Wade, who played 13 seasons in Miami, winning three NBA titles — two with James. Wade has said he wanted to end his career with the Heat, and he'll get his chance.
James went on Instagram to endorse the move for one of his best friends , posting "truly happy for my brother @dwyanewade!! It's how it's suppose to be. Love you my guy!! #WadeCountyBack."
While he was reunited in Cleveland with James, Wade was coming off the bench and his role may have been further diminished by the other new additions. Wade, though, had an impact during his short time with the Cavs.
"A definite Hall of Famer when his playing career is complete, his basketball legacy is cemented by how he carries himself both on and off the floor," Altman said. "His work ethic and commitment to the game of basketball with such an illustrious career was greatly respected by his Cavs teammates and everyone in our front office."
The massive makeover is intended to help the Cavs make another title run in 2018 with James, who can opt out of his $35.6 million contract this summer and become a free agent. The 33-year-old James has said he would like to finish his career in Cleveland and Altman, who has only been in charge of the roster since July, gave James a team he can lead back to the Finals.
In Jordan and Nance, whose father played for Cleveland, the Cavs are adding a pair of young players with upside.
"Jordan and Larry add athleticism, energy and length to both ends of the court for us," Altman said. "This trade is also a reflection of our continuing commitment to invest in our roster in ways that help us evolve and compete at the highest level now and into the future."
The Cavs also protected themselves if they lose James by hanging onto the first-round pick they acquired last summer from Boston for Thomas, Crowder and center Ante Zizic.
ESPN was first to report the dizzying run of deals.
Thomas seemed to sense his strange stay in Cleveland was over.
After James hit a buzzer-beating jumper to beat Minnesota in overtime on Wednesday night, Thomas stood at his locker and wondered if he would be on the move again.
"I'm tired of being traded," he said. "That's not a good thing. But I just want to be where I'm wanted. I like it here. It hasn't been as planned, but I definitely want to be here."
The Cavaliers, though, had other plans and needed to do something rash while in a prolonged slump and with All-Star forward Kevin Love out with a broken left hand.
Thomas, who turned 29 on Wednesday, wasn't working out. He missed Cleveland's first 36 games while coming back from a torn right labrum that knocked him out of last year's playoffs. The Cavs tried to incorporate him into their offense, but it was forced and bogging them down.
Cleveland is just 7-13 since Christmas Day, and the club's slide has coincided with Thomas' comeback. He played better on Wednesday night, scoring 13 points with seven assists in 31 minutes. But he's a defensive liability on a defensively challenged team and the Cavs felt it was best to move him.
While Thomas struggled on the floor, he didn't help himself with some peculiar off-the-court comments.
Following Tuesday's embarrassing loss to the 17-win Orlando Magic — the Cavs blew a 21-point lead and scored nine points in the fourth quarter — Thomas questioned whether the team makes enough in-game adjustments.
Those remarks were dismissed by coach Tyronn Lue, who said, "That's not true."
Lue tweaked his rotations against the Timberwolves, giving more minutes to rookie Cedi Osman, who provided an infusion of needed energy. Late in the game, Thomas was pulled off the floor by Lue and the guard stood near Cleveland's bench and shook his head in disappointment.
Moments later, James dropped his game-winner over Jimmy Butler to edge the Timberwolves and was mobbed teammates.
It turned to be a going-away celebration.