- - Monday, February 12, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Cleveland might not win the O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy this season.

But the Cavaliers general manager might need a spot for the NBA Executive of the Year Trophy.

In one fell swoop last week, Koby Altman transformed his bickering, lethargic and unathletic team into a jubilant, robust collection of multi-skilled players who can push the pace, create their own shots and add defense to the mix.

Altman’s trade-deadline maneuvers — acquiring four players from three teams — were stunning on paper and looked better on hardwood in the revamped Cavs’ first game. Cleveland routed Boston in a nationally-televised matchup of Eastern Conference heavyweights.

The Cavs not only spoiled the mood on Paul Pierce Day, they sent a strong message to other teams: We’re back.

Never mind that LeBron James stills plays for Cleveland and at age 33 remains the game’s top player. Never mind that the Cavs entered Sunday’s contest as the East’s No. 3 seed. Never mind that the last three NBA Finals have featured Cleveland and James has played in the last seven.

Cleveland, as constructed prior to Altman’s handiwork, was a dead team walking, exhibiting little life, less energy and no hope.

“We were marching a slow death,” Altman told reporters Thursday. “We didn’t want to be a part of that.”

Revitalization occurred with his acquisition of Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. (from the Lakers), Rodney Hood (from the Jazz) and George Hill (from the Kings), while shipping out Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade and a 2018 first-round draft pick.

The new-look Cavs wasted no time in impressing during a 121-99 rout. After just half a practice, the four acquisitions combined to post 49 points, 13 rebounds and five assists against the Celtics, arguably the East’s top team.

One thing remained the same; James was brilliant, as always.

He sat out the last quarter and barely missed a third consecutive triple-double, finishing with 24 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. On the bench, he was the biggest cheerleader for his new teammates, all of whom relish this opportunity after toiling for lottery-bound squads.

“We have one of the best players in the history of the game,” Hill told reporters Saturday. “I’m sure he’s going to dictate the tempo and things like that. We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be.

“He’s the Batman and we got to be all Robins We got to figure it out.”

Hill, who stepped in as the starting point guard, scored 17 points in his Cleveland debut. He recorded only one assist but, along with the other Robins, performed well at the essential task for Batman’s helpers.

Hilll knocked down 2-of-4 shots from behind the arc. Clarkson (17 points) was 3-of-4 while Hood (15 points) was 3-of-6. The new blood even infected holdover J.R Smith, who shot well on 3-pointers (3-of-4), and threw down a vicious one-handed slam on Celtics big man Aron Baynes.

Altman said he was motivated to execute the drastic turnover not just because the Cavs had lost 13 of 19 games a day before the deadline, but because of how they looked in losing. Besides being blown out in several games, including defeats against Orlando, Houston, Oklahoma City and Toronto, the Cavs were listless, disappointing Altman with their obvious lack of energy and enthusiasm.

“I’m really excited about the new guys we have and about what they’re going to bring to the table,” Atlman said Saturday. “We’re going to be energetic. We’re just going to be fun again — fun to watch and fun to be around.”

He looked like a prophet Sunday as the Cavs flew up and down the court. Their youthfulness was apparent — the foursome’s average age is 27, compared to 31 for the six departed players — and they gelled with the ease of a smart player on a pick-up team.

“It was a good start,” James told reporters afterward. “It’s almost like the new guys have been here.”

As for where he’ll be next season, that remains a mystery.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of the Lakers’ trade was allowing them to clear enough cap space for two max contracts, making it easier for James to relocate to Hollywood and recruit another superstar (Paul George?) as his sidekick.

But Altman couldn’t worry about that possibility. James and the Lakers would find a way to join forces if they were determined to do. Altman was tasked with positioning Cleveland for another appearance in the Finals and a future that might not include James.

The 35-year-old GM couldn’t have done a better job on both fronts, especially considering that he held onto the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Just one question might remain:

Where should he put his award?

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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