Before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Los Angeles Lakers, before they got Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz and George Hill from the Sacramento Kings, Cavs GM Koby Altman was one step away from a deal for Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, according to ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski’s incredibly detailed account of the deadline day.
With the Cavaliers ownership’s approval and Clippers front office’s blessing, the two sides reportedly were nearing a deal that would have sent Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Cleveland’s 2018 first-round pick to L.A. for Jordan, so long as they could find a third team willing to take the two years left on Shumpert’s contract and another draft pick in exchange for a center to replace Jordan.
As that conversation was on hold, the Cavs laid the groundwork for the deals with the Lakers, Jazz and Kings that included all of the pieces that would have secured Jordan. So, when the Clippers zeroed in on a center from a third team that would have sealed the deal, according to Woj, the Cavaliers had a choice to make between Clarkson, Nance, Hood and Hill or a reworked plan that brought back Jordan.
We know now which direction Altman went, and that choice leaves a fascinating what-if behind.
Through two games, at least, the mix of youth and talent that the Cavaliers added at the deadline has infused a once miserable team with hope of at least making a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. Cleveland blew the doors off the Celtics in Boston on Sunday and held off the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The four new arrivals combined for 97 points (on 51 percent shooting), 28 rebounds, 15 assists, eight steals and four blocks in the two games. For now, Altman is taking a deserved bow.
The hope is that infusion carries the Cavs through the playoffs and is enough, along with whatever becomes of the Brooklyn Nets pick they held onto at the deadline, to keep LeBron James in Cleveland.
The fear is that a temporary boost devolves into the same defensive and chemistry problems that plagued them for four months, the Celtics and/or Toronto Raptors upend them earlier than expected, and James becomes convinced that a divorce with the Cavaliers in free agency is for the best, after all.
The question will be whether Jordan — the two-time Third Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defensive center who manned the middle for a 50-win Clippers team — would have made any difference at all.
Crowder and Shumpert went to the Jazz and Kings, respectively, in the three-team deal that landed Hood and Hill. Frye’s expiring contract and Cleveland’s first-rounder brought back Clarkson and Nance from the Lakers. Had Altman pulled the plug with the Lakers and made a deal for Jordan, he would not have had Crowder to sell Utah on Hood. They probably could have still paved a path to a Hill deal with Sacramento, but would Hill and Jordan have been enough to right Cleveland’s ship? We’ll never know.
A starting lineup with James, Jordan, Hill, J.R. Smith and (eventually) Kevin Love sounds formidable. Still, the depth that the new dudes now provide is encouraging, too, so long as Clarkson, Hood and Nance continue to make a consistent impact. Having the 25-year-old Nance under control for short money next season, compared to a potential max contract for Jordan in free agency, also helps the Cavaliers straddle the line between contending with LeBron and potentially rebuilding without him.
But, man, if the Cavaliers fail to get out of the East this season and paved the way for the Lakers to sign LeBron this summer with their deadline deals, even if L.A. could eventually clear the cap space for James anyway, the aborted Jordan trade will linger as an alternative timeline. That’s the doomsday scenario for Cleveland. According to Wojnarowski, that’s the risk Altman was willing to take.
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