CLEVELAND - Once summer rolls around, LeBron James stars on a different stage.
All eyes in the NBA and across the sports world will focus on James during free agency.
There are already teams lining up for an audience with The King, should he opt out of his contract. On Thursday, the Cavaliers turned their roster upside down in hopes of convincing James he doesn’t have to go anywhere.
And just like that, another chapter was added to a chaotic season in Cleveland.
With an unexpected flurry of moves before the NBA trade deadline, the Cavs unloaded six players to change their identity and culture while moving back into title contention. They also showed James, who can be a free agent in July, they’re willing to do whatever’s necessary to help him win another championship.
“He’s the guy that is going to take us back to the promised land,” Cavs general manager Koby Altman said, “so you want to put the right pieces around him.”
All it took was a massive makeover.
Altman ended an experiment doomed to fail by infusing youth into what was the league’s oldest roster and holding onto a coveted first-round draft pick in case James decides to leave.
The Cavaliers have been in a freefall, losing 13 of 20 games since Christmas Day. But what had become obvious and more troublesome to Altman, and anyone that spent any time around the team, was that the Cavs were miserable, disconnected and on a path to self-destruction.
“We were really worried that what was going on on the floor and sort of our culture in the building that we were marching a slow death,” Altman said. “And we didn’t want to be a part of that.”
So Altman’s first move in the overhaul required the 35-year-old to swallow his pride and scuttle the blockbuster trade that brought guard Isaiah Thomas to Cleveland last July in the deal for Kyrie Irving.
A former All-Star, Thomas still hasn’t fully recovered from a serious hip injury and there were no signs he was going to improve enough to make a difference this season.
But beyond that, he had worn out his welcome with some biting comments toward teammates and coach Tyronn Lue.
The Cavs shipped Thomas, forward Channing Frye and one of their 2018 first-round picks to the Lakers for point guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr., two athletic 25-year-olds who can potentially be part of Cleveland’s core for years to come.
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