- In their well-known pursuit of cap space for two-max contract free agents, the Lakers accomplished that and more in acquiring Isaiah Thomas.
Only a few hours after LeBron James leapt into Isaiah Thomas and Cedi Osman's arms following a buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded seven players to four different teams before Thursday's 3 p.m. trade deadline. Out are Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. In are George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
Let's focus on Thomas's departure. There was a sense around the league that rival front offices were waiting with bated breath to counter whichever moves the Cavaliers made on Thursday afternoon. Cleveland didn't disappoint, getting the ball rolling by shipping Thomas, Channing Frye and their own 2018 first round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
L.A. Lakers: A+
The deal is an absolute home run for Los Angeles. The Lakers were aggressively shopping Clarkson in an attempt to unload the final two years and roughly $26 million still remaining on his contract. Nance, the 25-year-old second year forward, still has another year left on his rookie contract following this year as well. In return, both Thomas's $6.2 million salary and Frye's $7.4 million salary will expire on June 30, leaving the Lakers with a possible $69 million in cap space if they do not re-sign Julius Randle, whose name has already been heavily discussed in trade talks, and stretch the final $37 million owed to Loul Deng.
For the Lakers to also receive the Cavs' 2018 first-round pick while moving Clarkson, a player whose contract they were so blatantly trying to get rid of, is nothing short of miraculous. The on-court ramifications are mostly moot. Clarkson is probably a superior player to Thomas at this juncture, with the diminutive point guard still struggling to return from his offseason hip surgery. If Frye, solely focused on competing for a championship at this point of his career, isn't bought out, he will provide some nice spacing for Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to operate in the middle of the floor. The safe money, though, is for Frye to resurface on another contender not based in Cleveland.
Cleveland Cavaliers: B+
Cleveland walked a precarious tight rope at the deadline, and no deal showcased Cleveland's balancing act better than this move. Clarkson and Nance make roughly $29 million in guaranteed salary beyond this season—not to mention the other massive guaranteed salaries they acquired in a separate three-team deal—and Cavs are going to eat a massive luxury tax bill at the conclusion of this season. But for Cleveland, that's a necessary cost to both add young talent—Nance and Clarkson are each 25—who can help immediately, fit alongside James, and provide a nice foundation should LeBron ultimately depart in free agency this summer. The Cavs can't get an A grade, however, because they may have parted the seas for Los Angeles to swipe James this summer.