Dissecting the Deadline Four: Did the Cavaliers Ever Have a Squad?

It was hard for LeBron James to contain his excitement after the Cavs' trade deadline makeover. Now, with the most important part of the season upon us, the story is a little different.
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“We have a f---ing squad now.”

That’s how LeBron James described his team after a 121–99 win over the Celtics in February. The Cavs had just dismantled one of the top squads in the East on the strength of players Koby Altman acquired during Cleveland’s trade deadline overhaul. So, this is where I admit not only did I respect Altman’s moves at the deadline, but also thought he did the best possible job he could have with the Kyrie Irving trade. In retrospect, Altman’s moves made sense at the time, but the results can be charitably described as… mixed.

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Do the Cavs indeed have a squad? Here’s how the players acquired at the deadline have fared in the playoffs.

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Jordan Clarkson

Points: 5.1 | Assists: 1.0 | Rebounds: 1.7 | Cavs Net Rating While On Floor: -15.4
Clarkson has played in 12 games during the playoffs, and the returns have been startling. Cleveland has a ghastly 120.8 defensive rating with Clarkson on the floor. Essentially, the Cavs turn into the Washington Generals and their opponent becomes the Globetrotters when Clarkson plays. The fourth-year guard was excised from the rotation by the second game of the East finals, with Ty Lue apparently no longer being able to afford his 16.6 minutes per game.

Clarkson was never supposed to be a defensive-minded player, and it’s most worrisome that he hasn’t provided a spark on offense. The Cavs offensive efficiency is 7.3 points per 100 possessions with Clarkson off the floor. He’s shooting only 22.2% from three, and 32.1% from the floor in general.

Remember—Cleveland gave up a first-round pick to dump Isaiah Thomas on the Lakers. Clarkson is owed over $25 million over the next two years. It’s not a debilitating contract if the Cavs eventually have to rebuild, but it’s extra bleak to think about how much Clarkson has struggled when given a chance to play alongside James.

Larry Nance Jr.

Points: 4.0 | Assists: 0.5 | Rebounds: 3.5 | Cavs Net Rating While On Floor: -6.7
Nance is a decent prospect who had some moments during his time in L.A., as well as in the regular season for the Cavs. But he was largely ditched from the rotation during the second round in favor of Tristan Thompson, and he returned in Game 2 of the East finals with disappointing results. He hasn’t been a reliable “small-ball” center option for the Cavs, and like all the other bigs on the roster, doesn’t offer much in way of rim protection.

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Nance seemingly has potential as a pick-and-roll partner for James, but the two haven’t formed a real chemistry yet, and the playoffs may not be the time to feel that out. Nance is under his rookie deal for one more season, and he’s not a bad piece to have for the future. His impact during the postseason has been minimal, however.

George Hill

Points: 8.6 | Assists: 2.1 | Rebounds: 1.9 | Cavs Net Rating While On Floor: +8.9
A success story! Hill has been the best player Cleveland received on deadline day. His counting stats have dropped during the postseason, and his three-point shooting percentage has dipped precipitously, but he’s often provided a steady hand at point guard.

Hill was never quite good enough to shore up the Cavs’ awful defense, but he’s certainly no worse than the rest of the team’s turnstile wings. Hill has also done all of this while dealing with a bad back. While he hasn’t been a high-impact player, Hill hasn’t been a glaring weakness. With everything else going on in Cleveland, Hill’s steady, if not spectacular, play has been something of a respite. A few more threes would certainly help, though.

Rodney Hood

Points: 4.9 | Assists: 1.2 | Rebounds: 1.3 | Cavs Net Rating While On Floor: -22.2
Woof. Hood, a restricted free agent this summer, has seen his stock’s bottom fall out during the postseason. Lue seems to play him because he has no other options, and Hood has rewarded the semi-show of faith with some rough basketball. He’s shooting a ghastly 11.8% from three while acting as a sieve defensively. It was always wishful thinking for Hood to become a 3-and-D guy for the Cavs. But it’s hard to watch him play this poor on both ends. We haven’t even discussed Hood having to apologize to his teammates for refusing to enter a game against the Raptors during garbage time. It’s probably best for Cleveland that he didn’t come in.

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He’s just an absolute zero on the court right now. Headed into the postseason, I thought Hood would be the Cavs’ third-most important player. He was perhaps never a great prospect, but his three-point shooting alone could have been of incredible utility to Cleveland. Instead, things have gone the complete other direction, and Hood’s career has taken a serious hit from this playoff run. He can’t get back on track soon enough.

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Look, every year it becomes too easy to pile on LeBron’s supporting cast. And maybe it’s even slightly unfair to measure up their counting stats when James does so much of the lifting. But Altman’s moves at the deadline, while completely sensible at the time, are just not paying dividends right now.

To add insult to injury, Dwyane Wade and Jae Crowder, two players jettisoned in February, played really well during the playoffs. The Cavs certainly could have used Wade’s 16.6 points per game, or Crowder’s 33.3% three-point shooting. Cleveland will need a huge bounce back from all of its supporting players to come back against the Celtics. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Deadline Four have nowhere to go but up.