ATLANTA — By trading away Isaiah Thomas as part of three deadline-day deals, the Cleveland Cavaliers officially abandoned the “Big Three” structure it rode to three straight NBA Finals appearances.
What became clear after George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.?participated in their first practice with the Cavs on Saturday is that the pecking order has been shifted in Cleveland. Everything will flow through LeBron James — even more so than before — and then everyone else will fill in around the four-time MVP and three-time champion.
“We have one of the best players in the history of the game, I’m sure he’s going to dictate the tempo and things like that,” said Hill. “We just got 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.”
When asked whom the No. 2 scorer will now be after James, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that while Kevin Love is out with a broken left hand, it could be just about anybody.
“LeBron is No. 1 and then after that, it’s going to be, you know, different guys on different nights,” Lue said. “We said that when the season first started. It could be Hood tonight. It could be George Hill. It could be Clarkson. It could be Jeff Green,? [Kyle] Korver. So, you never know. Just LeBron, he’s going to make those guys better, I know that for sure. But every night it could be somebody different.”
Cleveland will trot out a different lineup when it faces Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Lue said he will start Hill and JR Smith in the backcourt, James and rookie Cedi Osman in the front court, and Tristan Thompson at center.
All four new additions will be available to play Sunday, Lue said.?
The Cavs are actually 5-3 in their past eight games after all the doom and gloom they’ve experienced in the past several months. Lue hopes the roster reinvention will keep them winning games.
“These guys, it’s going to take a while for them to catch up but it’s just good having them on the floor,” Lue said. “Just trying to start all over again with our teaching and we’ll just see how it goes.”
Hood and Hill were able to participate in the Cavs’ full practice, as everyone else involved in their three-team trade had already been processed in Sacramento and Utah. Hill passed his physical with the Cavs and said the big toe injury that has reportedly plagued him was a thing of the past.
“Toe’s great,” he said. “I haven’t felt my toe [injury] since last year, so, I’m happy about it.”
Clarkson and Nance Jr. were sidelined for approximately the first 20 minutes of practice, according to the Cavs, while the Los Angeles Lakers finished clearing? Channing Frye’s medicals.
Lue said that Hood could eventually start — either in place of Smith or alongside him — and that Nance Jr. could as well when Cleveland faces an outsized opponent. For now, the onus is on the group to pick up the Cavs’ sets as quick as possible. Hill, a 10-year veteran, will start because he is capable enough to, as Lue put it, “just run some pick-and-rolls.”
The four new faces come in with all sorts of preexisting ties to the Cavs and to one another. Nance Jr. and Clarkson have been teammates their entire careers in L.A. Hill and Hood were teammates in Utah during the 2016-17 season.
“He’s a guy who gave me a lot of wisdom,” Hood said of Hill. “I look up to him.”
“He’s a champ, he’s the MVP, an All-Star for a reason,” said Hill. “One of the best to do it, so I tip my hat to him.”
Hood battled against James when the stakes were much lower: at James’ summer skills academy run by Nike when he was in high school. How did he fare? “Not too good,” Hood said. “But just to play against a guy like that kind of gives you a measure where you are at.”
Nance Jr., of course, grew up a huge Cavs fan because his father, Larry Nance Sr., played for them from 1987-1994. Nance Sr.’s No. 22 hangs from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena. Nance Jr. chose to wear No. 24 for the Cavs, even though his father offered to unretire his jersey for him.
“Obviously people texted me, ‘What are you going to wear? What are you going to wear?'” Nance Jr. said. “I wanted No. 7 [retired for Bingo Smith], couldn’t have that. He earned that. That’s his accomplishment. I believe he deserves to keep that and it needs to stay up there.”
Nance Jr. attended Revere High School in Akron, Ohio. Cavs general manager Koby Altman said the big man was so excited when he called him to tell him about the trade that Nance Jr. was nearly in tears.
“I gave him a hard time for that because that’s not true,” Nance Jr. retorted. “I was excited, absolutely. I was super excited. We had a good conversation. He could tell I was excited, he was excited about bringing me here. This is home. There was a little bit of extra emotion, but not teary. I’m more of a man than that.”
All four of the players said they heard their name in trade rumors for about a month and finally being settled with Cleveland — even if it means that there is the pressure of a championship run expected attached to it — was a relief.
“Being able to be in a place that they want you here,” Clarkson said. “Come here and compete. All the rumors and stuff, sometimes they just mess with your head. I’m happy to be here. Feel like it’s a blessing.”