At the NBA trade deadline, Cleveland Cavaliers Koby Altman made a bold move for a first-year general manager. After watching aging veterans Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade teeter out and former Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder prove to be locker room distractions, he did what few others would.
He blew up the roster, admitting to mistakes and undoing his first summer’s work.
Altman shipped out the four above-mentioned players, along with Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert, and brought in Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Los Angeles Lakers, Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz, and George Hill from the Sacramento Kings.
At first, the trade seemed like a slam dunk, with all four being major contributors in their debut against the Boston Celtics:
Fast forward to today and whatever momentum sparked after the trade has faded. The Cavaliers have been up and down throughout the playoffs. In the first round, it took Cleveland seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers. The following round, they made the Toronto Raptors go extinct in a clean sweep. Now, they are in a 2-2 deadlock with the Boston Celtics heading into a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday.
LeBron James remains a constant, carrying what many consider to be the worst supporting cast since he last left Cleveland. The reason for the Cavaliers turbulence is the inconsistencies from the aforementioned players.
George Hill has dealt with a nagging back injury in the first round and has sputtered offensively until Game 3 against the Celtics. Larry Nance looked overwhelmed in his first postseason trip and only begun to find footing midway into the Eastern Finals. Rodney Hood has played so poorly Head Coach Tyronn Lue won’t even play him in garbage time.
And then there’s Clarkson, probably the most disappointing Cavalier in the playoffs. Before the Celtics series, Clarkson had been wildly erratic with averages of 4.7 points, 1.05 assists, and 1.6 rebounds per game.
Heading into the Eastern Finals, many hoped he would recapture the spark he showcased in his Cavs debut. Things have not improved for Clarkson, who is averaging 6.3 points on 31.8 percent shooting and also picked up a DNP in Game 2.
After being benched in Game 2, Clarkson continued his erratic shooting by connecting on three of his 11 attempts in just 18 minutes of play. Even LeBron James threw shade at Clarkson’s shot volume:
After that, Clarkson only saw four minutes in the following game until Coach Lue had enough. Clarkson made an erratic play that resulted in a turnover and was quickly pulled for Kevin Love. According to Lue, Clarkson was pulled in Game 4 because of the game’s flow:
#Cavs Ty Lue said Jordan Clarkson’s DNP-(continues to struggle) in the second half was based on the game and how it was going. As for Game 5? “We’ll see going forward”
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) May 22, 2018
But much like Hood, he appears to have also lost his spot in the rotation.
To be fair to Clarkson, he is a player who operates best when he establishes a rhythm. Like Nance, this is also his first time in the NBA Playoffs and the pressure may be playing a part in impacting his game. If Clarkson cannot get over it, he just needs to sit.
If the team gets past the Celtics, they will face the winner of the Western Conference Finals. Either the Rockets or Warriors will exploit him defensively. The idea of Steph Curry or James Harden cooking Clarkson on defense is sickening to visualize. The Cavs are here to compete for a title, not runner-up, and clearly they can weather the storm without Clarkson.
When Clarkson was traded to Cleveland for Isaiah Thomas, he was viewed as a player who could put up stats like Thomas. Instead, it was simply a lateral move. Fans are getting a second dose of poor shooting, pitiful defense, and are probably one ill-advised three-pointer from booing Clarkson off the court.
The biggest kicker of all is that while Clarkson is putting up IT numbers in the playoffs, he will be here after this season. Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent and will be hoping an NBA team backs up at least a Brinks minivan. Clarkson, meanwhile, is only two years into his four-year, $50-million extension and will be on the Cavs’ books for $12.5 million next season. This would make Clarkson the Cavs’ sixth-highest paid player.
Financial flexibility is key for a team like Cleveland, who will be looking to add a star player to the roster. The end-game goal is to keep LeBron James happy, and with such a poor supporting cast all while being shackled by Clarkson’s contract, making moves will be difficult and the dreams of trying to lure Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins will be swiftly cut short.
Trading Clarkson will be difficult. Disappearing in the playoffs will have an effect on Clarkson’s market value. The team could try and package him with the 2018 Nets pick for cap relief, but even then his contract is a tough pill to swallow. The Cavaliers have plenty of bad contracts on their roster. But at least Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have some market value.
Clarkson showed some promise early in Los Angeles but never made the leap beyond a black hole on offense after signing his extension. He is cut from the same cloth as players like LA Clippers guard Lou Williams or Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford. Except, both Williams and Crawford are more talented shooters than Clarkson and do not try to play beyond their scoring role. Plus, Williams has a much more desirable contract to make him easier to trade.
So, with nearly no options on the trade market, the Cavs are likely stuck with Clarkson for next season. They are stuck with a one-dimensional, overpaid, black hole who cannot hit a three-pointer to save his life. Maybe a summer to clear his head and a full training camp will reinvigorate him, but Clarkson’s playoff performance has soured his reputation in The Land.