LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder all did something they haven’t done in a long time: they smiled.
But they didn’t do it together, not after a volatile NBA trade deadline in which the Cleveland Cavaliers cleaned house, trading away both Thomas and Crowder to bring in reinforcements for what might be one last NBA Finals push for LeBron in Cleveland.
The early results for James and the Cavs are hard to ignore. Cleveland is 2-0 since deadline day, highlighted by its 22-point lambasting of the Boston Celtics on a national television stage Sunday afternoon.
While Thomas and Crowder no longer play for NBA title contenders — Thomas is a Los Angeles Laker, while Crowder landed with the Utah Jazz — both sound like they’re loving life in their new stops. Their joy to be out of Cleveland speaks volumes about how bad it got with the Cavs.
Thomas on Friday: “I wanted to bring something to the table. I felt like I got my powers back playing on this team. … I wanted to bring something to the table. I felt like I got my powers back playing on this team.”
Crowder on Sunday: “These guys welcomed me since I walked through the door. Playing on the court with them is very, very, very fun. I got back to having fun playing basketball with a great group of guys. Couldn’t have happened no better. … We’re playing off one another. Once I get better with these guys, it should get better, but we’re playing free. Coach gives a lot of freedom to these guys; there’s structure, but there’s a lot of freedom and I love it. I love playing with them, I love playing within the system, and it’s going to be fun.”
Those sorts of feelings — the apparent desire for change seemingly from everyone involved — also extended to James. After the Cavs’ impressive win Sunday in Boston, he didn’t make it particularly hard to read between the lines with regard to how he feels about his now ex-teammates.
“At the end of the day, I like being around guys that want to win and work hard,” James said after Sunday’s game. “I know I demand a lot of excellence in my teammates. I demand it out of myself, too. On the road, we are going to play as well as we can and put ourselves in contention to compete for another championship. And that’s my mindset.”
Not only that, he went out of his way to praise recently acquired George Hill, speaking glowingly about, well, all of the things Hill is that Thomas isn’t.
“George Hill’s basketball IQ complements me,” James said, per The Undefeated. “The guy has been in so many big games. You can tell he knows how to play the game smart. [He’s] big, physical, so we’re definitely going to work well together.”
Thomas is a lot of things, but “big” and “physical” he isn’t. Nor he did he work well with James, which is why he’s in Los Angeles now. And it might also be a big reason why the Cavaliers are once again a force to be reckoned with.
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