Meet the Cleveland Cavaliers. They have begun the past two seasons the same way: 9-10 after exactly 38 days into the regular season. However, in the 2020-21 season, the Cavaliers would end the year 13-40, finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference. This season, they are 10-2 since their 9-10 start and are fighting for homecourt advantage in the first round.
Meet James Harden. The former MVP and scoring champion frequented strip clubs and McDonald’s early last season in an effort to be traded. He was successful. However, through his success in the trade to Brooklyn, he accidentally became a chief architect on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ building crew.
Meet a really big trade. Specifically, the four-team trade involving the Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Cleveland Cavaliers, which took place on January 14th, 2021. In short, the Nets traded all of their assets, sans Landry Shamet, to bring in Harden. The Cavs traded Dante Exum and the Bucks’ 2022 first-round pick for Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen. Later, the Cavs resigned Jarrett Allen to a 5-year/$100M deal mere months after trading for him. On July 30th, 2021, the Cavs flipped Prince for Ricky Rubio and other assets. Rubio has been crucial throughout the early hot start for Cleveland and fits their style of play a lot better than Collin Sexton has.
Somehow, the James Harden trade gave Cleveland two of its most impactful and important players thus far in the season. The Cavaliers’ five-man combination that is outscoring their opponents by the most points (+62.5) includes both Allen and Rubio. Of course, additions such as Lauri Markkanen and Evan Mobley alongside returning players Darius Garland and Kevin Love have been instrumental in their early success as well
The Cavaliers have built this success on a staunch backline defense that can switch out onto the perimeter and shut down wings and guards at a surprisingly high rate. They have two great playmaking guards in Garland and Rubio that can also get their own shot if need be. They both know how to balance playmaking and scoring as well. Isaac Okoro, Markkanen, and others have all contributed out on the perimeter and all bring a different dynamic, making the Cavaliers a very versatile team. Okoro can come in and be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Markkanen can come in for spacing and size. Other options, such as Cedi Osman and Dean Wade, can come in for a more balanced lineup.
The best teams throughout NBA history have been able to produce multiple lineups from one roster, such as a big lineup, small-ball lineup, a spaced-out lineup, etc. The Cavaliers may not have the star power of the Nets and Warriors, but they have a collection of guys that fit together very well and are smart ball-players, and James Harden helped this collection come together.
Photo: Associated Press