LeBron James has some new teammates and the Cavs are 2-0 with the additions after a win in OKC.
In the 24 hours before Koby Altman pushed to complete the three deals that resurrected a season and reshaped a franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers general manager sought a most elusive engagement: a sit-down with LeBron James.
Before he shared the framework of possible trades for Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, George Hill and DeAndre Jordan last Wednesday, Altman prefaced his visit with the unmistakable truth that nothing the front office could do mattered much until James had re-engaged on the court. James had been angry, brooding and playing with an indifference that Altman hadn’t witnessed in their three-plus years together in Cleveland.
Most of all, Altman wanted the best player on the planet to know that he understood his frustrations with the Cavaliers’ mismatched assemblage of talent and crumbling culture. Altman assured James that management was determined to uproot the roster and fight to restore order.
For the Cavaliers’ front office, an audience with James had been a rare occurrence. James had largely left his agent, Rich Paul, to communicate with the team on roster issues. Owner Dan Gilbert had spoken directly to James only once since conversations about a Paul George trade on June 30. Back then, Gilbert required James’ commitment of an additional season beyond 2017-18 for George to consider a comparable pledge. In the end, Indiana made the George deal with Oklahoma City — not Cleveland.
Gilbert and James didn’t meet again until opening night against Boston, hours prior to tipoff inside Quicken Loans Arena. James has declined to commit to Cleveland beyond this season, which is part of the reason Altman had come to James with trades that didn’t include the Brooklyn Nets lottery pick acquired in the Kyrie Irving deal with Boston.
Six months after his promotion to GM, Altman’s marching orders were these: Bring on younger, athletic players under contract or control beyond the 2017-18 season and work to soothe a splintered locker room.
In ESPN’s conversations with those involved in the final hours of completing the three trades, a common theme emerged: One way or another, Altman planned to make dramatic changes to the roster. Whatever incarnations of deals emerged and re-emerged, the Cavaliers organization was sure of this: Isaiah Thomas had to go, Dwyane Wade deserved to make a decision on his own and, ultimately, Cleveland couldn’t give LeBron James reason to leave so easily in July.
When Altman visited with James in the Cavaliers’ practice facility a week ago, he let him know that there were still talks alive with the LA Clippers on a Jordan deal. What’s more, there was significant progress: Altman had ownership approval to send the Clippers Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and the Cavs’ 2018 first-round pick for Jordan. The Clippers were willing to accept the trade, but on one significant condition.
Clippers general manager Michael Winger explained to Altman that LA didn’t want another shooting guard. He hoped to find a third team that would take Shumpert and his $21 million with draft compensation, and have the Clippers get a center back. Altman and Winger agreed to make more calls to try to find a third team to make the deal work. Winger wondered whether Altman would let him talk to Shumpert’s agent about a possible contract buyout, but Altman wanted trade talks to be further along before granting that permission.
Clippers president Lawrence Frank, Winger and Altman had talked for weeks on a trade, but they got nowhere. The Clippers wouldn’t take Tristan Thompson, JR Smith or Shumpert in a deal, and that never changed. As Wednesday wore on, Altman became more convinced that a deal with Los Angeles was within reach — only not with the Clippers.
Altman and the Lakers’ front office had discussed the possibility that they were clearing the way for the Lakers to create space to sign James as a free agent this summer. Altman had been the assistant GM under David Griffin in 2014, when the mere opportunity to bring back James pushed them to unload contracts in advance of his July free agency decision, dumping Jarrett Jack and Tyler Zeller. Altman watched Miami’s flurry to clear space for James and Chris Bosh in 2010 and Golden State’s efforts to land Kevin Durant in 2016. He knows that superstar partnerships in big markets are tough to combat.
If the Lakers and James wanted to be together, the Cavaliers couldn’t stop it. Altman and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka had expanded conversations beyond Clarkson to include Nance. There came a crystallization that the Cavs were taking a far bigger risk passing on players who fit Cleveland’s profile than rejecting a trade based on the possibility of bad optics in July.
Late Wednesday night, Pelinka called Altman and told him that Lakers ownership had approved a trade unloading Clarkson and Nance for Thomas, Frye and the Cavaliers’ 2018 first-round pick. Now Altman knew he’d go to bed with a deal in his pocket — and the ability to do more before Thursday afternoon’s deadline.
After talking separately to Utah on Hood and Sacramento on Hill, Altman broached the idea of a three-way trade that would land the Cavaliers both players. Utah was willing to do the deal for Crowder and a minimum expiring contract. Cleveland could choose — Derrick Rose or Wade. The Jazz planned to waive either player. Altman told the Jazz he’d let them know which player he’d be sending them on Thursday morning.
Altman had negotiated the trade with Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams, who works under GM Vlade Divac. The management structure in Sacramento can make deals dicey, because Divac seldom gets on the phone for the trade-building parts — and yet he ultimately has decision-making power with owner Vivek Ranadive.
That’s why a 3 a.m. ET deal memo sent from Sacramento to Cleveland left Altman at first incredulous — and then angry. Suddenly, Kings center Georgios Papagiannis had been included as part of the three-way trade. Cleveland and Utah were adamant that Papagiannis’ name had never been discussed. Williams would later say that Papagiannis or Malachi Richardson were set to be included in the deals and insisted his notes confirmed that.
Because Sacramento had the makings for a trade with Toronto for Richardson, rival executives say that the Kings pushed to spare themselves the embarrassment of waiving the No. 13 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft — and let someone else do it. In the middle of the night, Altman and Williams vocally disagreed over the insertion of Papagiannis into the trade. Cleveland couldn’t take him into its roster because the NBA’s repeater tax would turn the balance of his $2.3 million contract this year and $2.4 million next year into three times that with the luxury-tax bill.
In the morning, Altman let the Jazz know about Sacramento’s inclusion of Papagiannis. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey was livid. To him, this was a deal-breaker. He hadn’t dealt directly with Sacramento, because there had been no need: The deal went through Cleveland, and Altman had never suggested to Lindsey that Utah would have to take a 7-foot draft bust onto his roster.
Altman stayed on the phone with Winger on Thursday morning, keeping the DeAndre Jordan deal within reach. The Clippers were closing on a third team to take on Shumpert, and Altman had to determine whether he could create a pathway to a deal with that first-round pick still on its way to the Lakers. What’s more, he had to decide: Were the Cavaliers motivated to extend Jordan’s contract at over $100 million? The answer to both questions was no, and that’s why Altman turned his attention back to selling the Jazz on a $1.1 million payment to the Kings.
In Lindsey’s mind, the Jazz were out. Cleveland could do the deal without them. Altman offered him a solution: Cleveland was willing to finance the balance of Papagiannis’ $3.2 salary, but NBA rules allow a team to send out a maximum of $5.1 million in trades a year. Cleveland had $2.1 million remaining on that budget and could send no more than that to the Kings. Cleveland needed Utah to supplement $1.1 million into the trade, or the Kings wouldn’t agree to the deal.
Because Utah was working directly through Altman on the trade, he felt the brunt of the Jazz front office’s frustration. He understood it. His relationship with Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik played a part in soothing the frayed feelings and advancing toward a reshaped deal. Lindsey wasn’t happy, but ultimately agreed with a text Altman sent: This deal isn’t worth losing over $1.1 million.
It would cost the Cavaliers, though. Utah wanted a swap of 2024 second-round picks. Gilbert agreed. Now, Altman wanted a promise from the Kings that the deal was done, that he wouldn’t get embarrassed returning to the Jazz with assurances that he couldn’t keep.
He also knew that he needed to circle back and connect with James again. The Cavaliers’ charter flight would be leaving soon for Atlanta, and he wanted one more face-to-face meeting. This time, he told James of the trades they were completing — and asked for his blessing to offer Wade the chance to return to Miami. Wade’s role would be minimized in Cleveland, and Altman wanted to afford him the respect of letting him return to his old team. Altman had called Heat GM Andy Elisburg with the Wade idea. He ran it past president Pat Riley. Sure, they told him. We’ll bring him home. Let us know.
Once Altman raised the idea with Wade and his agent, Leon Rose, there was no hesitation. Soon, all of the deals were done. Thomas, Frye and Shumpert were headed West, Wade had gone home and now everything had changed in Cleveland.
Finally, Altman and his staff stood to let out a yell, hug and high-five. Whatever happens, they knew this: In one of the most impactful trade deadline days ever, Koby Altman and the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t prepared to extinguish an era. Twenty-four hours had changed everything.
Published at Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:42:05 +0000
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — When the pressure was on, Shaun White landed the run that had haunted him for months, threw his hands into the air and tossed his helmet into the crowd. He didn’t wait to see his score to let the emotion of the day overtake him.
That’s the image that will remained burned into the mind of anyone who witnessed White’s historic performance Wednesday afternoon: the three-time Olympic gold medalist, head in hands, tears streaking his cheeks, humbled and human at the bottom of the halfpipe.
“I’ve never seen Shaun cry like that,” said his dad, Roger, tears in his eyes. “Seeing him cry made me cry. My tears are joy. It’s all over. All that pressure he’s had since Sochi, it built a fire under him.”
For White, the tears were about perseverance. Until he finished fourth at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, he’d never had to face the possibility that he might not be able to write his own ending. He’d had losses, but never in that mammoth a moment, never when the stage was set for him to drop in last, land a run and ride away the hero. “It’s awful to admit, but I was slightly defeated before I got to Sochi,” White said. “I was unmotivated. I didn’t have it in me.”
Until he crashed in New Zealand in October attempting to learn the cab double cork 1440, or YOLO flip, and suffered gruesome injuries that required 62 stitches in his face and five days in intensive care, he’d never realized how much he wanted a third Olympic gold.
“We were on this amazing path, I’m learning all these new tricks, feeling positive and then boom,” White said. “I’m in the hospital and I can’t recognize myself in the mirror. I was like, ‘What does this mean? Do I really want this? Stepping out on the snow again means I am willing to let this happen to myself again. That’s a big decision.”
His friends and family implored him to call it a career, spend more time at the beach, write a novel. “You’ve got medals,” White said they told him. “You’re blessed to be well off from this sport. You could easily sail off into the sunset.”
But he had set a goal, and he was going to complete it. When he thought about the alternative, he realized the decision wasn’t a hard one to make at all. Once he did, he went all-in. But his return to the sport wasn’t as easy for those around him to accept.
“I wanted him to stop snowboarding,” his mom, Cathy, said, tears streaming down her face. “I got that call in the middle of the night that he split his face wide-open, and it was horrific. But he wouldn’t stop. I was so upset with him. For him to come from that point to here is the strength of a true athlete. We never doubted him. We were just afraid.” For her, the tears were relief.
After the first runs Wednesday afternoon, White sat in first place with a 94.25, but had yet to attempt the cab double cork 1440 he believed he needed to win. Two weeks ago, at X Games Aspen, 19-year-old Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano became the first rider to land back-to-back 14s in a contest, and he planned to do the same in Pyeongchang. On his second run, Hirano, the silver medalist from Sochi, did just that and leapfrogged White into first place.
“Ayumu put in this amazing run,” White said. “And I had this overwhelming feeling of ‘I know I can do [the cab 1440], and I know I’m gonna do it, so just do it.'”
On White’s second run, he attempted back-to-back 14s — a combo he’d never even attempted in practice — but fell on the cab 14. “That gave him confidence,” said his coach, JJ Thomas, an Olympic bronze medalist who was part of the U.S. halfpipe sweep at the Salt Lake Games in 2002. As he spoke, Thomas began to cry. It’s been an emotional day, he said, an emotional few months. He knows how hard White has worked because it’s forced him to work harder than he has in his life. “I was like, this isn’t a bad thing, Shaun. It’s good. You have this. The judges know you’ve never done it before, so if you lay [the cab 14] down, you get surprise points. And he got those.”
Thanks for spoiling the ending, JJ. But in his third run, White landed a frontside double cork 1440-cab double cork 1440 combo to open the best run of his career.
“I found myself in this position that I love,” White said. “I do better when the pressure’s on and I’m at the top, one run to go, the world’s watching, my whole family’s here, everybody’s cheering for me and I put it down. On any other day, when all these people aren’t here, if you asked me to do that, I’d be terrified. There’s no motivation. But when you got the Olympics and the world watching, there was no doubt I was going to do that trick.”
White will never be able to escape October’s crash. He can’t look himself in the mirror without being reminded of one of the worst days of his life. The scars on his face are deep, but they’re fading. Until Wednesday, they were a reminder of failure, of a crossroads, a moment when he didn’t know if he had it in him to get back in a halfpipe. Now they’re a reminder to himself to never let go of a goal.
“I cried at my first Olympics and I’m crying at my fourth,” White said. “To win in that fashion meant the world to me. All the hard work and injuries and the decision to come back after all that, we just did it. I don’t think you could ever forget this day in snowboarding, and I’m proud I’m on top. I don’t say that often about myself.”
When White landed his third and final run, Hirano turned to the scoreboard and waited to find out if he would once again settle for silver. When White’s score appeared, the crowd erupted and White dropped to his knees.
But not everyone was rooting for White to have his storybook ending. Some people wanted to see Hirano’s score hold up because they believe he was shafted in Sochi, and they thought the judges got the podium wrong again today. Some simply don’t think White’s a guy worth cheering for. As he was dropping in to take his historic final run, stories about the sexual harassment lawsuit he settled back in May 2017 were making the rounds on Twitter. When asked in a post-contest news conference whether the lawsuit might tarnish his reputation, White said, “I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” and then added, “I don’t think so. I am who I am, and I’m proud of who I am. My friends love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own.”
For so long, he’s been focused on what’s coming. For today, he wanted to focus on the moment. His sister, Kari, however, was ready for her little brother to start looking toward the future.
“I haven’t seen Shaun cry like that since we were little,” Kari said. “All the missed holidays and all the work, it came down to that final run. I’m so proud. Now he can get back to his real duties. He’s my maid of honor this April, and he hasn’t picked the colors. He hasn’t learned the Fleetwood Mac song he’s playing on guitar. He hasn’t planned the party.”
Third gold medal in hand, it seems White’s work has just begun.
Published at Wed, 14 Feb 2018 08:37:47 +0000