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LeBron James is the Baddest Athlete on the Planet

LeBron James is an extremely powerful individual. We were reminded of that again Thursday when he made six players disappear from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster.  

Kicked out — I mean, traded — were PG Isaiah Thomas, PF Jae Crowder, center Channing Frye, G Iman Shumpert, PG Derrick Rose and SG Dwayne Wade.

And four new players came walking through the door:  PG Jordan Clarkson, center-forward Larry Nance Jr., PG George Hill and SG Rodney Hood. 

Only LeBron can make six very tall men vanish through a sequence of trades made in about 30 minutes. Only LeBron can make the call upstairs to speak to the GM and the team owner and order up four new teammates who are younger, faster, more athletic, and energized to join King James. 

That’s exactly what he did Thursday at the NBA trade deadline. 

Cleveland moved Thomas, Frye and their 2018 first-round draft pick to the Lakers for Clarkson — the Mizzou basketball alum — and Nance, the son of former Cavs star Larry Nance. The Cavaliers also linked into a three-team deal that transported Crowder and Rose to Utah, Shumpert to Sacramento and Hill to Cleveland. And in a nice gesture by James and the front office, the Cavaliers traded the aging Wade back home to Miami for a second-round draft pick.

Other than that sentimental move … forget about it.

This was a day reserved for settling business.

As the crew at Bar Stool Sports noted: This was LeBron’s version of the baby-christening scene near the end of the first Godfather movie.

During a horrendous 8-13 stretch filled with turmoil, dissension and lazy defense, James reached his breaking point of frustration. He had never been so dispirited. To give James a chance to capture the Eastern Conference championship, Cavaliers GM Koby Altman consulted with James and executed a swift remodeling of a rickety roster.

The Cavs brought in new blood, fresh legs, a blast of enthusiasm and a roster that’s more likely to clock with with James’ skills. The six players traded by Cleveland have an average age of nearly 31 years old. The four players imported by Cleveland have an average of 26.5 years old.

Hill and Hood are sharp shooters from 3 point range, and LeBron can set them up with his power drives and kick out passes. Clarkson has the ability to come off the bench and score in bunches. Nance can give the Cavs some needed muscle while power forward Kevin Love remains sidelined by injury.  And when Love returns, Nance will be a good backup.

Before this flushing out, the Cavaliers were broken and bitter.  I don’t know if the’ve fixed their problems, but I do know that they got rid of a bunch of them. Fifty three games into the season, the Cavaliers have been reset and renewed. The new-look Cavs have only have 29 regular-season games left to establish chemistry. But without these moves, this team had absolutely no chance of establishing chemistry … or consistency … or the kind of defense required to prevail in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

And the Cavaliers had no chance to keep James, who can opt out and become a free agent this summer. To have any shot of convincing him to stay in Cleveland beyond the end of this season, they had to give him a more capable and complete roster … and to reaffirm the commitment to winning.

“That was the hardest part for me, seeing him,” Altman said on a Thursday night conference call. “I don’t want to say he didn’t believe in this group. He’s going to compete every night and he’s going to try to get whatever team he is on to the Finals. But I wanted to see a renewed sense of joy in him. Being around him the last 24 hours has been great. I think he’s excited and I can see a renewed joy in him when he’s in the building and we’ll see that translate to some fun basketball. He’s the key. He’s the guy that’s going to take us back to the promised land.”

LeBron is still the baddest man in sports.

Ask the six bodies that he removed from a toxic locker room.

Ask the four new Cavaliers who are arriving just in time to stand and fight for King James.

These maneuvers were made with a knowledge of the risk involved.

James and Gilbert have a strained relationship that got worse this season. When the star player can’t stand the brash owner, and the brash owner seemingly goes out of his way (earlier this season) to intentionally alienate James, it’s going to be extremely difficult to repair the relationship.

By engaging in a trade with the Lakers, the Cavaliers  made it easier for LA to recruit James as a free-agent.  Going into the deadline, the Lakers had a tight salary-cap jam and no shot at luring James. By the end of the day, the Lakers had $47 million in cap space.  The Lakers did it by moving Clarkson and Nance Jr. — and Clarkson’s big contract —  to Cleveland. They took in malcontents Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, who are running out the clock on expiring contracts. But Frye and Thomas will serve a valuable purpose … by leaving as free agents after the season, to give the Lakers more payroll clout.

If the Lakers can move more dead weight, the franchise could could end up with $70 million to spend on free agents starting July 1. The Lakers can give out two max contracts.

One to LeBron James.

The other to Paul George.

And a new-generation “Showtime” will launch.

The Cavaliers could get burned here, but they knew that before hammering out the trades. James offered no assurances he will stay … and the Cavaliers went forward to complete these trades, anyway. That took some guts.

Here’s the reality: LeBron James wins, either way. He wins by having a replenished supporting cast if he chooses to stay in Cleveland. And he wins by opting out and shaking Magic Johnson’s hand after signing a massive free-agent contract with the Lakers.

That’s why he’s The King.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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