The Cavaliers appeared broken. The best player the game of basketball has ever seen stood frustrated and struggling. The city of Cleveland remained perplexed and worried.
And like in any good ole western movie, a cowboy rode in to save the day — a Wyoming Cowboy.
Cleveland general manager Koby Altman said the Cavs were on a “slow death march” prior to the trade deadline. The Cavaliers had won just seven of their previous 20 games and given up at least 125 points in seven of those contests.
Not exactly a winning mentality or a winning formula.
LeBron James looked disengaged. And for a player chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan and NBA championships, his team, as presently constituted, was one that didn’t even belong in the same discussion as defending champion Golden State.
That couldn’t have sat well with soon-to-be free agent James. At season’s end, LeBron can leave Cleveland, and before the trade deadline it looked like a certainty that he would.
Much of Cleveland’s roster was well on the back nine of their careers, and the disdain owner Dan Gilbert and LeBron shared toward one another has never completely evaporated.
That made a city trying to retain its most influential and important financial entity ever — LeBron valued at over $500 million to Cleveland, according to Time Magazine — a tad bit uneasy.
Cleveland is, and always will be, James’ home. But he has shown in the past that he has no squabbles about leaving his hometown in shambles. LeBron did it once, and that is not a good thing for an organization trying to keep their star that transformed them from an NBA-Draft-Lottery team into an NBA Championship contender when he returned to his hometown team in 2014.
There were rumors swirling about who the Cavs could potentially acquire at the trade deadline. Dreams of wooing Paul George made headlines. DeMarcus Cousins’ talent was talked about.
Little did anyone know that the Cavs would pull off a trade-deadline buzzer-beater that reshaped the roster and the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Cleveland shipped out its old veteran stars and infused itself with new young talent. Out went Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade, and in came George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and … former Wyoming standout Larry Nance Jr.
The last of which has been the most impactful.
Nance was perhaps the least talked about of the additions by the national media — local media ate him up because Nance grew up in Northeast Ohio and is the son of former Cavaliers great Larry Nance. Nance Jr. was a bench player on a bad Los Angeles Lakers team. He wasn’t supposed to elevate the Cavaliers from a critically wounded animal to a rejuvenated title contender.
But that’s exactly what he did.
Nance has come in and logged a trio of double-doubles, which included a career-high 22-point performance. He busts his tail on the defensive side of the floor and consistently crashes the offensive and defensive glass. He knows where to position himself and doesn’t try to play outside of himself on offense.
Nance is smart and talented and he’s saved Cleveland. Nance has reinvigorated LeBron — through Tuesday, when he and LeBron are on the floor together, they’ve outscored opponents by 52 points.
Nance has given Cleveland a fighter’s chance to re-sign its King.
A Wyoming Cowboy rode into Cleveland and saved the day — how very fitting.