Cavaliers needed to shake things up; Celtics didn’t

Cavaliers needed to shake things up; Celtics didn\'t
George Hill on LeBron James, Cavs: ‘He’s the Batman, and We Got to Be All Robins’
nplayHill: Cavs have to be Robins to LeBron’s Batman (0:22)George Hill talks about how important being a role player is when you have an all-time great like LeBron James on your team. (0:22)

ATLANTA — By trading away Isaiah Thomas as part of three deadline-day deals, the Cleveland Cavaliers officially abandoned the Big Three structure they rode to three straight NBA Finals appearances.

What became clear after George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. participated in their first practice with the Cavs on Saturday is that the pecking order has been shifted in Cleveland. Everything will flow through LeBron James — even more so than before — and then everyone else will fill in around the four-time MVP and three-time champion.

Clearly, being a Cleveland sports fan means you’ll at least occasionally have to laugh to keep from crying. So, our new vow is to keep You Said It alive until the next Cleveland team wins a championship.

“We have one of the best players in the history of the game, I’m sure he’s going to dictate the tempo and things like that,” Hill said. “We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be. He’s the Batman, and we got to be all Robins. We got to figure it out.”

One minute we thought Isaiah Thomas would team up with LeBron to punish the Celtics in the playoffs. The next we discovered the Isaiah Thomas Era in Cleveland was even shorter than he is.

George Hill: We all have to be Robins to LeBron James’s Batman

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When asked who the No. 2 scorer will now be after James, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that while Kevin Love is out with a broken left hand, it could be just about anybody.

We have answers (sort of). You Said It was created on the premise that Cleveland sports fans need a sense of humor. An occasional shot of vodka, too. But always a sense of humor.

“LeBron is No. 1, and then after that, it’s going to be, you know, different guys on different nights,” Lue said. “We said that when the season first started. It could be Hood tonight. It could be George Hill. It could be Clarkson. It could be Jeff Green, [Kyle] Korver. So, you never know. Just LeBron, he’s going to make those guys better, I know that for sure. But every night it could be somebody different.”

No. Those are actually easy to learn comparatively speaking. It’s much tougher to master the proper decorum involved in the nightly locker room ritual of kissing the ring.

Cleveland will trot out a different lineup when it faces Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Lue said he will start Hill and JR Smith in the backcourt, James and rookie Cedi Osman in the frontcourt, and Tristan Thompson at center.

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The Cavs are actually 5-3 in their past eight games after all the doom and gloom they’ve experienced in the past several months. Lue hopes the roster reinvention will keep them winning games.

 Both did it by getting younger overnight. The difference is the Browns got so young they had to squeeze a nap, puppet theatre and craft hour into their practice day.

“These guys, it’s going to take a while for them to catch up, but it’s just good having them on the floor,” Lue said. “Just trying to start all over again with our teaching, and we’ll just see how it goes.”

Hood and Hill were able to participate in the Cavs’ full practice, as everyone else involved in their three-team trade had already been processed in Sacramento and Utah. Hill passed his physical with the Cavs and said the big toe injury that has reportedly plagued him was a thing of the past.

“Toe’s great,” he said. “I haven’t felt my toe [injury] since last year, so, I’m happy about it.”

George Hill on LeBron James, Cavs: 'He's the Batman, and We Got to Be All Robins'
George Hill on LeBron James, Cavs: ‘He’s the Batman, and We Got to Be All Robins’

Clarkson and Nance were sidelined for approximately the first 20 minutes of practice, according to the Cavs, while the Los Angeles Lakers finished clearing Channing Frye’s physicals.

“LeBron is No. 1, and then after that, it’s going to be, you know, different guys on different nights. … It could be [Rodney] Hood tonight. It could be George Hill. It could be Clarkson. It could be Jeff Green, [Kyle] Korver. So you never know. Just LeBron, he’s going to make those guys better, I know that for sure.”

Cavaliers coach Ty LueLue said that Hood could eventually start — either in place of Smith or alongside him — and that Nance could as well when Cleveland faces an outsized opponent. For now, the onus is on the group to pick up the Cavs’ sets as quickly as possible. Hill, a 10-year veteran, will start because he is capable enough to, as Lue put it, “just run some pick-and-rolls.”

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The four new faces come in with all sorts of pre-existing ties to the Cavs and to one another. Nance and Clarkson have been teammates their entire careers in L.A. Hill and Hood were teammates in Utah during the 2016-17 season.

“He’s a guy who gave me a lot of wisdom,” Hood said of Hill. “I look up to him.”

George Hill on joining LeBron James, Cavs: 'He's the Batman ... we got to be all Robins'
George Hill on joining LeBron James, Cavs: ‘He’s the Batman … we got to be all Robins’

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Hill was on the Indiana Pacers when they lost to James’ Miami Heat team three straight years in the playoffs.

“He’s a champ, he’s the MVP, an All-Star for a reason,” Hill said. “One of the best to do it, so I tip my hat to him.”

Hood battled against James when the stakes were much lower: at James’ summer skills academy run by Nike when he was in high school. How did he fare? “Not too good,” Hood said. “But just to play against a guy like that kind of gives you a measure where you are at.”

Nance, of course, grew up a huge Cavs fan because his father, Larry Nance Sr., played for them from 1987 to 1994. Nance Sr.’s No. 22 hangs from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena. Nance Jr. chose to wear No. 24 for the Cavs, even though his father offered to unretire his jersey for him.

“Obviously people texted me, ‘What are you going to wear? What are you going to wear?'” Nance Jr. said. “I wanted No. 7 [retired for Bingo Smith], couldn’t have that. He earned that. That’s his accomplishment. I believe he deserves to keep that and it needs to stay up there.”

Nance Jr. attended Revere High School in Akron, Ohio. Cavs general manager Koby Altman said the big man was so excited when he called him to tell him about the trade that Nance Jr. was nearly in tears.

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“I gave him a hard time for that because that’s not true,” Nance Jr. retorted. “I was excited, absolutely. I was super excited. We had a good conversation. He could tell I was excited, he was excited about bringing me here. This is home. There was a little bit of extra emotion, but not teary. I’m more of a man than that.”

All four of the players said they heard their names in trade rumors for about a month, and finally being settled with Cleveland — even if it means that there is the pressure of a championship run attached to it — was a relief.

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“Being able to be in a place that they want you here,” Clarkson said. “Come here and compete. All the rumors and stuff, sometimes they just mess with your head. I’m happy to be here. Feel like it’s a blessing.”

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The Cleveland Cavaliers were by far the league’s busiest team on deadline day, swinging three trades to completely revamp their roster in hopes of sparking a turnaround in the second half of the season. 

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One of the new players coming into the team is veteran point guard George Hill, who was a part of the three-team deal involving the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. Hill, who figures to be the team’s starting point guard now that Isaiah Thomas is gone, made it clear that everyone on the team — especially the new players — need to follow LeBron James’ lead if the Cavs want to fix the problems they’ve been having in recent weeks. Via ESPN:

“We have one of the best players in the history of the game, I’m sure he’s going to dictate the tempo and things like that,” Hill said. “We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be. He’s the Batman, and we got to be all Robins. We got to figure it out.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue reiterated that sentiment, saying that different guys will have to step up on different nights to help the team win.

George Hill: ‘[LeBron is] Batman and We’ve Got to Be All Robins’

“LeBron is No. 1, and then after that, it’s going to be, you know, different guys on different nights,” Lue said. “We said that when the season first started. It could be Hood tonight. It could be George Hill. It could be Clarkson. It could be Jeff Green, [Kyle] Korver. So, you never know. Just LeBron, he’s going to make those guys better, I know that for sure. But every night it could be somebody different.”

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While there was really never any doubt that the Cavs are LeBron’s team, it’s never been so obvious as it is now. There are no other big personalities on the team, and while Kevin Love is out, not even any other All-Stars. 

It will truly have to be a team effort over the next few weeks. Whether all the “Robins” to LeBron’s “Batman” will be enough to get the Cavs back to the NBA Finals, however, remains to be seen.

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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