October is the best sports month of the year. College Football and Professional Football hits its stride. Almost all of the Professional Soccer leagues are in action. Major League Baseball starts its playoffs in October. The National Hockey League starts its season this month.
And — my favorite of all — the National Basketball Association season gets started at the end of this month!
The NBA is the sports league I follow the most. The Cleveland Cavaliers, specifically. I was recently thinking about a moment that happened in February of 2018, in LeBron’s last season with Cleveland. The team that year was a pretty old team, with a lot of veteran players dealing with injuries and career instability: Isaiah Thomas… Derrick Rose… Dwyane Wade… They still had some of the core pieces from their 2016 championship season — like LeBron James, and Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson, and J.R. Smith — but they dealt with a lot of dysfunction that season, and they were not looking like they had the legs to make another deep run in 2018. Do you remember that team?
Anyway, at the trade deadline in February that year, the Cavs’ general manager made a bunch of trades at the deadline that dramatically altered the make-up of the team. They sent out Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Jae Crowder… and they brought in a bunch of younger, more athletic (but also less-experienced) players like Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood.
It was a big shake-up. I believe it did position the Cavs’ for a deeper playoff push that year — and, a lot of us Cavs’ fans thought, for years to come (this was before we knew that LeBron was going to move to Los Angeles for the following season). But it wasn’t certain how everything was going to come together.
A few days after all the big moves at the trade deadline, the Cavaliers had a game against the Boston Celtics, another top team from their conference. It seemed like it was going to be a big test for the new-look Cavs, and I remember bracing myself for a rocky transition.
Instead, the Cavaliers blew out the Celtics on their home court: 121-99. The new additions scored 40 percent of the team’s points. They looked good. After the game, I remember a news story recounting a moment on the team plane, flying back from Boston. The version of the story that I remember had LeBron James and J.R. Smith sitting on the plane, smiling at each other. And J.R. Smith said, “We got a f#¢%ing squad now.”
Something about that phrase has just stuck with me: “We got a f#¢%ing squad now.”
It was an obscure moment from Cavaliers’ history. And it’s ironic that the team ultimately made it to the NBA Finals that year, only to lose because J.R. Smith made a mental mistake at the end of Game 1 and LeBron subsequently lost his temper in the locker room and broke his hand on a whiteboard — which may have ended up costing the Cavs the whole series (though the young guys also kind of disappeared on the big stage).
I still wonder what might have happened if that squad could have stuck together for another season or two. The Browns are by far the hotter ticket in Cleveland these days. It looks like it could be another tough year for the Cavaliers. Even so, I’m excited for the sports adventures that October brings with it.