CLEVELAND (AP) — Just minutes into his first practice since joining the Cavaliers, Caris LeVert reconnected with one of his former Brooklyn teammates.
He threw lobs to Jarrett Allen.
“Just like old times,” LeVert said, smiling.
And now new ones in Cleveland, where LeVert has already learned that the goals are vastly different than when he was with Indiana.
“Here,” he said. “We’re playing for a championship.”
LeVert, who has been on a unique basketball odyssey over the past two years, spoke excitedly about his situation on Tuesday, two days after being acquired by the Cavs in a major trade ahead of this week’s NBA deadline.
Cleveland sent guard Ricky Rubio (and his expiring $17.8 million contract), and three second-round draft picks to Indiana for LeVert on Sunday — hours before hosting the Pacers.
The league’s biggest surprise, Cleveland acquired the 27-year-old LeVert to bolter their offense and get the Cavs closer to an Eastern Conference title.
“It makes us more dynamic,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of LeVert’s arrival. “It makes us a really dangerous basketball team.”
It’s the latest adjustment and emotional swing for LeVert, who was part of the blockbuster deal involving star James Harden last season, a trade that altered his career and may have saved his life.
During a routine physical, the Pacers found a cancerous tumor on LeVert’s left kidney. He underwent successful surgery, is now healthy and playing the best basketball of his life.
Mostly, he’s grateful.
“It’s been a long for 14 months,” he said. “But I think ultimately, I’ve been through a lot and I’ve grown a lot through it. And I have amazing people in my life who have helped me through it. And right now, I’m in a place where I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
In Cleveland, LeVert has been reunited with Allen, his teammate for three seasons with the Nets. They developed chemistry through pick-and-rolls, which have become a staple of the Cavs’ offense.
LeVert didn’t find out about the trade until arriving at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse with the Pacers on Sunday evening. He had heard trade rumors that became very real when Indiana coach Rick Carlisle pulled him into his office and told the swingman the deal was close and he wouldn’t be playing.
LeVert went to a hotel during the game to process things and watched the Cavs erase a 20-point deficit and beat the Pacers.
“It was honestly just crazy,” he said. “It was a lot of emotions. But I think, ultimately, I’m super excited.”
LeVert averaged 18.7 points and 4.4 assists in 39 games with the Pacers, who shifted deeper into rebuilding mold Tuesday by trading two-time forward All-Star Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento as part of a 6-player deal.
LeVert gives Cleveland another scoring option and a wing player capable of getting to the basket or creating for others. Last week, he scored a season-high 42 points in a loss to Chicago, and the performance only intensified the Cavs’ interest.
At 6-foot-7, LeVert is a matchup problem.
“It’s the silkiness of his game and how he can manage to get by his guy,” said Bickerstaff, who is weighing whether to start LeVert or bring him off the bench Wednesday against San Antonio. “And it’s like at an offbeat rhythm, so guys that are defending him don’t know when he’s going to go, when he’s going to stop.
“He’s a tough-shot maker, so it’s really difficult to game plan for a guy like that.”
As an outsider, LeVert sensed something special happening with the young Cavs, who won just 22 games last season. He noticed their connection on the floor, and how the bench erupted after a basket.
He heard Bickerstaff’s message and the returned respect from players.
“It’s just a lot of love,” he said. “That was one of the things that I was looking forward to when I first heard the news (of the trade), just being around that energy.”
It almost feels predestined.
On a trip to Las Vegas last summer, LeVert randomly bumped into Cavs All-Star guard Darius Garland. He told Garland how much he respected his game and how he couldn’t wait to see it grow.
He’ll do that in person.
“It’s crazy we’re on the same team,” LeVert said.
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