In the hours leading up to the NBA trade deadline last Thursday, the Cleveland Cavaliers were easily the most active team in the league. The Cavs completely reshaped their roster, making three different trades and parting ways with Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and their 2018 first-round pick. When all was said and done, they had acquired Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
The addition of Nance may be the most interesting, as he was born and raised in Akron and his father Larry Nance Sr. played seven seasons with Cleveland. He was a two-time All-Star with the Cavs and he’s one of only seven players to have his jersey (No. 22) retired by the franchise. Naturally, his son was a huge fan of the Cavaliers.
Growing up in Cleveland had a profound impact on Larry’s life. In fact, he may not be in the NBA today had he been raised elsewhere. As a kid, he was undersized, constantly tired and often ill. Finally, after suffering for quite some time, doctors at the renowned Cleveland Clinic diagnosed him with Crohn’s Disease and put him on an IV medication. Suddenly, with the right medicine, he felt great and his body responded extremely well. Nance grew 6.5 inches during his sophomore year at Revere High School in Ohio, he had the energy to play basketball at a high level and the rest is history. Nance is forever grateful to the Cleveland Clinic and admits he likely would’ve never made it to the NBA without their help.
While Nance loved his three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s excited to join his hometown team and contend for a championship.
HoopsHype recently caught up with Nance, who discussed how he found out about the trade, his excitement about returning home, how he fits with his new team, what it’s like to play with LeBron James, how good the new-look Cavs could be and more.
Two weeks before the trade deadline, you joined me on The HoopsHype Podcast to discuss the rumors that had surfaced. But walk me through what that Thursday was like for you and how you found out that you were being dealt to the Cavaliers.
Larry Nance Jr.: We were playing the Thunder that night. Well, the Lakers were playing the Thunder that night, so I was getting ready to head to shootaround. It was about 9:15 a.m. Like everyone else, I was following Woj (Adrian Wojnarowski) and had the tweet notifications set up just in case and just to find out what kind of stuff was happening. I had just woke up and I was going to wash my face, when I got the update that the Cavs and Lakers were in serious trade talks. I thought, “Oh? I don’t know who that could involve, but we’ll see.” Not even 30 seconds later, I got a call from [Lakers general manager] Rob Pelinka and Luke [Walton] and Magic [Johnson] were in his office with him. They all broke the news to me and told me that I was going to Cleveland. That’s how it happened.
You were traded with a teammate, Jordan Clarkson, and Cleveland made a lot of moves. Does that make it easier to adjust, since you know someone in the locker room and there are a bunch of other players getting acclimated too? In other words, is it nice not being the lone new guy?
LNJ: I think it makes it easier. I’ve never been traded without a teammate, but I definitely think it has made the transition easier. It’s nice to have someone who you’re familiar with and who is going through the same thing as you. It’s also nice to have someone who you can go up to when you’re uncertain about something and ask, “Are you seeing this? Am I getting this right?” That type of thing helps.
On the conference call announcing the trade, Cavs general manager Koby Altman said you were emotional when you found out you were heading to Cleveland. What was going through your head when you realized you were joining the Cavs?
LNJ: Yeah, I think he basically said I was crying and that’s a bit of a stretch (laughs). But I was excited! I don’t think anybody wants to get traded, but if I had to go anywhere, it doesn’t get much better than going home to play for a championship contender. I knew that it would probably be a good thing going forward, so I was definitely excited when I talked to him. Koby is a really good dude and we had a good talk.
When I first heard about the trade, I immediately thought about your history with the Cleveland Clinic. For people who may not know about your battle with Crohn’s Disease, can you share the impact that the Cleveland Clinic had on your life?
LNJ: Definitely. Dr. Robert Wyllie and his staff at the Cleveland Clinic were the ones who originally diagnosed me with Crohn’s Disease when I was 16 years old. They’re also the ones who started me on [the intravenous medication] Remicade and came up with the plan where I’d take it every two weeks and then eventually they spaced it out so I’d take it every four weeks, then every six weeks and now every seven and a half weeks. In my book, they’re the best doctors out there. I wouldn’t be here without them. Going back to the Cleveland Clinic and getting to work with them again will be great. I can’t imagine a better situation for me health-wise.
It seems like you’re a perfect fit for this team because you’re super athletic, you’re constantly hustling out there and you give your all on every possession. I think Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and George Hill are very good fits with this roster as well. I know it’s very early, but how do you feel like you’re fitting in so far?
LNJ: It’s been great! It really has been great. On a team like Cleveland, everyone is completely focused on winning. When you have a player like LeBron James, winning is all that matters. And, look, I don’t have to worry about points, I don’t have to worry about rebounds, I don’t have to worry about assists. I don’t have to focus on stats. All I need to focus on is doing whatever I possibly can to help the team win. I just need to make winning plays – whether that’s getting offensive rebounds or playing lockdown defense or doing both! It makes things a lot easier when I can just focus on those things.
In the past, you and I have talked about what it’s like to play against LeBron, but now that you’re his teammate and you’ve played a couple games alongside him, what’s it like having him on your side and what are some things that people may not know about LeBron?
LNJ: Well, I’ve only played two games with him, but I think what people don’t realize is just how vocal he is on both ends of the court. He’s always calling out the coverages defensively. And he knows where everybody is supposed to be on offense, one through five, so if you’re in the wrong spot, he can help you out and direct you to the right spot. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s honestly been fun getting to watch him absolutely dominate games. Now, I get to cheer for him instead of having to go against him (laughs).
Your dad obviously played in Cleveland. How big of a Cavaliers fan were you growing up?
LNJ: Man, I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, so I’ve been a Cavs fan and a LeBron fan for as long as I can remember. Getting the chance to come home and put on the jersey of the team that I cheered for my whole life is pretty cool.
I read that your dad wants you to wear No. 22, which was his jersey number that the Cavs retired in 1995. You’re wearing No. 24 now, but he said he’d try to persuade you to wear No. 22 next year. What was that conversation with your dad like, and is that something you’re open to doing?
LNJ: Honestly, me and him haven’t even talked about it much. He brought it up and I just told him that I think it’s an incredible accomplishment of his and it’s an honor that the Cavaliers put his jersey up there. That’s not something that I’ve accomplished yet, you know? I want him to keep that accomplishment, to keep that honor. And I want everyone who comes to the Q to watch this new team play to see his jersey up there. I want them to see Larry Nance, No. 22, in the rafters. I want them to say, “His dad’s jersey is retired. Look at it up there!” That’s so awesome. I don’t want them to bring it down.
How good can this new-look Cavs team be if you play to your full potential. You’ve been together for a very short period of time, but what is this team’s ceiling?
LNJ: Like you said, I’ve been there for a total of, like, three days (laughs). But this team has been to the NBA Finals for three straight years and I think we got better with the trades. So, I mean, that’s where I’d love to end up. But, at this point, I don’t know [how good we can be]. I’ve been on one team for my whole career and that was the Lakers. Now, I’ve been on this new team for three days, so it’s kind of tough to tell.
What it’s like going from a lottery team where the playoffs were a long shot each year to joining a perennial contender where the NBA Finals are basically the expectation?
LNJ: It’s very exciting. Obviously, every player and every team wants to play in the playoffs, so getting a chance to do that this year is going to be a lot of fun. And getting the chance to do it while playing on a title contender is going to be a lot of fun too. It feels like everything we’re doing, everything going forward, is gearing up for the playoffs and that’s so exciting.
Finally, I have to ask: Is there anything you can tell me about your dunk contest strategy? Is dad going to be involved? Any hint will do.
LNJ: (laughs) You’re just going to have to wait and see.