Caris LeVert exited the bus with his Indiana teammates and walked into Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse a visitor.
He can make himself at home.
On Sunday, the Cavaliers went from surprising contenders to serious ones.
Pulling off a major move ahead of this week’s NBA trade deadline, Cleveland added another talented player to its young core by agreeing in principle to acquire LeVert, a talented swingman who can score from the Pacers.
“He can help put the ball in the hole,” Cavs guard Rajon Rondo said. “He can erupt for 40 or 50 a night.”
The Cavs are sending Ricky Rubio and his expiring $17.8 million contract, a lottery protected first-round draft pick in 2022 and two second-round picks to the Pacers for LeVert, a person familiar with the trade told The Associated Press.
Cleveland will also get a second-round pick in 2022, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the teams have not yet participated in the required conference call with the league for approval.
The Cavs, who won just 22 games last season, have moved into playoff position and believe they can win the Eastern Conference title. They’ve been aggressively shopping for more backcourt help and a wing player after losing guards Collin Sexton and Rubio to season-ending injuries.
LeVert should more than help. The 27-year-old Ohio native averaged 18.7 points and 4.4 assists for the disappointing Pacers, who are 19-35 and already thinking about their future. LeVert scored 42 points Friday night against Chicago.
“He’ll become a brother very quickly with those guys,” said Pacers forward Justin Holiday, who rode to the arena with LeVert. “A serious competitor who wants to win.”
The trade was completed about 90 minutes before the Cavs and Pacers tipped off. Indiana coach Rick Carlisle confirmed the agreement during his pregame news conference, which was slightly delayed so he could tell LeVert he’d been moved.
“Cleveland is in a great position, and adding a guy like Caris LeVert very well could push them to the top,” Carlisle said. “Caris has been a tremendous young man to work with here.
“He’s a very special person and a very special player. He’s a first-class human being and a first-class pro and a tremendous player. I’m going to miss him.”
The league’s trading deadline is Thursday, and it’s not out of the question that the Cavs and Pacers may each made another move. In the short-term, the LeVert deal is a potential season-changer for Cleveland.
The Cavs entered Sunday just 1 1/2 games behind the Bulls for the top spot in the East. It’s been a stunning ascent for a young Cleveland team that wasn’t expected to do much this season but has overcome injuries and developed quickly.
LeVert got a sense of what he’s joining as the Cavs fell behind by 20 to the Pacers before staging their biggest rally this season for a 98-85 win.
“Guys understand this is a really good team and don’t take this opportunity for granted,” said Rondo, a two-time NBA champion. “We’ve got a chance to do something special.”
LeVert will likely slide into the starting backcourt alongside All-Star Darius Garland, who has been slowed by a sore lower back lately. He’ll also give coach J.B. Bickerstaff another scoring option and a perimeter player capable of driving to the rim — something the Cavs have long needed.
“He and Garland in the backcourt is really dynamic,” Carlisle said. “These guys have improved a great deal today.”
After losing Rubio to a season-ending knee injury, the Cavs acquired Rondo but have always had their eyes on LeVert, a proven scorer and playmaker. LeVert signed a thee-year, $52 million contract with Brooklyn in 2020.
While he’s been the subject of trade rumors for weeks, LeVert arrived for Sunday’s game unaware the he would soon by changing jerseys, taking a huge jump in the standings and likely headed to the playoffs.
“We have a unique understanding here with our front office and players, where if a deal gets close, we will talk to the player so he doesn’t see it on social media or somewhere else,” Carlisle said. “We did that with Caris in my office, and (general manager) Chad (Buchanan) on a speaker with us.”
In Cleveland, LeVert will be reunited with former Brooklyn teammate Jarrett Allen, who has developed into one of the league’s best young centers since being acquired in the deal that sent James Harden from Houston to the Nets. LeVert was also part of that trade.
The Pacers appear to be in the early stages of a major roster overhaul. Forwards Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner could possibly move in the days ahead.
“This is league is a business,” Holiday said, “and right now it’s that time.”