The NBA off-season is traditionally a quiet affair for the most part. Well, at least after Summer League. The hype of free-agency is pretty much over as all marquee free-agents are signed and now it becomes a team assembly affair. That all changed for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday afternoon. All-Star guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Made public on Friday, this new sent shockwaves through NBA circles. What is the Cleveland Cavaliers next move? The Cleveland Cavaliers should trade LeBron James. This piece explains why James should explore and accept a trade.
Recapping the Cavaliers dysfunctional off-season
Following yet another return to the NBA Finals, the third in succession, the Cleveland Cavaliers entered into an off-season of uncertainty. The Cavaliers appeared totally overmatched by the champion Golden State Warriors despite the heroic efforts of Lebron James. Irving played well also. Unfortunately, however, the team with the highest payroll in NBA history ultimately yielded to the Warriors in five games. Looming overhead was superstar Lebron James had one year left on his contract. Though James previously re-signed with the Cavaliers twice before, the tenor was different. There were rumblings of a possible move to the LA Lakers in the summer of 2018.
Serena Winters of LakersNation.com tweeted the following:
Rob Pelinka says agent Rich Paul contacted him, noticing how patient the Lakers have been with their cap space: ‘Let’s talk.’
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) July 18, 2017
Note the date and time of this tweet. One may surmise that Paul and Pelinka were speaking about another client Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Maybe so, except Caldwell-Pope signed with the Lakers a week previous. Who is Rich Paul’s most famous client? None other than King James, himself.
If that weren’t bad enough, the Cavaliers ownership led by Dan Gilbert, earlier chose to part ways with General Manager David Griffin. In a statement, Gilbert said; “The Cleveland Cavaliers and its General Manager, David Griffin, have mutually decided not to extend David’s current contract, which ends June 30, 2017.”
— Kenny Roda (@TheKennyRoda) June 19, 2017
Then the Chauncey Billups faux-pas
After considering the vacant GM job offer for two weeks, former NBA Champion and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups ultimately rejected it. Billups spoke with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “I have great respect for Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I greatly appreciate the discussions we had regarding their organization,” Billups told ESPN. “As I have conveyed before, ultimately I would like to lead a team’s basketball operation and be a part of a successful franchise. But presently, the timing just isn’t right to delve into that role in Cleveland. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on broadcasting and my other business endeavors.”
Irving’s trade request and its impact on James
As reported Friday by LastWordonProBasketball.com, Irving requested a trade. This request allegedly caught James off-guard and was blindsided. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the following; “As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.”
So to be clear, James, the man who many fans call the de facto coach, GM, Boss and owner adopted a wait and see attitude.
Trade James now
The USA Today reported that James expected the Cavaliers front office to be aggressive in attracting free-agents. But the Cavaliers became mired in turmoil when owner Dan Gilbert did not reach an agreement with David Griffin and VP of Basketball Operations Trent Redden. This move to let Griffin and Redden go came days before the NBA Draft and Free-agency. According to a source the day Griffin and the Cavaliers parted company, they were in negotiations to acquire All-NBA player Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls. These actions further frustrated James who took to twitter with a not too subtle jab at Gilbert;
If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland! Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1🏆
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 20, 2017
Trading a player with the status, cache, panache, overall influence and authority is a challenge. This challenge is magnified when one considers the fact that James possesses a “No Trade Clause” in his contract. Therefore, this entire line of thought may very well be moot. However, what if it isn’t? How does one go about executing such a coup? The answers are simpler than most think.
Lebron James has been to seven (7) consecutive NBA Finals. He’s a champion and will not want to change that. After leading the 2007 Cavaliers to the NBA Finals only to be swept, James made certain that his teams were talented enough to compete. In Miami, his talents were combined with All-NBA players Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. On his return to Cleveland, he had a young All-Star in Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers traded for perennial All-Star Kevin Love.
With Irving wanting out and citing playing with James as the issue, trading James is a viable alternative. The Cavaliers have mortgaged their future to make this improbable run of three-peat NBA Finals. They have no control of their draft picks until 2020. Given the fact that the NBA salary cap situation appeared to plateau this off-season, the draft remains the best method of acquiring young, cheap talent.
For the right situation, James will waive his no-trade clause
Lebron James like most human beings is fueled by one of two things, ambition or desperation. Or both. “My motivation,” James says, “is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.” That “Ghost” he’s referring to is Michael Jordan. Jordan won six NBA titles, whereas James has three thus far. This “motivation” fits both ambition and desperation considering the Golden State Warriors appear to have a stranglehold on the NBA Finals. Three team/situations that plausibly fit this motivation are the Milwaukee Bucks, the Houston Rockets, and the LA Lakers.
James to the Bucks?
While it sounds preposterous, the Milwaukee Bucks possibly is the best situation for James to legitimately contend for the title. First off, the Bucks play in the Eastern Conference. The East, as it’s known is the easier of the conferences. While the Boston Celtics acquired prized free-agent Gordon Hayward, they were weakened defensively losing Avery Bradley. The Toronto Raptors also re-signed star point guard Kyle Lowry, but that team intact like the Celtics proved no match for James’ Cavaliers in the past. No reason to consider that changing now.
The Chicago Bulls traded All-NBA wing Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves who most notably plays in the Western Conference. The Indiana Pacers traded All-Star Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for unproven young assets. The Pacers also lost point guard Jeff Teague to the Timberwolves through free-agency. The Atlanta Hawks traded malcontent center Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets in an apparent salary dump. The Hawks also lost All-Star forward Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets (who plays in the West). The Hawks even lost guard Tim Hardaway Jr to the New York Knicks through Restricted Free Agency. So three of the eight playoff teams lost All-Star players and their best player to teams in the west. The Cavaliers are on the verge of falling victim to a similar fate.
Pros of choosing the Bucks
One team that stood pat, the Milwaukee Bucks. Coached by Jason Kidd, the Bucks surprised many with their performance last season. The Bucks handed the Warriors an astonishing defeat on December 12, and though they lost the teams final three meetings, the Bucks presented problems to the Warriors. Led on court by All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are a young, long, lean, athletic team. Antetokounmpo is just 22 years old with an aptitude to improve and a ceiling unmatched. Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Thon Maker, John Henson, and Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon are all players yet to reach their full potential.
Center Greg Monroe and sharpshooter Mirza Teletovic are also members of the Bucks but most likely is included in any major deal the Bucks make. Backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova was a key member on two of James’ teams that went to the NBA Finals. Looking strictly as a defensive match-up adding Lebron James to this team will make for a compelling seven game series.
Never mind the eastern conference, because neither the Washington Wizards, the Celtics nor the Raptors will be talented or rangy enough to defeat this bucks team four times out of seven.
Looking strictly as a defensive match-up adding Lebron James to this team will make for a compelling seven game series. Never mind the eastern conference, because neither the Washington Wizards, the Celtics nor the Raptors will be talented or rangy enough to defeat this bucks team four times out of seven.
The Bucks while entertaining to watch were inconsistent throughout last season. This was largely due to the injury bug. Parker, Middleton, and Henson each missed over 20 games each. These absences allowed a hastened development timetable for Maker, Snell, and Brogdon. As a result, the Bucks allowed as many points as they scored. That differential must change if they are to contend. The good news is James will help mightily in this regard.
Another con is the location. James has business interests in LA, including acting ambitions. Milwaukee is hardly a hub of activity. Because of its location, James accepting a trade to the Bucks is unlikely.
James to the Houston Rockets?
One of the teams that made the biggest splash in this off-season is the Houston Rockets. General Manager Daryl Morey is no stranger to making big time moves. This off-season, Morey made a blockbuster trade that landed the best pure point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul. A veteran of twelve (12) seasons, Paul has numerous accolades. Paul is a nine (9) time All-Star, and an eight (8) time All-NBA player. Combined Paul with fellow All-NBA guard James Harden and that’s a recipe for success in most opinions. As he (Morey) sees it, this would not be enough to challenge the juggernaut Golden State Warriors.
To this end, Morey has been engaged with the New York Knicks over a possible trade for star player Carmelo Anthony. Anthony, like James, has a “No-Trade” Clause in his contract (but is willing to waive it to play in Houston). James might also be willing to waive his clause for such a move.
Morey as a GM is not afraid of making big splashes. Coach Mike D’Antoni‘s basketball philosophy and methods are tried and true to make teams better. Just look at the Phoenix Suns teams of Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amar’e Stoudemire. D’Antoni led the Rockets to 55-27 record last season, being award Coach of the Year in the process. James, Paul, and Harden are three of the top 10 players in the NBA per Sports Illustrated. Anthony ranked 25th.
This is the perfect alchemy of skill, effort, and desire. James provides the leadership, having been to the finals so often. Paul, the effort, and desire, with Harden providing blistering offense. Other members of this team include veteran wing Trevor Ariza, a defensive specialist as well as Clint Capela, a young big that provides toughness and rim protection. Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Nene, and Tarik Black make up the roster.
Though Ryan Anderson is currently a member of the Rockets, his time there is limited at best. Any major deal the Rockets make will include Anderson being part of the package. Why accept getting Anthony, if there’s a chance at acquiring James? There is no comparison between the two. Anthony is a scorer, while James is a playmaker that scores. James throughout his career has made teammates better, the same can’t be said for Anthony. A third team is necessary to make this deal.
Houston is not Los Angeles, so a deal for James may be no more than a rental. It’s hard actually seeing that because James and Paul are also close friends. Also, Paul and James are President and Vice President of the NBA Players’ Union respectively. Another potential issue is the impending sale of the Rockets by owner Leslie Alexander. Alexander has been a fantastic owner for the NBA as he represented the franchise with distinction. Whereas the incoming owner may be more in the mold of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Seriously though, new owner means new philosophy and changes throughout. James may not be willing to deal with that as he chases “The Ghost.” The fact that the Rockets are in the Western Conference means the road to the title will be more challenging than in the east.
While the location is not great, there are upsides. Houston is the fourth most populated city in the US. No state income tax. Basketball wise, this combination of James, Harden, and Paul, coached by D’Antoni is the nuclear option to defeat the Warriors. Size, experience, and talent makes this match-up quite even and almost favors the Rockets. It would not come as a surprise that Morey actually attempts to make this happen.
LeBron to LA
Rumors of James to Los Angeles began during the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers trailing 3-0. Similarly, Pacers star Paul George went to the Pacers front office and made his intentions (of leaving after his contract ended in 2018) known as well. For generations, the Lakers were able to successfully pursue the superstar player they wanted. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dwight Howard were all poached from their original teams either through free-agency or via trade. James will simply the latest of them if he goes there.
The Lakers recently underwent a front office overhaul. Magic Johnson is now the President of Basketball Operations, and former agent Rob Pelinka is the General Manager. Both Johnson and Pelinka made no secret of their desire and ambition to restore the Lakers’ winning tradition. To this end, the organization will go to great lengths to achieve this goal.
Pros of choosing the Lakers
The Lakers and the Cavaliers agreeing to a trade make sense for all parties involved. James goes to the Lakers and the Cavaliers get their pick of assets in return. This is not difficult in the slightest. With the trade of Timofey Mozgoz and D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers now possess cap flexibility. Flexibility combined with young assets make this trade work.
The Lakers roster is currently led by Brandon Ingram and includes Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac, and newly signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Their rookie class is led by the number two overall pick Lonzo Ball and includes Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma (who was impressive in the recently concluded Summer League). Veteran players like Corey Brewer, Brook Lopez, and Luol Deng complete the roster. Salary cap wise, this team is assembled in such a way to give the organization flexibility to chase top-tier free-agents.
Paul George already expressed a desire to play in LA. Combine that talent of George, with young Ball, James and Ingram, suddenly the Lakers become instant contenders. Coach Luke Walton has shown an ability to teach and relate to the young players which complement James and his ability to make teammates better. While there is a great chance James ends up in LA in the Summer of 2018, why wait? Pursue him now, and he realizes this Johnson – Pelinka regime is serious.
For James, it means, no more cold Cleveland winter. Also, noteworthy having James during the season theoretically gives you the opportunity to recruit top talent (through him, of course, to prevent breaking tampering rules). Though the team will not be strong enough to defeat the vaunted Warriors or even a healthy San Antonio Spurs team in the playoffs, the experience gained by Ball, Nance and Ingram will prove invaluable.
Also note mentioning, James has business ventures based in LA. James alongside business partner Maverick Carter founded “Uninterrupted”, a media start-up with backing from Time Warner, Inc and Turner Sports. The Uninterrupted Network headquarters is located on the renowned Warner Bros. Studio lot. In 2015, James purchased a $20 million dollar estate in the wealthy enclave of Brentwood. This followed James selling his house and compound in Coconut Grove, Florida for $13.4 Million.
James to the Lakers means his streak of finals appearances ends at seven. While James embraces the challenge of leading young talented players, this team is very inexperienced. James is now 32 years old, barely younger than coach Walton. The Lakers as presently constituted is the second from bottom of the four California based NBA teams. Their upside appears bright but the reality is still dark to shaded.
This off-season the West became, even more, stronger than the East. The path to the NBA Finals in the West presently goes through Oakland, Ca where the champion Warriors play. Other teams like the Spurs, Rockets, and Thunder all share ambitions on dethroning the Warriors making a Lakers’ run highly improbable.
Luol Deng‘s contract is an albatross. One of the worse contracts in NBA history, the Lakers signed Deng to a fully guaranteed four year $72 million deal in 2016. Trading Deng would be a priority. However, it’s been reported that no team is willing to take Deng’s contract without either draft picks or young players. The Lakers may need a third team to facilitate Deng’s contract.
Cavaliers’ fans may riot in the streets of Cleveland if they ever trade James. Gilbert may be forced to explain his previous incompetent moves. This reason alone is enough to dissuade Gilbert from trading the iconic James.
Putting a bow on this
A superstar ultimately is no more than a highly valuable asset. All assets depreciate in value and in terms of sportsmen, that value is performance. Lebron James though still in the top 3 of the NBA is no longer the undisputed King or the insurmountable best. It hurts to let a superstar go or push them through the door. It is sometimes necessary. The question remains: Will Lebron James waive his “No Trade Clause”? For the right situation, there’s no reason to say, no.
Remember, James left two franchises as free-agents. They got nothing for him. Is it worth the risk to hope he re-signs with this dysfunctional, inept owner Dan Gilbert? No! Cut bait now, set him free. James fulfilled his promise to the citizens of North-East Ohio. Those citizens may cry and burn his jerseys again, but this time they’ll remember, he won them a title in 2016. Of course, if that doesn’t work remember Durant and OKC? How about Hayward and the Utah Jazz.
Of course, if that doesn’t work remember Kevin Durant and Thunder? Durant left, the Thunder received nothing. How about Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz? Hayward left, the Jazz received nothing. Trade James now or suffer a similar fate, only more painful as it would be happening for the second time.