The last few days have been chaotic for Cavaliers fans.
A week ago, we were celebrating the Kyrie Irving extension, and the plan for free agency looked like the Cavs were intent on filling out the roster with players who would complement Irving and Andrew Wiggins. A max offer sheet for Gordon Hayward was in the plans, and there was talk of bringing over 2011 2nd-round pick Milan Macvan.
However, as the free agency moratorium period has dragged on, the Cavs have become more and more closely linked with LeBron James. First there was the report that the Cavs were one of four teams to meet with agent Rich Paul in Cleveland last week. Then was yesterday's PlaneGate, followed by rumors of a meeting between Dan Gilbert and James in Florida. The rumor mill has only continued to churn out more and more LeBron speculation, as we all wait on LeBron to meet face-to-face with Pat Riley within the next few days.
Getting LeBron would obviously be a huge win for the Cavaliers. After all, he's only a four time MVP and has played in every NBA Finals since joining the Miami Heat. James is a top-two NBA player, and is also one of the league's most versatile, able to defend almost any player on the court and being an equally lethal weapon scoring inside or out. Fit isn't a question with LeBron, and if the Cavs can get him, they should pursue that plan.
It also wouldn't take much to create the room to sign LeBron. The Cavs are about $14.7 million below the cap currently, and if they can trade Jarrett Jack without taking on additional salary (something the Cavs have been progressing towards), they will have enough to sign LeBron to a max contract for about $20.6 million. They could easily set themselves up to build over the next 4-5 years, at least, around LeBron, Kyrie, and Andrew Wiggins.
However, even if the Cavs came up empty in regards to LeBron, it would certainly not be the end of the world. Yes, the Cavs would have to deal with being scorned by LeBron for a second time. However, one of the reasons a return is even on the table for LeBron right now is because of the shape the Cavs are in moving forward. They have the reigning All-Star Game MVP in Irving, who is now locked up for the next six years, and is just 22 years old. Even if last year may have stunted his growth slightly, he still has a lot of potential and might be two seasons away from hitting his prime. Paired with him is Andrew Wiggins, the number one pick in one of the deepest drafts of the last decade. That seems like a nice pairing to move forward with, and when they are at the ends of their new deals, Irving will be 27 and Wiggins will be 22.
In addition, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett could all make significant strides in this next year under a more stable regime. Waiters flashed a ton of potential during the second half of last season, and even if he plays a similar style to Kyrie, he's a better defensive player (sometimes), and his tendency to score in bursts is still a valuable asset. Thompson has a far lower ceiling than Waiters, but even if he only becomes more consistent on both ends, he is a powerful rebounder and space-eater inside that can fit into David Blatt's offense as a PNR finisher. Bennett, meanwhile, still has a lot of offensive potential, and looks to be in a much better place in terms of conditioning and shooting after last year's disaster.
All three of those players could still lead to answers for the team. In the best case scenario, each of Waiters, Thompson, and Bennett are role players next to Irving and Wiggins. In the worst case, they're still assets as rookie contracts that could be flipped for future assets. Even if they aren't the type of attractive player that nets a star like Kevin Love, useful pieces could still be gained from them in trades. Remember: Jan Vesely was flipped in return for a quality veteran that helped the Wizards make the playoffs at last year's deadline. Any rookie contract is tradeable.
With so many useful assets and two attractive young core pieces to build around, the Cavaliers have a ton of options to explore that aren't a megastar like LeBron. Making a deal for someone like Hayward or Greg Monroe in restricted free agency is an option, and could net the Cavs a third accessory player to create a stronger core. The Cavs could also sign an attractive third player as an unrestricted free agent, much like the recent news of the team being linked to Trevor Ariza.
The Cavs could sign LeBron James, and move forward as a potential contender with James as their guy great. However, if James turns the Cavs down, they seem to have a great situation in that case as well. Without James, the Cavs could simply continue their rebuild, working around Irving and Wiggins and using their vast supply of young assets and draft picks to fill out a successful roster around them. They could kill the rebuild with a James signing, or continue to rebuild around what they have. A perennial playoff contender is the goal either way, and the Cavs can likely create that in either case.