LeBron James’ future with the Cavs hangs over the head of the organization as the start of the 2017-18 season draws closer. And it’s reportedly affecting decisions the team is making this summer.
According to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is “fixated” on LeBron James’ future in Cleveland and this left the looking to add pieces to help them rebuild if James were to leave next summer. From Lloyd’s story:
Thomas was never the focal point of these negotiations from the Cavs’ perspective, one source with knowledge of the talks told The Athletic. From the start, the Cavs made clear to the Celtics that James’ uncertain status beyond this season left them prioritizing restocking the cupboards in the event he leaves again. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert remains fixated on James’ future, one source told The Athletic. Had he gotten James to commit beyond this season, this Irving trade might have looked drastically different.
Additionally, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Conner reports that Gilbert and the Cavs are operating under the assumption that LeBron will leave next summer.
This isn’t a particularly surprising development, as the Cavs were prioritizing young players and picks when originally shopping Irving. And it’s not hard to see why. When LeBron left in 2010, the team he left behind was one of the worst in the NBA. There was no safety net then, and they want one now.
In the 2010-11 season, the Cavs went 19-63 under Byron Scott’s first year as head coach. The only reason Cleveland was able to become respectable again was because a) they got lucky, won the No. 1 pick in 2011 and took Kyrie Irving, b) also picked Tristan Thompson in 2011 and c) LeBron came back in 2014. Adding Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and others in trades certainly helped too.
Gilbert clearly wants to avoid that level of mediocrity again. It’s why the team is unlikely to trade the Nets pick without an assurance from LeBron that he’ll be a Cavalier beyond next season. Having a shot at Michael Porter, Luke Doncic or Marvin Bagley is much more appealing than Christian Eyenga, Samardo Samuels and Manny Harris being your best young players.
So, could the Cavs have pursued a more win-now move in exchange for Irving? Absolutely. But the team is already preparing for life without LeBron for a second time.