ESPN.com does an annual exercise called the “Future Power Rankings” that projects the level of overall success for a franchise over the next three seasons, ranking teams on their players, management, long-term financial flexibility, market value and draft assets.
Will LeBron James stay or will he go? That question looms heavily over Cleveland's future projection.
Having swapped Irving for a package including Jae Crowder and All-Star Isaiah Thomas, the Cavaliers should again be one of the NBA's best teams in 2017-18 provided Thomas is able to return from his hip injury. The outlook is hazier beyond that because James can become a free agent, and whispers around the league suggest he's likely to leave Cleveland again.
If James departs, the Cavaliers could pivot to a rebuild using the 2018 Nets' first-round pick they acquired from the Celtics as a starting point. So this time a year from now, Cleveland could rank near the bottom of the future rankings.
-- Kevin Pelton
The Cavaliers ranked 10th in players, 19th in management, 16th in money, 8th in market and 5th in draft assets. If your initial reaction is to be heated about the Cavaliers rank in the “players” department, ESPN isn’t telling you the Cavs don’t have good players.
The problem is that LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love, the team’s clear-cut three best players, are all either free agents at the end of this season or next season, and there’s no guarantee they bring any of them back, depending on how things play out. This is a ranking of the teams players ability to contribute over the next three years, and you can really only count on one or two for now.
The Nets pick certainly buoys their ranking after landing fifth in the draft, and honestly, despite a really brutal summer, the team still landing a seventh is an indicator of this clear reality:
In order to potentially lose LeBron James, you have to have him first, and plenty of teams would love the opportunity to try to convince him to stick around. The Cavaliers are in a pretty good spot given some self-inflicted wounds, and if they’re able to re-sign James next summer, I’d expect them to fly back up these rankings.