Cavs’ Future in LeBron’s Hands
Where would Cleveland have been without LeBron James this season? I posed this question several weeks ago and if you think about it for a moment you have to ask yourself if Cleveland would have even been able to nudge the Washington Wizards from the No. 8 and final seed in the Eastern Conference standings. That would mean that the Cavaliers, sans LeBron, would had to have equaled or bettered Washington’s 43-39 regular season record. As we know, with LeBron the Cavaliers claimed the No. 4 seed with a 50-32 record and ultimately survived through the first three playoff rounds only to be cannon fodder for the defending world champion Golden State Warriors. But without King James, the Cavaliers may not even have made it to the postseason.
LeBron proved he is able to single-handedly will his team to victory despite a dearth of talent surrounding him and the only obstacle he could not hurdle was a team consisting of two players almost his equal and another pair just a click below them. Cleveland’s future is so inextricably linked to LeBron’s choice of venues next season that if he decides to stay then Cleveland will immediately try to bolster their roster and appease their king. If James decides to head for greener pastures and join an All-Star roster in Houston, Philadelphia, or begin a renaissance in LA then the Cavaliers are a middling at best team with Kevin Love as their best player. Thus, begins their inevitable march back towards NBA irrelevance with Cleveland as just another team on the schedule.
LeBron’s Departure Means Cleveland’s Divestiture
Should LeBron take a walk from Cleveland then it is clear that the Cavs would need to shake their roster to the core and begin anew. Kevin Love, wooed away from Minnesota four years ago to produce a super team in Cleveland with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, will most likely be the first to be dealt in order to gain cap space and top draft picks. In addition, Tristan Thompson and his $36 million owed over the next two seasons would be an albatross worth shaking if Cleveland can find a willing partner to take Thompson and the majority of his salary in exchange for a throwaway draft pick. Thompson is a very good backup but is being paid like a starter, which is a luxury the Cavaliers will not be able to afford after life without LeBron.
George Hill’s $19 million owed next year and a partial guarantee the following season is another payroll dump attractive to Cleveland. After imploding their roster, the NBA odds board would reflect the Cavs as one of the longest shots to return to the Finals after four consecutive appearances in them. The only positive the Cavaliers are guaranteed is the No. 8 overall pick in the draft, via the Celtics trade of the Nets’ pick acquired, but even that is hardly a gamechanger based on the potential targets available at that spot. However, the draft is a fickle mistress and anything can happen but the eighth overall pick has not historically rendered stellar selections.
If LeBron decides to stay then it would be safe to assume that he will demand immediate support because at 33 he isn’t getting any younger despite being an apex predator in the 2017-2018 season. That could mean that Kevin Love and the No. 8 overall pick in the draft get dealt for a package to assuage LeBron’s concerns. The bottom line is that Cleveland blundered bigtime when they dealt Kyrie Irving without getting anything near his value in return. The void Irving left in Cleveland was the reason they were swept in the Finals and those who backed the Cavs in their NBA picks last season can attest that despite their 62 regular and postseason wins, their 41-61-2 ATS record left much to be desired. With LeBron, Cleveland still has a long road to hoe to return for their fifth consecutive NBA Finals entrance but without him, that road is closed for the foreseeable future.