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Report: Dan Gilbert Operating Under Assumption That LeBron James Will Leave Cleveland in 2018
- Updated: August 31, 2017
With the Kyrie Irving saga now at an end after the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics consummated a trade that included Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, the postmortem has begun. In what will likely be taken as an ominous sign about the future of the franchise, one report indicates that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert made the deal with the mindset that LeBron James is leaving the team next July as a free agent.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer wrote that the key aspect of the deal was not being able to substitute Thomas in place of Irving, but obtaining Jae Crowder (who’s on a team-friendly contract of three years for $22 million) and Brooklyn’s first-round pick next year.
“Multiple sources told me that Gilbert is operating under the assumption that LeBron will opt out of his contract next summer and leave Cleveland. So Gilbert and Altman targeted Irving trade packages that set up the franchise for the post-LeBron era, rather than the instant-gratification deals they’ve made over the past three years (e.g., trading first-rounders for Channing Frye or Kyle Korver),” O’Connor wrote. “A front-office executive from another team inquiring about Irving told me that knowing LeBron was staying in Cleveland would have changed what the Cavs asked for in return for Kyrie. Though a wide range of league sources believe LeBron is LeGone, it’s not certain. Regardless, Cleveland doesn’t want to be caught flat-footed. The variety of assets included in Boston’s Irving offer allowed Cleveland to be competitive in 2017–18 while preparing for life after LeBron. Cleveland might have considered Thomas the third-most valuable incoming asset, but the team still wanted a healthy version of him.”
The Cavs received additional compensation in the form of a 2020 second-round draft pick because of the uncertain health status of Thomas, who is also a free agent next July. Those concerns could sideline him for a good portion of the season, which would put Cavs at a severe disadvantage at the point-guard slot.
As a matter of fact, when James and Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue had found out about the point guard’s injury concerns, they were no reportedly longer excited about the point guard’s potential impact in taking down the 2017 Golden State Warriors.
“One league source with an understanding of Cleveland’s situation told me that as news spread throughout the organization that Thomas could miss time deep into the upcoming season, James and Lue cooled on the deal,” wrote O’Connor. “According to the same source, both the Cavs’ franchise player and their head coach were apparently told by upper management that Thomas and Crowder were being brought in to help the team compete with the Warriors now.”
Finding out otherwise doesn’t bode well for James’ trust in Gilbert, which was already sketchy at best. James returned to Cleveland three years ago based on the belief that Gilbert would do everything within his power to build for a championship, a feeling that’s no doubt faded.
While the Cavaliers will still be competitive, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be in position to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season, especially with Irving now a member of the Celtics. Thus, the clock is ticking even louder than before with regard to James’ time in Cleveland.