LeBron James has a rather clear negotiating strategy: Options are power. The more options you have, the more powerful your negotiating position. So he doesn’t commit to anything — staying or going — before a free agency period.
That ultimately impacted the Kyrie Irving trade last summer.
Irving made his trade request last July after not feeling wanted when the Cavaliers reportedly explored a trade with Phoenix last June. At coach Tyronn Lue’s urging, Cleveland considered telling Irving they weren’t going to trade him and to work it out, GM Koby Altman said. But before they did that, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wanted some assurances from LeBron James and didn’t get them, as reported by Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.
When Gilbert, who declined to be interviewed for this story, was presented with the Celtics as a trade partner for Irving, he went to LeBron and tried to secure a pledge from his franchise player to remain beyond the 2017-18 season. James, team and league sources confirm, wouldn’t commit.
This doesn’t mean LeBron is bolting Cleveland again next summer (even though most sources around the league expect him to do just that). I don’t think LeBron knows for sure what he is doing next summer, how the postseason shakes out will play a big role in his decision.
Whatever he’s thinking, LeBron wasn’t going to commit and cut off his negotiating options. That’s not how he operates. Gilbert knew that going in, but he had to make the call and ask, because it may well have changed their calculus on Kyrie Irving and the eventual Boston trade. Part of what the Cavs wanted in that deal was Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to help start rebuilding the roster if LeBron leaves, but if he was staying that changes things. (That Nets pick would go into the lottery No. 10 right now, lower than was anticipated by most.)
Now the LeBron decision will be the biggest story come July 1.