While exploring Kyrie Irving trades last summer, the Cavaliers tried to get LeBron James to commit to them beyond last season. LeBron refused. We don’t know what Cleveland would have done with Irving – whom LeBron wanted to keep – if LeBron pledged to stay. But we know what they got: a package from the Celtics that devolved into meager return for the star.
The Cavs also apparently sought a commitment from LeBron earlier that summer, when they were discussing a three-way trade with the Pacers and Nuggets that would have sent Paul George to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Denver. That deal fell apart over the Cavaliers insisting on protecting a pick that would have gone to Indiana.
James’ unwillingness to commit beyond the 2017-18 season made it challenging for Cavs management to execute a trade for George last summer, because George wanted a James commitment beyond next season to make one of his own, league sources said. One George-to-Cleveland deal fell apart when the Cavs declined to make a future first-round pick unprotected, a concession they felt they couldn’t make without assurances from James.
It is unlikely that the Cavaliers would’ve traded Kyrie Irving with James and George together on the Cleveland roster.
Even as a rental, George would have provided the Cavs with value. They were trying to win a championship last season, and he would have helped. Maybe they should have traded for him without a pledge to re-sign. There was always a chance of winning him and LeBron over. But it’s at least understandable the Cavaliers offered less for George without that pledge.
It’s also understandable George wanted assurances from LeBron before promising to stay in Cleveland long-term. That’s not a destination George would choose without the superstar.
And it’s understandable LeBron wasn’t ready to do that. Flexibility is important to him, and he has earned the ability to sign short-term contracts and repeatedly test the market.
But by wanting to keep his options open, LeBron reduced his chances of winning the 2018 title. LeBron, George and Irving would have formed a heck of a team – one with at least a better chance of beating the Warriors, even if Golden State would still be favored.
Perhaps, LeBron will build a super team in Los Angeles – maybe even with George (and Kawhi Leonard). But LeBron’s unwillingness to commit to the Cavaliers last summer leaves a big “what if?” over last season and beyond.