Of course, that doesn’t prove anything. Just because he departed now doesn’t mean LeBron was actually considering in 2016 the terms of his exit. So much could have changed in those two years.
But apparently the expectation LeBron would leave in 2018 was shared within the Cavaliers organization in 2016.
Joe Vardon premised a question about LeBron to former general manager David Griffin on the Wine and Gold Talk Podcast:
You had had a feeling that he was going to do this. You knew, pretty much as soon as you won in 2016, that this year would be the year that he would be gone.
Griffin didn’t at all object to that.
I wonder how much this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe LeBron was bound to leave no matter what they did, but the Cavaliers certainly reduced their chances of winning with LeBron in order to prepare for a post-LeBron future. Most notably, Griffin’s successor, Koby Altman, traded Kyrie Irving for a Nets pick that offered no on-court value while LeBron was in Cleveland. If the Cavs had more aggressively attempted to maximize their success with LeBron, maybe he would have stayed.
Or maybe he would have jetted anyway, leaving the Cavaliers even worse off now.
Mostly, I think it’s so rare to acquire a generational superstar like LeBron, his team should do all it can to win while he’s there. A worse future after he leaves is well worth a better present. And the Cavs followed that model in some ways, spending big and trading draft picks to build up LeBron’s supporting cast.
But their willingness to do that eroded as his – inevitable? – departure neared.