LeBron’s last message on the top went to Cavs general manager Koby Altman shortly before they dealt Irving to the Celtics.
James was adamant on the call — do not trade Irving, especially to the Celtics. By the end of the call, according to four separate accounts of people present for the conversation, Altman told James the trade would not occur.
James suggested he didn’t feel he was lied to by Altman, so much as Altman was overruled by owner Dan Gilbert.
“You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby (was just named GM), but at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as (former GM David Griffin) had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much,” James said.
Cavs front-office officials declined to be quoted for this story but disputed that Altman gave James any indication the trade would not occur. They also said Altman asked James whether he would commit to the Cavs long-term if Irving were not traded, and James said no.
If he didn’t have the authority to keep Irving, Altman shouldn’t have said he would.
Maybe Altman didn’t know he lacked that authority. He was new in the job, after all. So, maybe his error was easily forgivable. But it sounds like an error, nonetheless.
The Cavaliers also didn’t necessarily err by trading Irving. The package they got proved problematic, but the concept of trading the disgruntled star had more merit to the team than LeBron. LeBron lasted only one more season in Cleveland, and it seems likely – though not certain – he would have left even if the Cavs listened to him on Irving. That meant, the Cavaliers could have been left without LeBron and trying to trade Irving in the final year of his contract, when his trade value would have been lower. LeBron might have just wanted to use Irving for one more playoff run then leave Cleveland holding the bag.
The communication issues are a bigger issue. It’s unclear how to divvy blame between Gilbert, Altman and LeBron, but that call ended with those three on different pages. And it doesn’t seem LeBron’s exit has fixed the problem in Cleveland. Since, the Cavs:
- Refused to trade Kyle Korver after reportedly promising him they’d do so if LeBron left
- Gave mixed messages to veterans about their roles
- Fired Tyronn Lue due to the coach’s disconnect with management
- Named Larry Drew interim coach without getting him on board first
- Gotten sued by a former assistant coach for age discrimination
Again, it’s unclear whether Gilbert, Altman or others are the problem. But that’s a lot of disarray under Altman, and at a certain point, it’s his responsibility to ensure proper communication is flowing smoothly within the organization.
There are numerous reasons LeBron left for the Lakers. But it’s hard to overlook the Cavaliers’ crummy management in the last year.