A source said the Cavs were offered on draft night the chance to trade up to No. 3 with the Hawks in a deal that would’ve sent Kent Bazemore to Cleveland.
Presumably, the Cavaliers would have sent the No. 8 pick – which they used on Collin Sexton – to Atlanta.
But, with or without the No. 8 pick, that trade wouldn’t have satisfied salary-cap rules. Cleveland would have had to send out matching salary.
So, what else was included? Did the Hawks want Kevin Love? Would they have taken George Hill or J.R. Smith, whose 2019-20 salaries – unlike Bazemore’s – are only partially guaranteed?
We obviously don’t know the entire offer, which opens even more questions about what Atlanta wanted. The Hawks have the Cavaliers’ top-10-protected 2019 first-round pick. Did removing those protections factor into the trade offer?
The Hawks seemed set on Young, and moving down to No. 5 ensured they got him. That wouldn’t have been the case at No. 8 with the Magic (No. 6) and Bulls (No. 7) picking in between. So, not only is the exact offer unclear, so are potential contingencies it was based on. Perhaps, Atlanta would have picked Doncic then executed the deal only if Young fell to No. 8.
Could Cleveland have gotten Doncic for taking on the overpaid, but still helpful, Bazemore? Maybe – but that’s a significant oversimplification.
LeBron James’ second Cavaliers experience ultimate example of player power
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s letter when LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 has become infamous for its existence more than its content, which understates the extremeness of Gilbert’s words.
Gilbert called LeBron’s decision a “cowardly betrayal,” “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal,” “shocking act of disloyalty” and “heartless and callous action.” Gilbert wrote, “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.” And then Gilbert added LeBron’s choice “sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”
“How could LeBron play for that man again?” was a common response to the stunning move. But that outlook was misguided.
LeBron didn’t succumb to Gilbert. LeBron used the Cavaliers for four years. He demanded the world from Gilbert and got it. Now, with the Cavs depleted, LeBron is leaving for the Lakers.
LeBron’s four-year run in Cleveland proved his clout.
In order to return, LeBron demanded unconditional spending, and Gilbert obliged. The Cavaliers opened max cap space to sign LeBron in 2014 then paid the luxury tax the same season – overcoming a salary-cap system designed to limit such a rapid rise in payroll. The Cavs ranked second in team salary that year then first the next three, massive luxury-tax bills accompany.
Cleveland traded young players and draft picks for veterans like Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver. When players like Smith and Tristan Thompson – who had other leverage but were also represented by LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul – hit free agency, they got lucrative new contracts. The Cavaliers put LeBron confidante Randy Mims on payroll as executive administrator of player programs and logistics.
Now, the Cavs face an ugly cap situation and already traded a top-10-protected future first-rounder. No. 8 pick Collin Sexton is a nice addition, but overall, this roster stinks sans LeBron and has narrow pathways to improvement.
While he was demanding the Cavaliers ransack themselves long-term, LeBron was getting everything he wanted short-term.
He completed a personally rewarding mission by winning the 2016 title, ending Cleveland’s championship drought. That legacy-altering title entrenched him deeper in the greatest-of-all-time discussion with Michael Jordan. LeBron’s conference-title streak reached eight seasons. He was even better positioned for his philanthropy. And, with those short-term contracts, he cleared the way for a smooth exit as soon as he was ready to depart.
Gilbert might have grumbled privately about the high costs, tangible and intangible, of employing LeBron. And LeBron made clear how little respect he held for the owner.
But Gilbert repeatedly obliged LeBron’s demands (and deserves more credit for doing so). After all, LeBron’s successes were mostly Gilbert’s and the Cavs’ successes, too. Gilbert owns the Cavaliers’ 2016 Larry O’Brien Trophy, and that championship belongs to all of Cleveland.
LeBron tinkered with exerting this type of leverage in Miami, grumbling on the way out the door about Heat owner Micky Arison’s thriftiness. But by then, it was too late to shape the Heat.
Gilbert felt the full brunt of LeBron’s power from the moment the superstar even considered returning – then thanked him for the experience when LeBron left.
Now, LeBron moves to the Lakers, who – like the Cavaliers in 2014 – have spent years acquiring young assets. Los Angeles has Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and all its future first-round picks. Soon, the Lakers will probably turn those pieces into veterans who can help LeBron win before his prime expires. The Cavs’ pathway to maintaining contender status, even with LeBron, wasn’t nearly as smooth.
As Cleveland provided genuine homecoming warmth and a platform to market that narrative, Los Angeles will serve as a stage for LeBron’s show-business endeavors. LeBron is playing where his interests are best-met, and teams are more than willing to help. It just happens to be the Lakers’ turn.
LeBron’s meltdown on the bench after regulation of Game 1 of the NBA Finals will play as the lasting image of his final season in Cleveland, but the lasting image of his departure came more than a month before he agreed to terms with the Lakers. The Cavaliers had just won another Eastern Conference title, and Gilbert was embracing his players as they passed. LeBron brushed by with a stunted handshake:
Eight years ago, Gilbert belittled LeBron. For the last four years, they truly partnered as no owner and player ever had.
It’s unlikely either admits to how badly they needed the other, but they each brought plenty to the table. Gilbert gave LeBron access to Cleveland, a city the superstar wanted to reclaim, and fronted the money to build the entire endeavor. LeBron provided generational basketball talent and publicity.
Together, they won a championship, claimed four conference titles and built on their prestige.
This is usually the domain of billionaire owners. They built the league for themselves to run it. The benefits Gilbert received over the last four years are completely normal.
LeBron reaping his share is unique and a testament to his awesomeness. He got nearly everything he could have asked for from the Cavaliers.
Now – in a reverse of teams that drop or trade stars when their time has run out – LeBron is wielding his power and keeping it moving.
Report: Cavaliers trying to clear cap space to be aggressive in free agency
Cleveland clearing significant cap space to appeal to LeBron is fantasy. Hopefully for their sake, the Cavaliers’ front office has other ideas. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe this report misconstrues their intentions.
Kobe Bryant has the Michael Jordan seal of approval because, for Kobe, it was all about the rings. That was his identity, that and the killer instinct. Kobe’s legions of fans love them the “count the ringzzzzz” argument, context be damned.
“All I thought about as a kid personally was winning championships. That’s all I cared about.That’s how I valued Michael. That’s how I valued [Larry] Bird. That’s how I valued Magic [Johnson]. It was just winning championships. Now, everybody’s going to value things differently, which is fine. I’m just telling you how I value mine.
“If I’m Bron, you got to figure out a way to win. It’s not about narrative. You want to win championships, you just gotta figure it out.”
Well, that’s vague advice.
Which brings us to the “what more can LeBron do with this supporting cast?” portion of the discussion. Other former champions interviewed by Beck for his article cut LeBron some slack. If beating a juggernaut Golden State Warriors team requires big games from J.R. Smith and Rodney Hood, well, one man can only do so much.
Not in Kobe’s world.
“Phil (Jackson) used to say this thing to me a lot, when I was doing a lot on the court,” Bryant said. “He’d say, ‘You have to do less.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, my teammates got to step up more.’ Phil would say, ‘Well, it’s your responsibility to thrust the game upon them.'”
It’s one thing to thrust the game upon Shaq and Pau Gasol and Robert Horry and Derek Fisher and Rick Fox and peak Lamar Odom, and it’s another to thrust it upon Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr.
Another thought here: Is Kobe advocating LeBron bolt Cleveland for a better supporting cast. Remember in the mid-2000s when the supporting cast around Kobe was a lot of Kwame Brown and Smush Parker — Kobe demanded a trade. The Lakers never followed through on that request, instead trading for Pau Gasol and getting the Lakers back into contention, but Kobe was not above moving on to get a ring.
What Kobe had that LeBron never did was ownership that could be trusted in the form of Jerry Buss. He knew how to run a professional organization, take the right gambles at the right time, and build a dynasty. Dan Gilbert… well, he knows how to use the comic sans font. Kobe has those ringzzzz as much because management put a winning team around him as anything he did. Nobody can win a title alone in the NBA.
Just watch LeBron the past few weeks to understand that.
(As an aside, if LeBron comes to the Lakers the fans there will never embrace him the way they did Kobe, but that’s a discussion for another day.)