As the Cleveland Cavaliers move forward in trade discussions for Kyrie Irving, they reportedly do so under the assumption that LeBron James could leave next summer.
The offseason had been relatively quiet for the Cavaliers until All-Star guard Kyrie Irving demanded a trade. Despite interest, Irving remains in Cleveland, and speculation over his future has reportedly impacted the long-term future of LeBron James.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that as the team considers their short and long-term options, they do so with the assumption that James may not be apart of it.
According to Wojnarowski, “Cleveland isn’t giving up on the possibility of re-signing James next summer, but it is no longer investing blind faith in the hope he will stay.” This makes sense; teams should consider every option, even if they feel confident their star player is committed. But with Cleveland, it’s trickier.
The front office wants a commitment from James before going forward with a plan to build around him. James on the other hand, wants to see what Cleveland does before committing:
Cleveland’s case for commitment is this: We’ve had the highest payroll in the NBA, run luxury tax bills north of $75 million since James’ return. Trust our commitment to winning.
James’ case for hesitancy is this: Accomplished GM David Griffin is gone, replaced with Altman, a young, unproven executive.
And because the team won a title in 2016, both sides have leverage. Ownership doesn’t want to commit to expensive veterans on long-term deals if James leaves after next season. James doesn’t want to commit long-term until he sees what the new general manager can do.
The impasse has affected trade deliberations with Irving. Woj writes the team’s preference is to get a young star in return that would help this season but also long-term. A trade involving star veterans isn’t on the cards unless James is. That makes it unlikely the team would negotiate with the San Antonio Spurs at this point, which as Wojnarowski suggests, would be an ideal situation for all parties.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics could offer short and long-term assets, but no discussions have been made at this point. Cleveland has interest in New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis, but so far New York has rejected any discussions involving him. The Milwaukee Bucks have expressed interest in Irving, but since Giannis Antetokounmpo is off the table, they can’t offer the kind of return Cleveland seeks.
Cleveland expected a lot of interest for Irving when the news broke, but that hasn’t happened:
When Irving’s trade request became public in mid-July, there was internal hope that the news would stir the market to furnish Cleveland with a return that could deliver impact to the 2017-18 season with James, as well as the possibility of a future without him. That hasn’t happened, and it’s become clear that Irving isn’t commanding that kind of robust return on the market.
Wojnarowski expects trade talks to pick up in September before training camp starts.
All that said, Cleveland is in a tough spot. Porzingis is one of the league’s emerging stars, but it according to Woj they would likely have to take on Joakim Noah’s massive three-year, $55 million contract. If they want to avoid taking on bad long-term contracts, that could be a sticking point.
There’s also the likelihood of whether New York would even part with Porzingis. Phil Jackson is gone, and new general manager Scott Perry is preaching patience rather than shaking things up with a trade involving Porzingis or Carmelo Anthony.
If Cleveland can’t sway New York to part with Porzingis, their options are limited. Trading Irving to Boston gives them an ideal return, but sends Irving to an Eastern Conference rival. Trading him to San Antonio sends him out west, but the return would be veterans that help them win immediately but not long-term.
Unless James gives indication of his plans past next season, Cleveland will have to operate with all possible outcomes in mind. That said, they will have to decide what’s best at some point soon if they are to deal Irving before the season starts.