While the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently battling with the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals, the Cavs still need to focus on the team’s future. The 2018 NBA Draft, where the Cavs currently select eighth overall, is a little over three weeks away and the team will make a pick that will shape the franchise’s destiny.
The other part of the team’s future, and probably the most important, is LeBron James. This upcoming summer, James is an impending unrestricted free agent if he elects to decline his player option with the Cavs. Ever since last summer, and throughout the regular season, there has been endless speculation on if the King would leave The Land. Plenty of teams have been brought up, but the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Lakers are three teams most connected to James.
Even Las Vegas has been running odds for where James will be playing next season (as of May 29, 2018):
LeBron’s team next season? [via @betonline_ag]
(with changes from yesterday)
1. 76ers +150
2. Cavs +175 (was +110)
3. Rockets +250 (was +600)
4. Lakers +550 (was +500)
t5. Heat 16/1
t5. Warriors 16/1 (was 14/1)
7. Clippers 25/1 (was 20/1)
— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 29, 2018
Even though it makes the most sense for James to stay in Cleveland for the rest of his career, there is still some doubt. James has always been a team-first player and has been that way this entire season. And yet, there are some solid reasons for why he would not stay.
He was pretty upset that the team traded Kyrie Irving for pennies on the dollar, as he shared with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. This caused him to even lose faith in the organization for a bit. It does not help that the Cavs let go of former general manager David Griffin, someone James supported as well. The man behind letting go of Griffin? Team owner Dan Gilbert, who James has been frosty with for years:
“I’ve tried to put this franchise at a level that is always seen in a positive light,” James said. “From a basketball standpoint, from a social standpoint, from a brand standpoint. I get a lot of the light and the headlines, but I’m one, as long as I’m here playing for this franchise, when you see the Cavaliers, I want you to think of prestige and a great organization.”
When Nichols asked if James’ relationship with Gilbert would affect his free-agency decision, James said, “We’re going to see.”
With James’ possible future looking grim, the Cavs may be looking at a full-blown rebuild. If King James does leave, the Cavs would burn the entire roster to the ground, and they would obviously fall back to the bottom of the NBA like they did when he took his talents to South Beach. But, unlike last time he left, the Cavs could find a way to kickstart the rebuild.
Last year, Rockets point guard Chris Paul was traded in a blockbuster deal from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were able to land Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hillard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a future first-round pick, and cash considerations. The way the Rockets were able to land one of the best point guards in the league was through Paul opting into his player option in good faith that he would sign an extension with the Rockets.
Interestingly enough, LeBron James too could be traded to a team he wishes to join in a sign and trade scenario. He actually could realistically be traded to either the Sixers, Lakers, or Rockets. While trading Paul landed the Clippers quite the haul, James would demand a King’s ransom for the Cavaliers.
Here are the three likely sign and trade scenarios for the Cavs, ranked from worst to best.
3. LeBron James takes flight with Rockets
After acquiring Chris Paul last year, the Rockets were able to finish with an NBA-best record of 65-17 and were about to finish off the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before Paul suffered a hamstring injury.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, the Rockets are trying to keep up in their arms race with the Warriors, as their top priority is bringing back both Paul and star center Clint Capela:
The Rockets fully intend on resigning Chris Paul and Clint Capela this off-season, no matter the price
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) June 1, 2018
Paul must expect to return to Houston next season, too, as he has already been trying to recruit LeBron James there. If James were to join the Rockets in Clutch City, Houston general manager Daryl Morey should expect to trade for the King much like he did Paul. The most likely trade both teams would agree to would be:
- Houston Rockets obtain: LeBron James
- Cleveland Cavaliers obtain: Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, 2019 first round draft pick, 2021 first round draft pick
Obviously, the biggest winners right now are the Rockets in this trade. They form arguably the best starting unit in the game with James, Paul, Capela, and Jame Harden. They could easily hang with the Warriors in the playoffs and James could win a few more rings before he decides to retire.
While this move for James does seem similar to when Kevin Durant joined the Warriors, he may be just prepared to embrace that mercenary life to take down the least-likable team in the Association.
Meanwhile, for the Cavs, the trade at first seems like a colossal failure. There is, however, a silver lining to all of this. First off, with Eric Gordon, he would likely be the team’s starting shooting guard and in the rebuild, their best player. With Gordon getting a lion’s share of minutes, he would be able to showcase his offensive talents and the Cavs could easily move him to a contender for more assets.
The biggest thing that stinks about the trade is landing Ryan Anderson’s bad contract, but the fact that the Cavs are able to land two other first-rounders softens the blow. Coupled with the idea that they can ship Gordon for other future assets also helps. While not the most attention-grabbing trade for LeBron James, the Cavs could do a lot worse as well. They are able to obtain pieces to help build for the future all while sticking it to the Warriors one last time.
2. Cavaliers bring in Hollywood stars for King James
When all the rumblings of LeBron James leaving Cleveland began, the Los Angeles Lakers were the first team linked to him. This buzz only amplified with the 2018 NBA All-Star game taking place in Los Angeles, and this author had to try and silence the hive. But, as hard as it is to admit, the Cavs did kind of help the Lakers make it easier to bring in James already.
They accomplished this at this year’s NBA trade deadline when they sent the expiring contracts of Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. With that, the Lakers were able to free up some cap space for this summer. They still will have plenty of moves to make, as they want to bring in both James and Paul George, but they could bring in James on a sign and trade like this:
- Los Angeles Lakers obtain: LeBron James
- Cleveland Cavaliers obtain: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, 2019 first round draft pick
For the Lakers, they are able to get their first major free agent signing since they brought in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. We all know how that ended up, though. If they are able to bring in James and George, they finally will return to the playoffs after being an NBA cellar-dweller for the last few seasons. They will not be able to beat the Warriors, but they will have one of the most exciting rosters in the NBA.
For James, the reason he would want to go to Los Angeles would not be for basketball reasons, but instead for promoting his brand. Outside of basketball, James is pretty involved with plenty of media outlets, with his most famous being the Uninterrupted series.
He also is making his big break on the silver screen, appearing in the upcoming animated movie Smallfoot, as well as the next Spacejam movie. Playing in Hollywood would only further his brand as well as his acting career, and being in the world’s biggest media market would certainly help as well.
For the Cavs, they really help kickstart the rebuilding process by acquiring their small forward and power forward of the future. Brandon Ingram would be the biggest acquisition for the Cavaliers as the Lakers’ front office considered him untouchable at points. The reason he is so coveted as a player is because of his positional versatility, his stout defense, and his ability to score in a myriad of ways.
Coming into the NBA he drew comparisons to Kevin Durant, and this season really showcased it for the Lakers:
Ingram would become the new face of the franchise, and would easily soften the blow of losing James.
Coming alongside Ingram would be another young star in Kyle Kuzma. A late first-round pick in last year’s draft, Kuzma took the NBA by storm during Summer League and never looked back. In his first season in the Association, Kuzma averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and showcased his full offensive skillset. His biggest by far is his ability to stroke it from beyond the arc, where he connected on 45.5% of them. With James gone, Kevin Love would be as well and Kuzma would be the perfect heir apparent for him.
The Cavs being able to land this haul from the Lakers would be perfect to begin restarting the franchise. Ingram, Kuzma, along with the eighth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, would be an amazing young core and all three would be the faces of the franchise for years to come.
1. Cavs, Sixers show some brotherly love
It is fairly clear at this point that if the Cavs were to ship away LeBron James in a sign and trade, the biggest priority would be bringing in young talent. The Philadelphia 76ers are currently the top team odds-wise to bring in King James, and they also have a bevy of young talent that could entice the Cavs.
The most logical scenario that would send James off to the Sixers will require Philly to give up some of its young assets:
- Philadelphia 76ers get: LeBron James
- Cleveland Cavaliers get: Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, 2019 Sacramento Kings first round pick
For the Sixers, this would kick off only the beginning of the final phases of The Process. Like the Lakers, the Sixers are also on the prowl to bring in both James and Paul George this summer. Their young duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, while playing alongside James and George, would instantly make them the best team in the East. They would also give either the Rockets or the Warriors plenty of trouble if they were to reach the NBA Finals.
For James, this move makes plenty of sense for a ton of reasons. Championship-wise, he probably could not land in a better scenario, as he can help an already elite Sixers team win now and, as he enters the twilight of his career, Embiid and Simmons will be reaching their prime. Also, unlike the other two trades, James would remain in the Eastern Conference, where he has dominated for almost a decade. If James’ No. 1 goal is to win championships, the easiest path would be remaining in the East.
Other than that, the Sixers front office has been facing some turmoil as of late with general manager Bryan Colangelo’s wife being found to be using burner Twitter accounts to criticize Sixers players, the franchise, and compliment her husband’s collars.
Obviously, Colangelo is going to be relieved of his duties in the coming days and a likely replacement would be former Cavs GM David Griffin. As mentioned before, Griffin was one of James’ guys and the Sixers brining him in would entice James logistically.
For the Cavs, they would knock it out of the park in acquiring this package from the Sixers. The biggest name of the bunch would byfar be Fultz. Considered the best player in last year’s draft, Fultz could not have had a worse freshman year.
First, his jumper was considered broken and the Sixers coaching staff tried adjusting it. After they could not fix it, the team blamed the mechanics on an injury and he was quietly sidelined for a while. Towards the end of the season, Fultz made his long-awaited NBA return to a raucous Philly crowd:
In that game, he showcased a bit of the player that was so touted coming out of college. In the playoffs, Fultz saw his minutes diminish until he was glued to the bench. The Sixers instead leaned on their franchise point guard in Ben Simmons and played TJ McConnell in Simmons’ relief.
With Simmons locked in as the team’s franchise point guard, along with McConnell as a steady backup, Fultz seems somewhat expendable at this point. Like Tobias Funke, maybe he needs a new start. The best place to do that would without a doubt be The Land. He could regain his confidence in himself, find his shot that made him so lethal in college, and be the Cavs’ franchise point guard.
The Cavs have been sorely lacking a franchise point guard ever since Kyrie Irving was traded and Fultz would be the perfect successor.
The next young piece the Cavs would get is Dario Saric. The European big man was a big part in why the Sixers’ three-point attack was so lethal this year and he could easily reproduce his numbers with the Cavs. At only 24 years old, Saric has yet to even enter his prime and there is still plenty of untapped potential. Like Kuzma in the last trade, Saric would be the perfect heir apparent to Kevin Love and would be able to pick up wherever Love left off.
Finally, while he is not the sexiest offensive player out there, Robert Covington would be an instant fan-favorite in Cleveland. Originally undrafted in 2013, Covington landed in Philadelphia in 2014 and never looked back. Each season he grew offensively as a player, but his bread and butter has always been his defense.
Roco is arguably one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and players that are scrappy defenders that show plenty of hustle hold a special place in Cleveland fans’ hearts.
Besides three outstanding players, the Cavs would also get a pretty good draft pick in next year’s draft. They have a chance of landing the Sacramento Kings’ first round draft selection, and as the Kings are the Browns of the NBA, the chances are pretty good of it being a high selection. The Cavs could continue loading up on young talent, and with their young core would be the most exciting teams in the league.
In the end, no one really knows what LeBron James is going to do this summer. He could re-up with the Cavs as soon as free agency begins, or he could opt-in to a sign-and-trade with a team like the Rockets, Lakers, or 76ers.
This summer will be a crossroad for the Cavs, and it all hinges on James’ decision. No matter what, the future appears to be bright for the Wine and Golders.