The 2017 offseason had an essence of predictability to it. Some star players moved around, teams reshaped their images, but it was still Cavs x Warriors part 4. That is, until the basketball gods spoke and Kyrie decided he was breaking up with LeBron.
Read that one more time and pinch yourself; Kyrie Irving, a top-10 NBA talent and the Robin to LeBron’s Batman, has decided that he’s had enough of playing second fiddle to the second greatest NBA player in history. Irving requested the Cavaliers trade him. Here’s my question; why the hell would they? Irving is 25, significantly younger than James. James is likely to bolt next offseason unless he really likes playing with Derron Williams. Why not trade the older player who’s about to be a free agent? The answer to that is: James has a no trade clause.
So, let’s trade Kyrie. What is a reasonable return for a 25-year old top-10 NBA player? Ideally, a talented rookie or sophomore with a bright future and a pick? It’s difficult to think of a team with the appropriate assets to make this trade happen. Boston has a treasure chest of desirables, but Kyrie and Isaiah Thomas are similar players with a $20MM salary distinction. Basically, you need a team with young stars and a hole at point guard. Maybe that’s the Suns? Unfortunately, your star PG decided to request a trade a few weeks after the heaviest PG draft in recent memory.
So, let’s say you trade Kyrie to the Suns in a 3-team trade. Forget the logistics—in comes Marquesse Chriss and Eric Bledsoe, out goes Irving. Now, when LeBron leaves next year, you have Bledsoe/Smith/Jefferson/Love/Thompson. Maybe they can rebuild from there by trading Kevin Love, but I can’t imagine they’d get the whole farm system back for him. Forget about trading Smith and Thompson for reasonable bounties; their contract situations make them nothing more than a salary dump somewhere down the line.
The best asset you have in terms of developing a franchise is Kyrie Irving. Everyone else is either old or overpaid. You have no draft picks or cap space. No team is going to give you a deal that makes you comfortable with letting go of Irving, especially considering that the other 29 teams got the Brian Windhorst update Friday, too. They know the Cavs aren’t in a position of power. The Cavs have to either trade their young superstar for pennies on the dollar, or watch an 82-game long nightmare that might deter future players from coming to Cleveland.
Dan Gilbert, don’t try to negotiate trades without a GM. Don’t let LeBron control your team’s destiny. And especially don’t trade Kyrie Irving.
Release LeBron James.
There are multiple reasons why this makes sense: firstly, James has a no-trade clause, meaning he can override a trade agreed upon by both sides. This typically prevents stars from being traded to places they don’t want to be, but James has already come out and said that he won’t waive his NTC for any team.
It’s a simple math problem—you can have Kyrie without LeBron (because he wants to be a focal point) or just LeBron. Without any circumstances, obviously, you’d keep James, but he is almost certainly going to leave next year. With the thousands of people saying LeBron is destined to leave Ohio again, wouldn’t he have made a public statement addressing the rumors at least once if he was going to stay? I think his right-hand man Kyrie probably has more information on what his plans are, too—and whatever information he has lead him to request a trade from the 2nd best team in the NBA. The writing is on the wall.
Release LeBron. He does not have a no-release clause. He will be on the waiver wire for 48 hours, where any of the 29 teams can place a claim on him for nothing but his salary this year and a $1,000 fee to the NBA offices. The only requirement is that a team have enough salary cap room to accept his current contract. There are several teams that could make room quickly enough, but do you know which team has $34MM in freed up cap space already? The Los Angeles Clippers!
The only way you get stuck with a 1-year, $30MM cap exception for James that counts against your cap situation is if no one claims him off waivers. Will anyone be interested in signing the best player in the NBA to a 1-year rental? For nothing? My guess is yes. His cap won’t count against Cleveland. The only way you were gonna win this year was if you had the same team, and a star on Golden State’s team got injured. Now, without Kyrie, you could even lose to the Celtics or Bucks in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. LeBron had the best playoff performance he will ever have last season, and it wasn’t enough. Why run it back only for him to leave while losing Kyrie, too?
Release James. Now, Kyrie gets to stay with his team and be the focal point. There’s no stronger gesture a franchise can make than saying “hey, we know you wanted your own team, so we traded the 2nd best player in history during his prime to keep you.” Now you’ve almost fixed your cap situation on its own. Trade Kevin Love too, and recuperate some cheap contracts and maybe some picks. Like I said, Kyrie is 25. Next season, try to draft some complements for Irving, and build your team that way. It’s way better than rebuilding one year later with no superstars at all.
It goes against everything NBA GM’s are taught in NBA GM school. If you tried to do this in 2K, your PlayStation would explode. But seriously, this year is a wash if you lose Irving, and it’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to lose LeBron a season later. You walk away with the most talent if you can keep Kyrie here. The only way to do that is to tell LeBron James “you’re fired”.
Side Note: The only way this NBA offseason gets more perfect is if James loses his job. It’s important to note that if multiple teams claim LeBron, the team with the LOWEST RECORD gets him. AMAZING. LEBRON TO THE NETS!