Open Rants by JohnnyFire

Open Rant - LeBron is Going Nowhere, Pt. 2
Published at 7/25/2017
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So it turns out my timing is impeccable: [URL][/URL]

I posted that, frankly, innocent diatribe back on 7/19, thinking nothing of the fact that by the end of last week, news that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland would drop from the damn sky.

Thus, let's begin the process of disseminating if my old argument still holds up with Kyrie Irving out of the picture because, maaaan that threw a wrench into whatever I was trying to make a point on.

Scenario 1: Kyrie Irving is not traded

Although it seems the least feasible, there is a very real chance that Kyrie Irving doesn't leave Cleveland. Not by choice, mind you; Cleveland seems determined to get the "perfect package" for Kyrie and likely won't dump their most tradable asset not named LeBron James for peanuts. Clearly there's a fractured relationship in Cleveland between Kyrie and LeBron, something that while the NBA pundit sphere seems to have seen coming, nobody else did. And why would they? This team went to 3 straight finals and the two appeared to be on about as good of terms as you can reasonably be.

It echoes Shaq and Kobe (who, oddly, is one of Kyrie's idols), where two players who we would later discover couldn't bother to even try to get along put aside their differences for the promise of titles and glory. Could Kyrie do that, reconcile with the Cavaliers and LeBron James enough to at least stick it out for the 2017-2018 campaign and beyond? It's looking doubtful, but it's not impossible. I would argue that this scenario is likely the one that would ultimately prove my argument the most invalid, however.

LeBron James, going on 33 years old, is not a player who wants to be docked with drama, and considering he already seems to not be entirely happy with the direction of the front office and their moves, for them to not find something viable for Kyrie Irving would be a massive failure on the behalf of the organization as a whole. It would take a full reconciliation of all parties (LeBron, Kyrie, and the Cavs as one) to put LeBron's mind at rest for a full, likely strenuous season. If they pulled off what looks like that impossible feat, then perhaps LeBron might stay put, but otherwise, you'd have to assume he would leave to allow Kyrie his own team with Kevin Love and whatever talent the Cavs could surround them with. It's not ideal for any party and it leaves a lot of question marks about the future of all parties, not the least of which being LeBron.

It also begs the question; if LeBron James couldn't reconcile with Kyrie Irving, how in the blue hell would he deal with the Ball Family in LA?

Scenario 2: Kyrie Irving is traded for younger assets and/or draft picks

There's two minds on this theory, and it's becoming a popular one if Zach Lowe is to be believed. The idea seems to be that the Cavaliers want to not only prepare for life without LeBron (which, again, I'm arguing is not going to happen, so...yeah, I'm in a corner here) while still enjoying life with LeBron for as long as they can. This would mean trade packages to teams such as Minnesota, who could offer a player like Andrew Wiggins, supplementing with draft capital and salary matching additions to the squad. It would allow the Cavs to add something dynamic to the team (even if that dynamic is emphatically less good than Kyrie Irving) while gaining back some draft picks to try to and get younger in the coming years.

Mind one is, this is stupid and LeBron is as good as gone. On the one hand, I can't blame the thought, nor him; to turn to a team that would risk lottery status with him gone is a big risk, and there's no guarantee that the young talent you get can play up to his level in the playoffs. Andrew Wiggins, for example, has neither lived up to his hype, nor has he sniffed the postseason. New additions to the league, like Josh Jackson, are even riskier because they have not been in the league long enough to even be quantified at this point. And its likely that whatever team gave up those draft picks would have massive protections on them, on top of the pick not likely being that great to begin with (Minnesota, for example, would likely be a playoff squad). But this does beg the question; if he wouldn't slot in with a lottery squad in Cleveland, why would he join a younger team like Philadelphia, who also couldn't pay him as much long-term?

Mind two is, this is what LeBron has been waiting for. Now, yes, LeBron doesn't need the team around him to build itself, as he is the foundation on his own merit. But the Cavs' major issues during his first run in Cleveland boiled down to not having the foresight to build internally and create an organically good team around James. They constantly either traded away draft assets for older players, or made poor choices in the draft process. LeBron is great, but I can't name a player that truly did it all on his own; even if it wasn't a super team, viable starters are still needed to close the gaps. So, could LeBron make a play to stay in Cleveland with the chance to add successors? It's possible. I don't think it's as likely for the prospects of LeBron staying, especially missing a top-line PG like Irving, but I wouldn't say it is an immediate precursor to LeBron leaving. That said, the way you would keep LeBron tied to Cleveland seems obvious...

Scenario 3: Kyrie Irving is traded for an immediate starter and/or LeBron friends

Even though it seems to carry less weight overall due to the Lowe article, this is the source of most Kyrie trade speculation. The Cavs know they have LeBron for one year, and know they have to prove not only to him but to the organization and its fans that they are not willing to let their chance with James slip away again. The window is still open in Cleveland, and in order to get better, a move did have to be made, whether it was Kyrie or otherwise. Adding veteran starting-level talent, or players that LeBron seems to explicitly want to play with, could make the case that the Cavs will still do whatever it takes to keep LeBron in town.

Be that Eric Bledsoe, Carmelo Anthony, Damien Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, or others, the Cavaliers will certainly have viable partners out there if teams believe that Irving can be the final piece in the puzzle. But even that isn't that simple; most of the aforementioned players are not long term solutions, either via opt-outs or otherwise. Players like Lillard are on team-favorable contracts and aren't going to be dangled for nothing. And in order to keep any top-line additions, due to the environment in the NBA today, it will likely cost far more than keeping Kyrie Irving would to sway them to stay in Cleveland, potentially alongside an appeased LeBron James.

That said, if the goal of the Cavaliers is to keep LeBron James with the organization long term, it's really their best move, and would prove my argument at least potentially valid. It would certainly be a lot harder for LeBron James to walk away if the oft-rumored Bledsoe/Anthony acquisition occurred, placing a shared-agent player and close friend on the team. Unfortunately, it would still strap the Cavs back into the same consistent issues of lacking draft capital and younger assets, as I'd assume teams would pry for whatever Cleveland had left for depth and moldable pieces, but again, we're looking at the solitary goal of keeping LeBron in town. This achieves that...for the most part.

Does it matter, or rather, did Kyrie Irving show LeBron's hand?

All of this aside, there's one piece in all of this I think people have missed; Kyrie wants out of Cleveland just one year before he could, in theory, have his own team to be "The Guy" in Cleveland, and remain eligible for the most money possible. Now yes, maybe he does not have faith in the organization long term and the issues are less with LeBron and more with the Cavs themselves, but the point still remains that if LeBron did leave in 2018, Kyrie Irving becomes the de-facto face of the franchise, which all reports seem to indicate is the exact thing he wants.

So, if that's true, and if these issues are so long-stretching, why would Kyrie ask to be out of Cleveland, to get out LeBron's shadow, if the threat of James leaving loomed this hard? This is purely speculation on my part, but I don't buy the whole narrative that "Even LeBron doesn't know what he wants!" No, LeBron knows. This is a man who, while younger and dumber, meticulously plotted a super team into existence in Miami to play with two of his best friends in the game. Who seems to have had an inconsistent but constant presence in the decision making of the franchise he returned to. I doubt that players on the team he is (or was) closest to don't know what his next move is.

And if Kyrie wants out, that implies that he didn't think he'd get to be "the man" any time soon; that LeBron would remain on Cleveland's payroll, clogging up the cash flow to allow Kyrie to be the true top dog and to command and demand what he wanted, to get his own friends on the team like Jimmy Butler or otherwise, and to establish himself as the face of the Cavaliers. It's pure speculation, but why else would he do this now? It's a team that went to 3 straight finals, after a year that saw Kyrie's numbers as the primary offensive generator increase. This doesn't happen out of nowhere, and this doesn't happen with blind knowledge. And perhaps Kyrie is just making a good guess, but if so, it's a very risky one; he could be the catalyst to career-threatening mockery if he not only leaves Cleveland and does not succeed, but if his leaving Cleveland becomes the catalyst to the whole thing falling apart for the franchise again.

Yes, it's 100% speculative on my behalf, and yes, in the past week I was already proven wrong once, but I doubt that Kyrie has no clue what LeBron James' plans are, and his leaving only seems to indicate that maybe he wasn't going to be the main star in Cleveland after 2018. And I highly doubt Kevin Love was going to threaten that position, so ipso-facto...did he basically out LeBron's return to Cleveland in all of this?

...probably not. I'm sure by the time this is posted, Koby Altman will have traded all 6 guards on the team for Joakim Noah, and LeBron will tell the world he's waiving his no-trade clause or something. But the dots are there, waiting to be connected. We'll just wait and see what the Cavs actually do next, because as exciting as adding Derrick Rose may or may not be, it doesn't solve the bigger problem; the Kyrie Irving situation, which could be the litmus test for the much larger issue at hand.

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