The news came around 8PM last night. LeBron James was signing a four year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving the Cavaliers for a second time via free agency.
There will be those that criticize James for his decision, same as they did eight years ago, and others will hammer Dan Gilbert and the organization for not being able to provide James with a team that can win titles.
The truth lies somewhere in between, however.
When James came back he wanted (at least what was claimed) to nurture the young Cavs. He wanted to work with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Dion Waiters. He recruited Kevin Love to help out.
But when the team struggled that first season, the Cavs got veteran players that James felt more comfortable with, guys like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, and ultimately, the front office paid them a ton of money, so when, if Smith’s case, he declined as a player, his contract became untradeable.
The same with Thompson, who was represented by James’ agent, so the Cavaliers paid him more money than a defensive oriented big man with limited offensive skills probably should have received.
Because of that deal, and that Thompson has leveled off, the wine and gold are stuck with his contract unless they simply give him away.
We are sure the Cavs’ organization figured out, like everybody who understands the game of basketball, that Smith and Thompson are marginal players at best right now, and the best thing for the Cavaliers would be upgrading at their positions, but unfortunately that seems impossible.
And even after the championship in ’16, James wouldn’t commit to the Cavaliers long term because he couldn’t trust Gilbert, so the front office couldn’t engage a future plan.
That’s life with James on your team, and the Cavs’ front office did what they needed to do to put their squad in a position to get to The Finals.
And they won in 2016, a year after James willed Cleveland to a six game series without the second or third best players on the roster, Irving and Love, who were injured.
That’s where luck, or in the Cavs’ view, bad luck took over.
Due to a spike in the salary cap, the team Cleveland beat in ’16 was able to sign the second best player in the league, Kevin Durant, as a free agent. There is no question here that Durant has been the difference in each of the last two Finals, and without him on the Golden State roster, Cleveland may have just celebrated a “Three-peat”.
The Cavs’ management, Dan Gilbert, nor James can be blamed for that. Another situation like that may never happen again.
The front office can be blamed for the lack of return in the trade of Kyrie Irving, who needed to be dealt, and Gilbert can be blamed for not keeping former GM David Griffin, who put together the title team.
An experienced hand may have made the difference in the return for Irving, although to be fair, Griffin was the guy who agreed to the deals with Thompson, Shumpert, Smith, and giving up two first round picks for Timofey Mozgov.
We would say the front office recognized the need to get younger since the end of the 2017 season, and most of the moves made did just that, but the pressure to win and win now with LeBron James, was probably a factor in why the coaching staff didn’t really bring Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, and later, Rodney Hood along.
So, it is unfair to lie the blame in one spot. The Cavs did what they needed to do to win as soon as possible. LeBron didn’t really commit to a long term stay.
That’s life with the best player in the sport.