The Cleveland Cavaliers have won 18 of their last 19 games and once again look like the prohibitive favorite to win the Eastern Conference after a rocky start.
That doesn't mean they're ready to push their chips all-in for a title run this season.
One general manager told Sean Deveney of Sporting News that the Cavaliers have been steadfast in their refusal to include the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick in any trade talks to improve the team.
"They would be open to a deal by all indications," the GM said. "But they're not talking about that pick. That's the Plan B for the LeBron stuff and from what I know, they don't want to budge on it."
The pick was the crowned jewel of Cleveland's haul from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade—even more so than Isaiah Thomas, an impending free agent. The pick is seen internally as something as a fail-safe in case LeBron James leaves next summer.
James, who turns 33 later this month, is an unrestricted free agent in July. He has given Cleveland no guarantee about his long-term plans, and there have been long-simmering rumors James is planning to leave over displeasure with the organization—most notably owner Dan Gilbert.
James and Gilbert have what can best be described as a "professional" relationship due to the latter's handling of the former's departure from Miami in 2010.
One executive told Deveney:
"The only way they trade that would be a transformational player, someone who can help them win a championship. I don't think there is necessarily a player like that out there, at least not what's been talked about so far. But you're not going to deal away your chance at a top player in this draft for the right to lose to the Warriors again."
The Nets, who are exceeding expectations this season, would currently have the 10th-best odds at winning the lottery. However, under new lottery rules, the pick has a better chance at sliding into the top five. The first five selections are now part of the lottery instead of the top three.
The 2018 class is a bit top-heavy with a few potential franchise-changing players. Winning the lottery or getting into the top three could be the first piece in the new foundation should James choose to leave.
Not trading the pick could wind up being one of the reasons James chooses to leave.