On the long May 24 weekend in Canada, I got the chance to discuss the Cleveland Cavaliers, the future of LeBron James, and the despair that the comes from watching a first-place team make an early exit from the playoffs with some hard-core fans visiting from Cleveland.
And as Cavalier fans feel LeBron James' massive presence walking out the front door of their team, the mood could not be darker.
What we witnessed on TV in Canada, they watched live at the Q. By the end, the unchallenged first-place Cavaliers looked like a lost and confused junior varsity team playing in their first tournament.
The belief was LeBron let the team down. And who could argue with them after watching LeBron score 15 points in the Game Five home loss and his nine turnovers in Game Six.
The fans noticed that LeBron has since gone into hiding and the apparent lack of sportsmanship and accountability has led to the unbelievable comment that, “we don’t care if he ever comes back!”
They repeated comments read and heard locally that finishing in first place two seasons in a row and going deep into the playoffs the past three seasons was a great record. And they were not amused, instead they were angry.
Perhaps that is the result of watching their professional sports teams never getting close to the prize for so long.
Somehow by July, that dark mood has to change. LeBron James is still the top free agent available this summer. But if Cleveland doesn’t become proactive in recruiting the King, the game’s best player could be plying his skills elsewhere next season.
This past season the Cavaliers went for experience to bring a ring to the King. And it’s hard to blame the 38-year-old Shaq or the 34-year-old Parker for the early playoff exit. For the most part, they played well.
And while the NBA playoffs are no place for young players , the late-season addition of a 33-year-old Antawn Jamison didn’t work out as planned.
Fortunately, Cleveland’s owner has shown a willingness to spend through his mistakes. So another over-paid veteran shouldn’t prove to be that much of a future hindrance.
And this same group of players could be a first-place team again next season.
But LeBron James will not be enticed back to the Cavaliers or any team by the expectation of a strong regular season. The King wants to be part of a championship team. A team with dynasty potential.
And don’t believe for a minute that he is about to surrender any part of that max $130 million contract he is eligible to sign this summer.
The Cavaliers, for all the bitter disappointment felt by the fans and by LeBron, are still in the driver’s seat when it comes to re-signing their All-Star.
From the outside, the Cavaliers were only missing two things:
- A point guard who could pass and create for others; and,
- A big man who was a legitimate 20 and 10 threat.
Most nights James covered off his team’s deficiencies by leading in scoring, rebounding, and assists. While being the go-to guy for everything may be an ego boost, LeBron has probably noticed that it hasn’t led to an ultimate playoff success.
And while there is nothing wrong with the talent the Cavaliers have surrounded James with, the team has no true second option to share some of the load.
The Cavs second best scorer is their point guard, but Mo Williams is more of a combo guard than a true point. Williams is not a play-maker and he has only been considered an All-Star playing beside LeBron.
The teams best (by a hair over LeBron) rebounder is Anderson Varejao, but Varejao is an energy player and a suspect scorer. Williams and Varejao are not second options for James.
The most obvious play the Cavaliers could make this offseason in an attempt to retain LeBron would be to do whatever it takes to complete a “sign and trade” for one of the other premier free agents available this summer.
And no one should imagine the firing of head coach Mike Brown will influence LeBron James’ decision to stay or go! A coaching change will be at best only part of the process to convince James to stay.
The Cavaliers have to take the attitude of no cap space, no problem and no luxury tax payment is too high to keep King James. Everyone but LeBron must be made available.
And with only the MLE available to go after free agents, the Cavaliers have to make any major adjustments to their roster via trade.
So this summer may turn into the summer of the Chris Bosh free agent bidding wars. Bosh, like his other max free agent buddies, is not about to give up any part the max contract dollars he can only get by signing a deal with his current club.
But Bosh, like his max buddies, wants to play for a winner. Becoming part of a rebuilding process is not in his plans.
This does create opportunities for teams like the Cavaliers to go all out to obtain his services. The Cavaliers, like other teams near championship status, have the situation Bosh (and possibly Wade, Johnson, and Stoudemire) are looking for. The Cavs are potentially one star player away from dynasty status.
And the Cavaliers are also the potential trading partner that the Toronto Raptors are looking for. A team that has legitimate rotation players and starters available who could return the Raptors to the playoffs.
Varejao, Hickson, West, cash and a first-round pick for Bosh.
Then, Williams for the pass-first Calderon.
Could this move entice James to stay in Cleveland?
No one knows what any of these big free agents really have planned for this summer. They are all leaving their teams and fans wondering.
But the Cavaliers had better not let the shock of an early playoff exit paralyze them into inactivity. This summer, the aggressive team is likely to walk away with the biggest prize.
And if the Cavaliers are not on the acquiring side of a big deal, they will probably be delivering their All-Star to someone else.