Did Kyrie Trade Convince LeBron to Stay in Cleveland? NBA Execs Doubtful

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterAugust 25, 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Golden State Warriors during Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There is no consensus among NBA executives on who got the better end of the deal that shipped four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston on Aug. 22, but there is when it comes to how they see the trade impacting LeBron James' decision to stay or go next summer.

The deal doesn't change a thing.

The prevailing sentiment among the league executives B/R contacted remains that when it comes time to exercise the option on his final contract year with the Cavaliers, James won't.

"He's out," a Western Conference scout says.

"Foregone conclusion," one Eastern Conference general manager adds.

"I don't see him staying in Cleveland," another thinks.

Now, obviously, a lot can change over the course of a season. No one saw the 73-win Warriors losing to the Cavaliers in the Finals two years ago—much less blowing a 3-1 lead—but then no one forecast that a knee injury would knock Andrew Bogut out of the series in Game 5 or that Draymond Green would get suspended for a game, either.

Stuff, as the sanitized version of the saying goes, happens.

That applies to where the Cavs find themselves now and possibly next summer as well. Would they have even acquiesced to Irving's desire to be dealt if they had won a second consecutive championship and were pursuing a three-peat? Could LeBron really ditch his hometown mere days after another parade through downtown Cleveland?

All that aside, most executives don't see the trade of Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn's 2018 first-round pick making the Cavs, as is, good enough to beat the Warriors next June, which is considered the biggest reason James would stay. In fact, the deal has been interpreted by some as the Cavs hedging their bet, splitting their focus between staying competitive with James and preparing for life without him.

Anyone who has worked with James will tell you that putting your focus on anything other than helping him win another ring does not engender his favor.

The biggest concern is that Thomas apparently is still recovering from the hip injury he suffered in last year's playoffs. Several executives interpreted Celtics GM Danny Ainge's comments that Thomas might not be ready to start the season as a major red flag.

If Thomas misses a significant part of the season or isn't the same fourth-quarter scorer he was for the Celtics last season, the argument that the deal might have made the Cavs better in 2017-18 is moot.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

As for flipping the Brooklyn pick for a player who could help them this season, several executives independently said they could only envision the Cavs doing that if James guaranteed them he'd stay, a pre-empting of his option that James has consistently avoided.

There is also concern that Thomas elected to recover from his hip injury without surgery because he's aware of what that could've done to his market value as a free agent next summer.

"We all have the numbers when a guy gets hip surgery," one executive says. "They're not good. Now what if he's not right and needs surgery anyway? That is not nearly the same trade."

With all that in mind, league executives not only expect James to leave but have circled his destination—the Los Angeles Lakers—for a host of reasons. The top three are:

• Setting up his post-playing career in TV and movie production.

• Attempting the unique feat of leading three different teams to a championship.

• Creating a path to an ownership stake in the Lakers.

The first motive is obvious. He already has founded a Los Angeles-based production company, SpringHill Entertainment, and has developed several shows already. James and his two childhood friends-turned-business partners from Akron, Ohio—agent Rich Paul and business manager Maverick Carter—have all purchased homes in Los Angeles in the last two years as well.

The second is a byproduct of the presumptive dynasty built by the Warriors. LeBron has relinquished his goal of Michael Jordan's collection of six championship rings, a league source says.

"That was once his obsession," the source says. "But even if LeBron thinks he has five good years left, he's not thinking he's going to beat Golden State four out of the next five years. I don't think he's making it about that anymore. When he said, 'I don't have anything left to prove' during the Finals, that's where that came from."

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers heads out to the court before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 19, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

While winning a second championship in Cleveland—and fourth overall—wouldn't measurably change where James stands in the pantheon of all-time greats, winning one more with a third team might. The only other surefire Hall of Fame players who can say they helped lead more than one team to a championship are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Only Robert Horry and John Salley have won rings with three different teams, and both were considered role players.

"LeBron did what he came to do [in Cleveland]," the scout says. "He needs to prove he can do it somewhere else now. Three different teams will make him more unique."

One Eastern Conference GM envisions LeBron in the Eastern Conference to join a stocked team—the Washington Wizards, for example—because the path to the Finals should remain easier than in the West. A former member of the Cavs organization disagrees.

"He doesn't care if he has to beat the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals or the Finals," the source says. "He knows he has to go through them at some point, and it doesn't matter when. Winning another Eastern Conference banner doesn't mean anything to him."

Finally, there is James' aspiration to one day be a team owner. Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who became the team's president of basketball operations in February, expressed the same post-career aspiration and saw it come true, securing 4 percent of the Lakers from late owner Dr. Jerry Buss.

He subsequently divested himself of that stake but remains close with Dr. Buss' daughter and the team's controlling owner, Jeanie. Some executives have speculated that offering James the same ownership opportunity is, or will be, part of their pitch to lure him to Los Angeles.

"It's all more about life after basketball than anything else," the first Eastern Conference GM says.

The only question: Will life in Cleveland this season do anything to change it? Thomas' hip might hold the answer.


Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RicBucher. 


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