LeBron James could be wearing a different uniform this time next season, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly uninterested in trading their rights to the Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick in the 2018 draft because of the possibility.
On Friday, Sean Deveney of Sporting News cited a general manager who said, "They would be open to a deal by all indications. 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."
As for the "LeBron stuff," he has a player option on his contract after this season and can become a free agent and leave the Cavaliers without their generational player who led them to three straight NBA Finals appearances.
One general manager told Deveney he thought Cleveland's "reticence" to trade the pick could be "a smokescreen" in an effort to increase its value in the eyes of other teams. However, the Nets are 11-16 after going just 20-62 last season and 21-61 in 2015-16, meaning the pick would be the 10th overall selection instead of in the top three at this point.
Still, Brooklyn has plenty of time to start losing again at a rapid rate like it has the last two seasons, which would in turn bolster the value of the pick.
Selecting in the top five of the upcoming draft—when top prospects such as Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton could be available—would give the Cavaliers the opportunity to land another franchise building block should James leave.
Deveney noted Cleveland may be without Isaiah Thomas next season—who it also acquired in the Irving trade—if it elects against giving him a sizeable contract as a potential free agent.
The Cavaliers have been a central piece of the last few NBA championship races, but they need a contingency for a potential future without James. The Nets' pick at least gives them a reason for optimism in that hypothetical.