Does Collin Sexton Give Cavs Shot at LeBron? NBA Execs Respond Defiantly 'Nope'

Ken Berger@@KBergNBAFeatured Columnist IJune 22, 2018

CLEVELAND, CA - JUN 8:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to the media after being defeated by the Golden State Warriors in Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals won 108-85 by the Golden State Warriors over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Quicken Loans Arena on June 6, 2018 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 the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The first shoe dropped in the LeBron James sweepstakes Thursday night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Alabama point guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft.

Sexton, you should know, is a player LeBron liked in this draft, as reported by Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. You should also know—and, as a voracious consumer of NBA draft content, you most assuredly do—that James' favorite player in the 2014 draft was another point guard, Shabazz Napier of Connecticut.

With James hurtling toward free agency after four straight Finals appearances in Miami, the Heat heeded the King's advice and traded up two spots to No. 24 and selected Napier. A couple of weeks later, James left Miami and returned to Cleveland.

Napier was most recently spotted as a backup in Portland. And James is barely a week away from the next Decision in an illustrious career of not only playing basketball better than almost anyone else who has ever lived—but also choosing where he does so better than almost anyone else who has ever lived.

So as the text messages went out from this author's phone to those of executives around the NBA on Thursday night, the question was straightforward: Does the Cavs' selection of Sexton move the needle whatsoever in James' impending decision to stay in Cleveland or leave as a free agent?

The answers were swift, decisive and—as late character actor Lane Smith famously declared in My Cousin Vinny—I-DENTICAL.

"Nope."

The Cavs went into the draft intending to make their selection without regard for whether James would stay or go as a free agent, league sources told Bleacher Report. The same approach applied to general manager Koby Altman's bold moves at the trade deadline—moves that ultimately proved not to be enough to give the Cavs a fighting chance against the Warriors in the Finals.

Cavs management and ownership were in the dark all season with regard to James' free-agent intentions, so they made their deadline moves with the intention of hedging their bets. They did the same with the Sexton pick; league sources told B/R it was a selection the team is comfortable with either way.

So where does this leave the Cavs in their sales pitch to LeBron to stay in Cleveland? Not really in any different position than they were in before: Guessing, at best.

The Cavs continue to explore the possibility of working a deal with the Charlotte Hornets for two-time All-Star Kemba Walker, two league sources told B/R on Thursday night. Their best chance at such a deal would seem to have involved the eighth pick in the draft, which didn't happen. One person close to Walker said Thursday night that he still believes such a deal is "possible."

Another league source pushed the notion of a trade for Walker one step further when it comes to the Cavs' chances of keeping LeBron: Acquiring Walker, the person said, "is the only way LeBron stays."

Some rival executives are more dubious. Asked what it would take for the Cavs to keep James, an Eastern Conference exec told B/R, "Ownership of the team."

Ouch. James' uneasy relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert could wind up being a deciding factor.

But a Western Conference exec was more optimistic about the Cavs' chances, putting them at "50-50, as LeBron runs the city and the arena."

That, he does. But that still got him swept by the Warriors.

For his part, Sexton lobbied James to stay Thursday night, urging James in his post-selection interview, "Let's do it. … Let's go back to the Finals."

But as we all know, getting to the Finals has not been an issue for James, who has been there eight years in a row. Winning—he's 3-6 in his nine trips—has been the problem.

So what factors is James weighing as he closes in on the decision to opt in or out of the $35 million he is due next season from the Cavs by June 29? Family and legacy, according to a person familiar with James' strategy.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst—longtime and expert chronicler of all things LeBron—reported Thursday that James is focused on the Cavs and Lakers as his two possible destinations. Repeating a previously reported theme, Windhorst mentioned the apparent aversion James' family has to relocating to Houston.

But geographic preference and a family straw poll aren't the only factors under consideration—not for a man who is trying to establish his case as the best to ever play. The talent surrounding him, the chance to extend his streak to nine or even 10 consecutive Finals—or more—and the opportunity to have a legitimate chance to dethrone the mighty Warriors will undoubtedly be part of the equation.

The Cavs made their first move Thursday night, adding one of the best point guards in the draft in Sexton—a James favorite. But just as a draft pick wasn't enough to compel James to stay in Miami four years ago, it won't be enough to move the needle this time, either.

So, nice move, Cavs. Let's see your next one. Let's also see what the Lakers are able to do, such as persuading the Spurs to reopen the door to discussing a potential Kawhi Leonard trade that San Antonio has summarily closed on them to this point, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.

The only certainty that emerged from the 2018 draft is that the Summer of LeBron is about to get serious. For his part, Altman told reporters Thursday night that he has had "good dialogue with his management team. LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does."

Indeed, like a King.

   

Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA.

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