"Everyone knows that when Kyrie got traded, it was the beginning of the end for everything. It's not a secret," James told The Athletic's Joe Vardon in an interview published Monday.
James said general manager Koby Altman told him that he would not trade a disgruntled Irving to the Boston Celtics, only for the deal to be completed the same day. Altman had taken over for David Griffin earlier in the summer of 2017, and James said he believed owner Dan Gilbert ordered the young GM to complete the trade.
"You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby [was just named GM], but at that point in time, you realize that Koby's not the only one running the team, as [former GM David Griffin] had done, and that's why Griff was let go pretty much," James said.
The Cavs traded Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick in a move that instantly became a heist in Boston's favor.
Thomas struggled to return from a hip injury and never fit in next to James. Crowder failed to thrive while playing outside of coach Brad Stevens' egalitarian system. Cleveland traded both of them in midseason deals that also failed to pan out. Collin Sexton, the player the Cavs took with the No. 8 pick acquired for Irving, has struggled as a rookie.
Irving demanded a trade in part because he no longer wanted to play alongside James. The pair had led the Cavs to three straight Finals appearances, including a 2016 championship. LeBron led Cleveland to a fourth straight Finals without Irving in a herculean effort, but the Cavs were swept by the Golden State Warriors.
James signed a four-year contract (player option for 2021-22) with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, a luxury he never afforded Cleveland during his return. He popularized the one-plus-one contract in a move that was designed to keep his options open and put pressure on the organization to make winning decisions. The Cavs traded Irving during the lone summer James did not have any bargaining power because he had signed a two-year contract.
LeBron returns to Cleveland on Wednesday for his first game since joining the Lakers.
"I'm returning to a place where I've spent 11 years of my career," James said. "I had some great moments, had some not so great moments, but, all in all, when you give everything to whatever, the franchise, a teammate, a coaching staff, anything, that's all that matters."