The NBA has seen a flurry of action this off-season — more craziness than even I’m used to.
Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Chris Paul is with the Houston Rockets.
Paul George teamed up with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
The Golden State Warriors re-signed Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston as well as added Nick Young and Omri Casspi.
The runner up of the 2017 NBA Finals — the Cleveland Cavaliers — have been quiet in free agency and trades this off-season. They have the best player in the league in LeBron James, but owner Dan Gilbert had to know that simply running it back was not going to be enough to win it all next year.
The silence has created questions about the team’s future, and a column by Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today hinted that there’s frustration coming from the Cavaliers 32-year-old franchise face.
Zillgitt’s column references a man who has “direct knowledge of James’s thinking”. Take that as you wish. (I prefer to get the workings of a man’s thoughts from the man himself.) That same person — who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and chose to stay nameless — stated LeBron’s frustration could be linked to how Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has handled this off-season.
The day the Cavaliers allegedly had a deal to acquire Jimmy Butler before Butler was later moved to Minnesota was the same day Gilbert and ex-general manager David Griffin mutually parted ways. This move came in the same time frame that Vice President of Basketball Operations Trent Redden also wasn’t brought back.
LeBron’s frustration is natural.
The Cavaliers, as constructed, won the NBA title two years ago and were in the Finals last year. Their main opposition, Golden State, got better. There’s confusion in the front office and possible tension between James and owner Dan Gilbert. This is nothing new to the Cavaliers. Remember “The Decision”?
James’s reported frustration could lead to a “Decision ver 2.0” in the summer of 2018. Leaving Cleveland this time might not sting too much since he has already brought a championship to the Cavs — as he promised. If LeBron wants out of Cleveland, there will be multiple suitors to gain his services.
Here’s what would be different.
The Eastern Conference is severely diluted. Sure, the Celtics added more firepower with Gordon Hayward, but in a seven game series against the Cavaliers, I’ll still put my money on LeBron. (Cavaliers in six is my bet if these two meet in the Eastern Conference Finals next year.) The Cavaliers have already proven they can beat the brakes off the Toronto Raptors, and there’s really no one else. (Washington is a frisky pick, but I don’t know if they could pull of beating the Cavs, either.)
The Western Conference is stacked with talent. Going to the Western Conference makes no sense for LeBron if he wants to keep adding rings to his fingers and rival Michael Jordan’s six. There rumor winds are swirling about a possible move to the Los Angeles Lakers. If LeBron joined Los Angeles next off-season, he would enjoy a young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and potentially Paul George. James would also have Magic Johnson helping him chase rings.
(I won’t be a homer and try to rationalize a possible move to Philadelphia and join Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, and his buddy in Clutch, Ben Simmons.)
If James leaves this time, it’s solely the fault of owner Dan Gilbert. A decision by LeBron to leave Cleveland would be a result of Gilbert’s failure to continue to make the Cavaliers competitive. Failing to get Jimmy Butler is one thing, but being outbid by the Timberwolves to get Jamal Crawford as well definitely hurts. Adding Jeff Green and retaining Kyle Korver mean virtually nothing when it comes to besting Golden State.
Is Dan Gilbert trying to keep LeBron in Cleveland? I’m not really sure. His actions this off-season have been questionable. The Cavaliers will pay over $200 million in luxury taxes this season, but the counter is simple. Winning championships gets you that money back.
Italian philosopher George Santayana said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It’s almost certain that Gilbert remembers his past with LeBron leaving once, and he seems content to let it happen again.