Cavaliers

Sending the Cavs to their room

More than anything I’m going full dad mode on the Cavaliers right now, expressing parental disappointment in all of the major players in the latest team drama. Everyone go to timeout in your rooms. Dan Gilbert, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James are hereby sentenced to some quiet time so they can think about what they’ve done! That’s largely how I feel now that the drama has unfolded to this point. It’s time for everyone to walk away, cool the situation and then come back together and discuss it rationally. I’ll start.

This Cavaliers offseason has shaped up to be one of the biggest disasters in the history of good NBA teams. Think about that. Just like the Cavaiers winning the championship was superlative in a good way this is the opposite. One of the closest comparisons that anyone can seem to make is when Kobe Bryant demanded a trade in 2007. That had me go down the old rabbit hole to dig up that history. I found a fascinating TrueHoop post that encapsulated the rumors and trade possibilities at that time, and I found it pretty instructive. These were some of the options that were considered as packages Los Angeles could garner for trading their star.

  • Chicago was considered a front-runner because they might be able to package Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Ben Wallace.
  • The Houston Rockets were mentioned as possible suitors with Tracy McGrady being the prime piece coming back to L.A.
  • Portland could have sent Brandon Roy and Zach Randolph, which was one of the better suggestions for the Lakers.
  • Gilbert Arenas from Washington or Kevin Garnett from Minnesota as possibilities?

Some options were better than others, and possibly there were far better options that might have materialized eventually, but all the returns are pennies on the Kobe dollar. With the benefit of hindsight, try to put yourself in an alternate world where Lakers fans were forced to swallow the resulting teams instead of the Kobe-led Lakers. The Lakers won two championships in what would turn out to be five straight playoff appearances. The Lakers figured it out with their star, and the conclusion of the TrueHoop article proved prescient.

It’s going to be very tough to accommodate Bryant’s trade request. My bet is that only a very small number of teams have anything even close to the talent, salaries, and cash to make a real offer.

Why? There was no fair value that the Lakers could get back for what they would have lost had they traded Bryant. The same is true of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers have one of the most talented players in the world in Kyrie Irving. There’s absolutely no way that they can make a trade that is likely to produce a talent as big as what they would have to give up. It’s possible, but the percentages aren’t in the Cavaliers’ favor. That’s the nature of trading a known quantity for unknowns. When the best-case scenario in a trade is trading a top-level talent for multiple pieces that might fill roles, you don’t do it.

Even the best Cavaliers role players wouldn’t suffice as fair compensation for Kyrie Irving. Imagine a scenario where you could add another J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson to the Cavaliers by trading away Kyrie. Based on the trade proposals I’ve seen, that would be a really good value for the Cavaliers to get in return. Knowing all their games intimately as fans of the Cavs, would you make that trade willingly if Kyrie hadn’t tried to force your hand? That’s the headline here. There’s no trade the Cavaliers would make for Kyrie Irving that they would do gladly, except that their hand is being forced. You can talk about the Cavaliers having leverage because Kyrie’s deal has two more years, but the leverage isn’t any good if you can’t garner fair value.

Just like the Kobe trade scenario from way back when, there’s no trade that makes the Cavaliers better than they are with someone of Kyrie Irving’s talent and clutch abilities in the playoffs. The only way the Cleveland Cavaliers can get better is to somehow follow the Kobe Bryant storyline from a decade ago — the one in which Kobe demanded a trade after losing in the Finals — and follow suit with Kyrie Irving by working things out.

Bring in Tony Robbins. Call in Barack Obama to have a beer summit with LeBron and Kyrie. Buy a second team plane and let Kyrie and his buddies ride separately. Do you think James Hetfield – lead singer of Metallica – travels communally with the rest of the band now? Slash and Axl probably don’t see each other except for a few minutes before they walk on stage for their sold out shows, once again performing as Guns N’ Roses. I’m only half kidding with some of these suggestions, by the way.

That’s how confident I am that Kyrie Irving is making a mistake. That’s how confident I am when I say that I don’t think the Cavaliers can improve themselves by trading Kyrie. That’s how confident I am that the best path forward for everyone — from LeBron, Kyrie, and Dan Gilbert to the poor Cavaliers fans who are watching this bullshit from the sidelines.

I know it’s a cheap populist ploy to paint Cavaliers fans as victims, especially just a year removed from a championship. I know we thought “Only in Cleveland” died when the Cavaliers won it all, but this is an “Only in Cleveland” event resurrected from the ashes of a pre-championship time. This is something that would prove totally fatal to this fanbase if it wasn’t still riding the memories of that big win in 2016. And although I’ve buried the lede now with context, I wanted to make the case that there’s only one logical step forward through reconciliation. That sets up the “dad mode” disappointment that I’m feeling for Dan Gilbert, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James. So let’s hit those three.

LeBron James

LeBron is up first because he’s the most important professional athlete in the history of Cleveland sports, at least since I was born in 1979. He’s also possibly the most powerful athlete in the history of sports. There’s no way he can be himself with all his goals, priorities and impact without taking some of the blame for this whole thing. LeBron came back, and he won a championship for the city, so he’s been untouchable ever since. And I’m not saying anyone should ever turn on him or forget the immense things he’s done for all of us. I am saying that with great power comes great responsibility.

LeBron James’ free agency is his right a year from now, but as he drives that big boat around the lake, it creates waves that hit everything else, including other boats. He’s got the right to captain his ship through the waters, but it’s also his responsibility to keep an eye out for other boaters so as not to cause massive capsizings. Right now, his chaos is washing over the Cavaliers including Kyrie Irving. Richard Jefferson talked about it briefly on the Road Trippin podcast. Without casting blame, even he recognized just what kind of position LeBron James’ freedom puts an organization and teammates in.

LeBron has deniability on his side where he can say, “What? I’m just preparing for the season!” That’s garbage, and he knows it. He’s earned his place in the world, but he doesn’t get to influence everything when he wants to and not take any of the blame when he feels like shirking responsibility. At least he shouldn’t be able to do that without some people calling him out on it. That’s what Kyrie Irving seems to be doing, in part. The gravity of LeBron is involved here, and his unwillingness to commit to the Cavaliers long-term is partially to blame for why we are where we are right now. He doesn’t owe the Cavaliers anything more than being in shape and being willing to play, technically. At the same time, he’s partially responsible for how the NBA is today with player empowerment. For him to throw his hands up and deny that empowerment when it suits him is his right, but he must live with the fallout as well.

Dan Gilbert

Despite the fact that I started with LeBron James, in any organization it all starts at the top. It’s a cliche because it’s true. Dan Gilbert has proven nothing as an owner of the franchise without LeBron James. It might not be fair and maybe Dan Gilbert is actually a good owner, but there’s no evidence that I can think of other than the amazing humungotron in The Q. As far as hiring, firing, and other owner-like decisions, Dan Gilbert is suspect at best. I don’t hate Dan Gilbert, but I am quite clear-eyed on this.

It’s not necessarily a problem that Dan Gilbert parted ways with David Griffin. It’s not necessarily a problem that he didn’t make a deal with Chauncey Billups. It’s not necessarily a problem that he hired Koby Altman to be the full-time general manager. All those things convening into a rotten ice cream sundae with a rotten cherry on top of Kyrie Irving demanding a trade is completely unacceptable.

You can’t operate without backup plans and it feels like Dan Gilbert has lacked, you know, a plan for the better part of the off-season. You can’t possibly escape a period like this and a history like Gilbert’s in non-LeBron years without taking huge portions of the blame.

Kyrie Irving

Obviously, the most culpability here is with Kyrie Irving. Despite the fact that I blame Dan Gilbert and LeBron James as well, Kyrie is making a giant mistake. I am 99.9 percent sure he will regret this someday. It’s not good for his career playing or even image-wise. No matter how you try and apologize for it by blaming LeBron or Dan Gilbert for their contributions to the situation, Kyrie is the one who is demanding a trade away from a successful team with an all-time great player in a place where he can make the most money in his NBA career.

He looks like an immature child who is doing things for all the wrong reasons. Even if we can come to some logic or understand some of his feelings, I have no doubt to the stupidity of his conclusion that the grass is somehow greener elsewhere. Even the most sympathetic commentators I hear who allow that the LeBron experience is difficult and that Dan Gilbert is awful to work for, nobody is really saying that this is a good idea for Kyrie and the Cavaliers.

Well, except maybe Bill Simmons who proclaimed himself to be team Kyrie in the latest podcast. But that’s almost certainly a thinly veiled side effect of knowing the Celtics would get obliterated once more if the Cavaliers kept their three main players together. So that doesn’t count.

The conclusion here is that the Cavaliers need to call a team meeting. They need to sit everyone down, tell them they’re not going to trade anyone, and start to try and work it out. Find motivational speakers, brand managers, shaman, gurus, and maybe even some wacky team shrink to get them all back on the same page for at least one more year. Let Kyrie air out his grievances directly to LeBron and Dan Gilbert. Let LeBron hear what it’s like to be caught up in his wake all the time. Let Dan Gilbert know what it’s like to work with so very many general managers and coaches over the years. It’s the best move for everyone, and we all know it.

Now all of you go to your rooms and think about what you’ve done to put us all in this situation. When I say you can come out, we’re going to start with apologies so go ahead and get those ready first.

  • CBiscuit

    Can we not only send people to their rooms, but can banish the media to the far ends of the flat Earth too? This offseason drama is much ado about nothing…pure manufactured nonsense, particularly about the GM and Gilbert fixation. Just silly red herring territory and low hanging fruit swipes. The talent on the team itself is not the slightest bit worse for the wear.

    We just added Derrick Rose for a mere $2.1M. For perspective:

    Zaza Pachulia got $3.5 M
    Ersan Ilyasova got $6M
    Bojan Bogdanovic got a 2 year $21M
    Tim Hardaway Jr. got a 4 year $71M
    Dion Waiters got a 4 year $52M

    Yes, the same tired brittle Rose low hanging fruit jokes can be had–and maybe he will get hurt and be somewhat of a shell of his MVP self–but perhaps it’s time to muster up a bit of credit to the front office for the signing. The guy averaged 18 PPG on 47% shooting on a craptastic Knicks team. And we’re not talking the manufactured drama that the media and fans generate with the Cavs–his old Knicks team was truly from top to bottom a dysfunctional mess.

    To recap the moves since the Finals:
    -Jeff Green in and James Jones out (PLUS)
    -Rose in and Dahntay Jones out (PLUS)
    -Cedi Osman in and Derrick Williams out (PLUS?)
    -Korver re-signed (WASH)
    -The corpse of Calderon in the casket where Deron Williams once laid (WASH)
    -The turd in the punch bowl courtesy of Kyrie Irving yet to be fished out (TBD)

  • BenRM

    I don’t know – being without a GM for a month, a month which included the draft and the beginning of FA, is an indefensible situation created by Glibert.

  • CBiscuit

    This is making me truly hate this team…from the fans to the media to now some of the players (who are infected). All of it.

    It’s like a soul sucking black hole that defies logic and reason…it is all so incomprehensible for a team that just went to 3 finals and will go to its 4th.

  • Harv

    My reaction to Craig’s points and the sitch in general:

    – Proclaiming “everyone shares fault” can be a facile and false cliche when we can’t point to culpable conduct. Kyrie doesn’t want out because LeBron won’t commit long-term; in fact, the fear of LeBron finishing here may be a leading cause of Kyrie’s demand. So, what is it? LeBron just ain’t perfect enough. Too demanding/hands-off/oxygen-sucking/passive-aggressive/fill-in-the-blank. If we cannot say what he did, there’s no cause to default to “well, he must have done something.”

    – The one quality the Cavs cannot receive back in a trade is Big Game Dragon Slayer, maybe Kyrie’s greatest value. They can get better defense, better passing, length, shot blockers and/or assets. But there’s only a few guys with the stones to take over and win that playoff game v. Boston with LeBron in foul trouble and the Cavs on the verge of 0-2. Or become unstoppable under the hottest lights with a season on the line. Point being: the reason teams might give up a boat load for Kyrie is because the players and assets they have can’t do that. And the Cavs don’t get another trophy with that,

    – If they trade him, GM Doogie Howzer must decide on the goal of his plan. Win with LeBron, or prepare for post-LeBron? To hedge risks getting a mishmash that doesn’t fully exploit either direction. (Btw, will Lue trust even a highly talented young player with meaningful playoff minutes?).

    – Though the Cavs can’t acquire equal value, the fan interest Kyrie generates might induce a bidding war where team owners overrule the pure basketball evals of their GMs. If they’re going to trade him Doogie better take his time and let the pot simmer.

    – LeBron was 25 when he decided he needed out. Kyrie is about that age. I hope he’ll stay because this whole summer, starting with the GM fiasco, feels like a slo-mo avalanche that carries LeBron away in another year. Good orgs – orgs that can re-set – depend on competence and stability at the top. Instead, this feels like an owner toy where he likes to dabble when the whim strikes. Like he doesn’t understand the fragile value of what he has lucked into.

  • I guess my criticism of LeBron is he’s Mr. Demanding Hands-on guy who orchestrates Kevin Love deals and then when his contract is almost up his guidance is “Do what’s best for yourself. I’m working out to be prepared.” I don’t think it’s fair to step in and be that demanding chess player and then just stop playing chess whenever it’s convenient.

  • Harv

    Sometimes I think: that great Tribe roster of the ’90s only had a 3-year run (’94-’96) before it morphed and eventually collapsed under the burden of salaries and horrible drafting turning off the talent spigot. But this seems, at its core, utterly preventable and ownership-initiated. Or if that last part is wrong, seems there’s no one to repair it because Griffin is gone and Dan helps make the messes, not cleans them.

  • Harv

    even if “Lebron needs to be all-in as a quasi-GM without deniability” was a fair criticism, draw its connection to Kyrie wanting out. We’ve seen nothing that implies this is Kyrie wants similar influence o the Cavs. So LeBron can give all of his to Kyrie (yeah, sure), or leave town. Again, whatever we think LeBron should do better, or in a more elegant way or whatever, Ky is demanding to be THE guy. Not a guy with more of the pie.

  • Chris

    Craig for GM!
    Craig for GM!
    Craig for GM!

    Say what?!? They actually hired a GM? Hmmm…

    Craig for President of Basketball Operations!

  • Natedawg86

    I think the best thing to do will be to trade him to a lottery team before the trade deadline to get a haul for him. Then he can sit and watch the playoffs on TV.

  • CBiscuit

    I will 100% agree that the lil’ mortgaging madman has done us no favors, and he’s fed right into the media narratives. When I try to bird’s eye view this thing for perspective as you have done: I feel like at the very start of this 3 year run, there’s been non-stop drama, so there’s something that has been simmering with this team that has never been “right”…something beyond Gilbert and this year. I think Lebron will be at the eye of any NBA drama storm no doubt, so maybe it’s his presence alone and the cat & mouse contract games inherent to him. I don’t know. It’s never been a comfortable ride sans rumors and drama.

    But we’re also in the midst of a new NBA where the GMs and coaches are less important cogs–and the players dictate. This isn’t news, I know–but it’s growing….their buddy recruiting; they more freely go where they want to go and do so because the money is crazier whatever move they make; and they’re more vocal. There are fewer Pat Rileys and Popoviches left to hold egos and glue everything together with command. Frankly, in this shift, it’s a miracle GS is so functional and conflict-free. As painful as that is for us to hear, their run is remarkable.

  • scripty

    Where did Derrick Williams end up?

  • scripty

    Yes, Griffin leaving was not great b/c he was a proven, solid GM.

    However, let’s not forget that Griffin was a next-man-up hiring. The Cavs have leaguewide respect of a front office – respected as having many smart people there. I am not giving a full pardon to Gilbert but they assembled a great front office. Let’s let that play out before we say this was a mistake.

  • BenRM

    I’m not sure how to read this…so it is fine to be without a GM for two of the most important parts of the off-season?

  • JM85

    I can’t help but wonder if this could have been avoided if Griffin was still here. Having said that, Irving is making a huge mistake and I think he will regret it.

  • CBiscuit

    Not sure I follow this? Never said it was ok or not. I just think the Gilbert-GM drama, to me, has gone past silly and is now writhing in annoyance & distaste.

    But since you ask on GM, honestly, I think it would have made little to no difference at all in our situation if St. Griffin was the GM or Bozo the Clown. Sadly and truly. But on the plus side (and my original post), I highlight some good things we’ve done! We improved our bench as best as one could I think, within our sal cap constraints.

  • CBiscuit

    Think still unsigned but the word is we are out of room and he won’t be back. I thought he had a little potential.

  • Harv

    True, for all we know Altman will be the next great GM in the league. But:

    – He’s not “next man up,” like Grant was to Ferry, like Griffin was to both Kerr and Grant. Griffin’s more experienced top guy left with him. Griffin is the guy with respect league-wide. Not Altman, not Dan.

    – Zach Lowe and Windy think Griffin leaving played a part. No idea if this is true, though it’s been widely reported that Griff held Kyrie’s hand in the past regarding role issues.

    We can always say “let’s not jump to conclusions.” They may get lucky, like LeBron being from here and winning the lottery the year Kyrie came out. But that’s not a plan. That’s not competence.

  • CBiscuit

    Not sure I follow this? Never said it was ok or not. I just think the Gilbert-GM drama, to me, has gone past silly and is now writhing in annoyance & distaste.

    But since you ask on GM, honestly, I think it would have made little to no difference at all in our situation if St. Griffin was the GM or Bozo the Clown. Sadly and truly. But on the plus side (and my original post), I highlight some good things we’ve done! We improved our bench as best as one could I think, within our sal cap constraints.

  • Chris

    He is the Junior Zen Master

  • MartyDaVille

    Really good stuff, Craig. The mature adult approach. Hey, it’s worth a shot.

  • Steve

    The guy averaged 18 PPG on 47% shooting

    And a 0.068 WS/48, which would place him just slightly ahead of Richard Jefferson and Deron Williams on last year’s Cavs. I guess, hooray, an upgrade on Williams! But we are committing a lot of minutes to a pretty awful player.

  • CBiscuit

    Thanks for the agreement on upgrade. That was main takeaway. See was that so hard to get that faintest bit of positiveness out of fans?! Who said this is like pulling teeth to say one nice thing? We’re on a roll now!

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