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 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.
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.
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.