Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Close your eyes. WAIT! Don’t close them, because then you can’t keep reading. But imagine you are closing your eyes. Now picture it in your mind’s eye. Do you remember what it looked like? What it sounded like? What it felt like? That moment when LeBron stood with his arms out to the side patiently waiting for the buzzer to sound, when Kevin Love leaped into those arms and the two embraced, when bedlam erupted on the floor of Oracle Arena. When you picture that moment, how long ago does it feel to you?
To me, it feels like five years ago. As I watched the Gordon Hayward “drama” unfold on the 4th of July this year, it was a stark reminder that it was only one year ago when Kevin Durant announced he was going to Golden State and thus rendering any other team in the NBA’s hopes of a 2017 Championship remote as best. Which then reminded me that it was just a year ago that we were all still celebrating. The Championship high didn’t wear off for me until last season started. But now? Now, it feels so far in the past. I cannot believe how much has changed in a year.
This offseason has been odd for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And calling it ‘odd’ is being nice. Any normal team with a normal owner would have brought David Griffin back. Seriously. Any normal team would have and you know it. There is no excuse or justification for not bringing him back. Oh, he wanted more power and more money? Cool, give it to him. He was one of the lowest-paid GMs in the league and he had proven his value and his worth time and time again. Not just in basketball decisions, but in his leadership and his will in driving the direction of the organization philosophically. It’s hard to even wrap your head around an owner doing something as fundamentally stupid as disrupting Griffin and the direction of the franchise like this.
But OK, so the Cavs did a dumb/weird thing in not bringing back the GM that built the roster that won the franchise its first ever NBA Championship. Surely they had someone else already in place and ready to go, right? Wrong. Dan Gilbert did what Dan Gilbert does. He chased a big name. He swung and missed. He offered the job to Chauncey Billups with a low-ball offer, but worst of all, he gave him like two weeks to mull the offer. For two weeks, while the NBA Draft and free agency were going on, the Cavs were sitting by the phone waiting for Billups to accept or decline their offer. Finally, predictably, he declined.
So now here we sit. Most teams have made their free agency moves. The Cavs have, too. With Koby Altman and Dan Gilbert driving the ship, the Cavaliers have gone out and signed Jose Calderon and Jeff Green. Can you feel the excitement? All along the way, we’ve watched Jimmy Butler and Paul George get traded away for minimal return. We’ve heard rumors of Cavs players calling Butler and telling him to stay away from Cleveland. And worst of all, the rumors of LeBron leaving Cleveland after this season have been turned up to 11. In many ways, this summer, just one year after the best summer of my life, has been the offseason from hell.
But here’s the thing. It’s not. It’s not ideal, no. It’s not how I would have handled things, no. But here’s a little secret: it’s really not that bad. Things are fine, for now. I’m sure plenty will stop reading at this point. “Oh, great, another one of those apologists pretending like everything’s OK when clearly they are not.” And I guess that’s where I differ. I will agree things are not ideal, but I will not agree that all is lost.
The truth is, the Cavaliers still have LeBron James. Nobody else does. That’s not going to be enough forever, but for now, it is. With Griff gone, I am terrified of the post-LeBron world. I think Dan Gilbert has proven he doesn’t understand the value of structure, continuity, and front office leadership. Once the LeBron band-aid falls off, the Cavs are going to bleed out. So if we’re preaching doom, that’s where I’m looking. I had hoped that the team would gracefully transition leadership from LeBron to Kyrie with Griff leading the franchise in retooling for Kyrie and Kevin Love. Now I know that’s not going to happen.
But for now, LeBron is still the best player in the game and the Cavaliers have no rival in the East. This next season is going to be fun. The Cavaliers are going to win a lot of games, if they stay healthy they are going to be in the Finals again, and they are going to compete for another title.
Can they beat Golden State? Maybe, maybe not. But this offseason, we have watched two of the biggest stars in their prime in the East (George and Butler) go to the West. The Rockets got better in adding Chris Paul. With Paul George and Russell Westbrook together, the Thunder are interesting again. The Spurs are still perhaps the team best-built to give the Warriors problems. The point is, the West is an insanely brutal gauntlet now. While the Warriors are still clearly the best team, it will be harder for them to sweep through the West. Injuries could happen, slumps could happen, setbacks could happen. We don’t know. But if you’re looking for a clear path to the Finals, Cleveland’s path sure looks a lot more appealing.
That matters for more reasons than one. But let’s talk real quick about LeBron leaving. My WFNY friends know that in our internal Slack communications, I always say that it’s a fool’s errand to predict and/or project what LeBron James is going to do. So, naturally, let’s do just that.
Everyone seems to act now like it’s a foregone conclusion that LeBron is leaving after this season. He wouldn’t commit to Dan Gilbert, he wouldn’t commit to Chancey Billups, he wouldn’t commit to Jimmy Butler, etc. The Cavs fired David Griffin, Dan Gilbert is trying to cut spending, the Cavs can’t beat the Warriors, LeBron is gone. That’s the sentiment you’ll find pretty much everywhere you look.
But we have to ask, what does LeBron want? Does he want to keep competing for titles? If so, it’s hard to believe he’ll have a better than playing with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference. Does he want to set up business connections for his post-playing career? If so, going to Los Angeles is hard to beat. Does he want to play with his banana boat friends? They could pretty much do that anywhere they want. I’d say Miami might be the favorite for that scenario. Does he want to stay with his family and does he want his kids to go to school in his beloved Akron? If so, staying in Cleveland makes sense.
I have no clue what LeBron wants. I hate guessing if he’s going to stay or leave. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but whatever he does, it probably won’t have much to do with what the Cavaliers have done this offseason. You think he cares about front office stability? He walked away from Pat Riley coming off four straight NBA Finals appearances and two Championships. He did that because he wanted something else. It didn’t matter what Miami had done in the past.
I know this offseason has made fans very uncomfortable. But in all reality, I think it has been a pretty decent offseason. There was once a real worry about the Celtics getting both Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Or Paul George and Gordon Hayward. Instead, they got Hayward only and they had to give up the only Celtic who bothered the Cavaliers whatsoever in the Eastern Finals last year (Avery Bradley). Supposedly Dan Gilbert had a deal in place to trade away Kyrie Irving. Thankfully, LeBron wouldn’t commit to Gilbert and Gilbert thus nixed the trade. I’m one of the few who actually didn’t really want the Cavaliers to trade Kevin Love. I like the Cavs’ core and they are going to give LeBron the best opportunity to win more titles for the next few years. If that’s what LeBron wants, I think the Cavaliers will be fine.
It’s summer, friends. Don’t fret so much and don’t let any of this stuff ruin your day. Enjoy the fact that we know we get to watch LeBron James for at least one more season. We can worry about what LeBron is going to do when he has to actually make that decision. The future is cloudy and yes, I’m very much worried about how painful it’s going to be watching this team be dismantled after LeBron leaves, whenever that may be. But as far as bad offseasons go, this one is nothing compared to 2010. Always remember that.