Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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On the recent road trip in which the Cleveland Cavaliers went 1-4, coach Tyronn Lue mentioned how the players needed to set aside their “agendas” for the betterment of the team.
Of course, that comment only served to throw gas on the fire that had been blazing away just shy of inferno status all around this basketball team, which suffered its two worst losses on that crash-and-burn trip — 127-99 at Minnesota and 133-99 at Toronto two nights later.
While Lue did not name names, speculation ran rampant in regards to whom he was referring.
Lue was probably, OK, definitely wise to not name names because if he had, he would’ve had to start with one name.
One huge name.
The biggest name in the NBA, in fact.
No one’s personal agenda is larger than that of James.
Despite being the game’s most-willing passer of superstar status perhaps in history, if not since Magic Johnson, anyway, he is also the NBA’s most selfish superstar in relation to his team when it comes to his contract.
Three times, now, James has held franchises perhaps not hostage, but put their ability to build and put together the best possible team by not being willing to make a commitment before becoming a free agent.
That’s his right.
However, for fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, this is like a recurring nightmare.
After the 2010 season, James staged his infamous “The Decision” television show with mouthpiece Jim Gray filling the role of ventriloquist dumm. Bolting from Cleveland to sign with Miami, shocking not only Northeast Ohio, but basketball fans across the world.
When James did it again after four years in Miami, opting to leave the Heat and return home as a Cavalier, he used the same exit plan on Miami as he had Cleveland. However, he learned his lesson, at least, and didn’t stage a dog-and-pony show on television to state his intentions, going through the excellent, Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated to get the word out.
Now, with James all but definite to decline his player option for more than $34 million for the 2019 season this summer, there is a chance the Cavaliers could experience what they did in the summer of 2010 all over the game
Contemplate a future without the best player on the planet, with not nearly enough notice to do much after his departure.
Then again, James may opt to sign another deal with Cleveland (for what it’s worth, that’s what these eyes see happening, but I digress).
While James loves the inevitable drama, intrigue, rumor and wild speculation regarding his future, he steadfastly denies that’s the case, refusing to discuss the subject other than to give the same, generic answers.
Of course, he says all the right things whenever it’s broached by reporters across the league, feigning indifference, saying he’s 100 percent focused on this season and hasn’t thought about what he might do come summer.
Uh huh, sure. If you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in…
We’ve all seen this act before and, quite frankly, like the Cavaliers, it’s getting old. Actually, it’s almost past the “getting-old” stage and slowly but surely creeping toward the “it’s-time-to-(crap)-or-get-off-the-pot” status.
James has said he’s “chasing a ghost,” meaning the six NBA championship rings won by his idol, Michael Jordan. He’s halfway there, having won three, including ending Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought by leading the Cavaliers to the title in 2015-16.
What James fails to realize, though, or simply doesn’t care about, is by playing it this way — the way he’s done it for the last eight years — he’s not only hampering his current team, but in doing so, if he wants to remain a Cavalier, hurting himself, too.
The Cavaliers (26-17) are coming to a crossroads, and soon. Very soon. The trade deadline looms but three weeks away (Feb. 8) and the team has not only lost its way, dropping nine of its last dozen games, but has looked downright awful in doing so, at times.
With first-year general manager Koby Altman at the helm, there are huge decisions (ouch) to be made.
Obviously, Cleveland needs to make a move… or two… or three, if it expects to not only reach a fourth consecutive NBA Finals, but to compete with defending champion Golden State, its foe in the last three championship series, That’s should both teams survive and advance for a Round IV, of course.
What those moves are, however, are up for much debate. The Cavaliers’ biggest bargaining chip is the unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick of the Brooklyn Nets. If the draft were to be held today, that would be the sixth selection, and odds are, it will end up being even higher.
However, James hasn’t given Altman nor owner Dan Gilbert any indication what his plans are after this season.
All it would take is a hint, a wink, a secret handshake or perhaps a pool-side meeting (think Kevin Love’s choice to re-sign with the Cavaliers after the 2014-15 season) to offer a clue.
Hence, James’ personal agenda is, at least in his mind, more important than that of the franchise, his teammates and its fans.
If Altman is armed with the knowledge he expects to have James reup this summer, he could explore pretty much every avenue to make necessary upgrades to chase a second title in three years this season.
For example, as written here previously, he could use that Brooklyn pick to go after the likes of Paul George from Oklahoma City. And if George were to know James has committed to remain a Cavalier, odds increase greatly in the ability of the team to convince him to re-sign. George is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
However, it James continues to keep his plans to himself and his management team, Altman’s hands are very much tied.
Whispers are Gilbert, fearing a collapse akin to what happened when James jumped ship after 2010, will forbid Altman from including the much-coveted Brooklyn pick in any trade without some type of assurance from James that he’s going to continue to hang his hat in Cleveland.
Good luck with that.
The 2018 draft is regarded by most as having much star power at the top and very deep down the line. Not only do the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick, they also have their own.
Faced with starting over if James exits, two guys taken in the first-round and combined with Cedi Osman would be a good start.
And with Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Jeff Green, Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose all headed to free agency after this summer, along with potentially dealing Love to a contender, the opportunities to get young, quickly, would be at hand.
As always, though, the ball is squarely in James’ court, just the way he likes it. This is what Gilbert and the franchise signed up for when James wanted to come home four years ago.
The seemingly almost-daily drama being played out by talking heads across the country, the rollercoaster of having emotions toyed with, the rumor, innuendo and speculation are all part of the package that comes with James.
The feeling here is, if not for the presence of Wade, James’ closest friend in the game, we would have seen, heard or read (LeBron loves to cryptically send messages via social media, after all) an eruption by him already.
James was most likely not one of the anonymous sources three media competitors combined to reference in their much-talked-about story saying inner discourse or disbelief is running rampant through the team.
He doesn’t need nor want to be anonymous. If he’s angry or frustrated, and wants it expressed, he’ll man up and put his name to it, for better or worse. Remember “fit in or fit out,” “we’re top-heavy,” and earlier this season, “mood?”
What he won’t do, however, is commit to his franchise, his teammates or his fan base, not during the season, anyway.
And though Lue would not come out and say it, that is by leaps and bounds the single biggest “agenda” which could be set aside to help the Cavaliers the most.
But, don’t hold your breath.
It’s not how James rolls.
It’s not on his agenda.