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Almost one week before LeBron James must let the Cleveland Cavaliers know whether or not he is opting in with his $35.6 million player option for next season, the team is giving James some space.
Speaking after the Cavaliers used the eighth overall selection in the 2018 draft to select Alabama point guard Collin Sexton on Thursday night, general manager Koby Altman said he and James’ representatives have been talking.
“We continue to have good dialogue with his management team,” Altman said. “I think LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does. He’s done that before, so this is nothing new for us.
“We want to respect his space during this process, and I continue to have really good dialogue with his management team as he goes through that process. That’s probably all I can say at this point regarding him, but we don’t take him for granted. We love him, this city loves him. He means the world to us and this franchise.”
Koby Altman’s comments on LeBron tonight pic.twitter.com/MKZXizsZrG
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) June 22, 2018
James has until 11:59 p.m. on June 29 to inform the Cavaliers on his decision on his player option. If he declines it, as expected, he will being an unrestricted free agent for the third time in his career.
Would James, who will turn 34 in what will be his 16th NBA season next year, have the patience to play alongside a 19-year-old rookie point guard such as Sexton?
“That’s a great question,” Altman said. “He went through it this year a little bit with some of our young guys, especially in the playoffs. What’s amazing, he talks about this all the time — the best teacher is experience. And our guys, our young guys, got some really good experience this year. And while it wasn’t consistent throughout the playoffs, each guy picked that [up], had their moments. And we went through two Game 7s and got to a Finals, and that experience is a huge teacher for those guys.
“So that experience is amazing for them and their confidence level as they approach next year. And then Collin, we got to get there with experience as well. But like he says, experience is the best teacher, and we gave those guys a great experience over 30 games and into the playoffs and into the Finals, and what does that mean for us moving forward, I think it’s all really positive.”
Altman was asked if he thought the Cavaliers will have what it takes to improve their chances to beat two-time defending champion Golden State, which has beaten Cleveland in three of the last four NBA Finals, the exception being the Cavaliers’ championship season of 2016.
“I think there’s two things to that: One, the Finals hurt us so much because we were competitive in that Finals,” Altman said. “That was what hurt. Because we were more competitive, I think, this year than we were a year ago when we came back from Golden State having lost by a combined 40 points or something like that [in Games 1 and 2]. We were really competitive in this series, and to come away how we came away just really hurt, because I thought we were really in a couple of those games and could’ve swung the series either way.”
Toward that end, Altman realizes plenty of work remains to be done for the Cavaliers to close the gap on the Warriors, saying owner Dan Gilbert is willing to do whatever it takes to make it come to fruition.
“That being said, we need to get better to beat one of the all-time great teams in the history of the game, with their talent level and what they put together,” he said. “Dan Gilbert will spare no expense and is committed to winning championships. That is our goal. We did not meet that goal, but we have to keep doing better, and we have to invest in player development.
“We have to get better with our youth, and then we have to explore opportunities to add and try to improve our talent level as well. That’s my job, and we are certainly trying to attack that as we speak, for sure.”
As is always the case, it starts and ends with James, whose 15th NBA season was one of the best in his spectacular career.
“LeBron James played 82 games this season,” Altman said. “He played every game into the postseason. It was remarkable, historical. He gave his heart and soul, die-hard energy, commitment to this team, to this franchise, to the city, to Northeast Ohio.
“And I like I said, it was an historical year and probably one of the best postseason runs of all time and very, very fortunate to have him here, and what he gave to this franchise this year was nothing short of remarkable.”