It is no longer inconceivable that LeBron James asks for a trade to the Lakers or some other NBA team at this season’s NBA trade deadline as things have become that bad in Cleveland.
If LeBron is heading to the Lakers next summer anyway, why wouldn’t he, the Lakers, and the Cavs front office want to expedite the process so that all parties get what they want?
LeBron’s Cavs are 4-6 and the young Lakers actually have a better record than them right now at 5-5. Most startling for LeBron and the Cavs has been the team’s ugly defense, which ranks 28th in the NBA – allowing a brutal 113.4 points per game. Now, the Lakers aren’t exactly the 1993 Knicks when it comes to D either, but they are marginally better than the Cavs – allowing 107.9 points per game.
With Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose playing key minutes for Cleveland’s backcourt, the Cavs look old and beat-up on the defensive end. There won’t be any knight in shining armor coming to the rescue for Cleveland this season either as the Cavs have little flexibility to make a trade for an elite defender and 5-foot-9 inch Isaiah Thomas (when and if he returns) is arguably the worst defensive player in the NBA.
LeBron had been downplaying the Cavs’ struggles the past few weeks, but he looked like a defeated man after a 117-115 to the lowly Hawks, arguably the worst team in the NBA at 2-8.
Adding to the dark cloud over Cleveland was this Sports Illustrated article last week, which outlined a grim future unless something drastic is done:
To win like he wants to win, LeBron must swallow his pride on two fronts: He must admit that he needs more help than he’s become accustomed to, and he must find an organization with the structure and leadership personalities necessary to sustain success at Golden State’s level.
While Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has consistently shown the willingness to spend and GM Koby Altman displayed quick thinking throughout the summer, the long-term outlook in Cleveland is bleaker now than at any other points since his 2014 return.
The Cavaliers don’t have an ideal five-man lineup to match up with the Warriors’ best looks, they are facing a massive luxury tax bill for the foreseeable future, they have made major salary commitments to Love, Thompson and J.R. Smith, they will need to pay Thomas to avoid a major hole at point guard, and they must be ready to present James with the contract of his choosing next summer. Cleveland clearly needs to get younger, more athletic and more versatile, but Altman is stuck behind the 8–ball thanks to a series of win-now moves, a clogged cap sheet, and Irving’s abrupt exit. Even if Altman took drastic action by trading his best asset, the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, for a star at the trade deadline, Cleveland would face another round of rushed gelling before the playoffs and all of its other long-term problems would still linger.
If the Cavs’ brass truly were to entertain a trade of arguably the greatest NBA player of all-time they would surely want something of substance in return. The Lakers don’t want to part with young studs like Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, as their preference is obviously to put them around LeBron next season, but if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka see a chance at a bonus playoff run this season with LeBron, who is to say they don’t jump at that opportunity?
To make the money work, the Lakers would have to ship out Brook Lopez or Luol Deng. Getting Deng off the books is the Lakers’ dream, but Altman would obviously only take on that salary if he were getting back an Ingram or Ball.
Another major matter in the way of a trade is LeBron’s no trade clause. LeBron has plenty of “his guys” right now in Cleveland, and he wouldn’t want to just leave Wade et all to rot in Northeast Ohio – even if it’s only for a couple of months. Remember that LeBron is disloyal to teams and executives, not players.
All told, the most likely scenario for the Cavs if things really go south (like, hovering .500 in late January) before the NBA trade deadline is for LeBron to come up with some nagging injuries and for him to save his legs this spring. Gotta think having an entire spring off for once would do wonders for LeBron – no matter where he’s playing basketball at this time next year.