For over a month now, I’ve believed that LeBron can leave the Cavs after the 2017-2018 season and not have to worry about anything. He said he was returning to Cleveland to bring the city a title. And he did. Mission accomplished. If he wants to spend the back nine of his career in LA, so be it. It’ll be a nice transition to where he’ll be after his playing career is complete.
But … Kyrie Irving changed all that with a trade demand, and he’s totally blown up LeBron’s plans. Anger hasn’t set in yet for Cavs fans, but if it plays out like many think – Cleveland loses in the ECF or Finals, and LeBron walks … the smoldering ruins are going to linger like a nuclear bomb on the franchise.
Kyrie’s complaint that LeBron set the team up for future failures is actually true. LeBron did set Cleveland up for short-term success while mortgaging its future. When he leaves, the cupboard will be bare. The Kevin Love-for-Andrew Wiggins trade will be brought up plenty this year (one could argue they’d have made the Finals with Wiggins, too); but the future without Wiggins looks bleak. Here are the draft picks the Cavs have in the 1st round from 2018-2020. Gross.
JR Smith was a key cog in Cleveland’s title runs, shooting 43 percent in the playoffs in 2016 and 50 percent in 2017. Hope it was worth it: After LeBron leaves, they’ll be on the hook for $30.3 million for Smith for two more years. Tristan Thompson, who was rendered unplayable in the Finals – when he was out rebounded by Stephen Curry – will have two more years at $35.9 million after LeBron departs.
Look at Cleveland’s bench: Jose Calderon is 35, Channing Frye is 34, Richard Jefferson is 37, Kyle Korver is 36, and Deron Williams is 33. Once LeBron leaves in 2018, is that entire group useless? Recruiting top free agents to Cleveland without LeBron won’t be easy. Good news though, Dan Gilbert: No luxury tax!
This will be the question: Was it worth it? Was the three (soon-to-be-4) year run worth it?
Well, one could ask Miami. The Heat enjoyed an awesome 4-year run with four straight trips to the Finals. Two titles. Then LeBron returned to Cleveland and Miami went 37-45 and missed the playoffs. Yes, injuries to Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade significantly hurt the Heat.
The following year they did win 48 games, with Pat Riley re-tooling on the fly, drafting Justise Winslow and adding Joe Johnson. Even with Chris Bosh’s blood clots returning, they advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs. A lot of that can be attributed to Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra. Cavs fans: Do you have faith Ty Lue and new GM Koby Altman can do the same?
Year three: 41 wins, no playoffs. And then it got interesting: They gave a lot of money to Dion Waiters (4-years, $52 million), James Johnson (4-years $60 million) and Kelly Olynyk (4-years, $50 million). Overpaying middle-tier free agents.
Life has been difficult without LeBron for the last three years in Miami; it’ll be much more challenging in Cleveland.
For Cavs fans, they’re probably thrilled at the Finals run. It was tremendous. When LeBron bolts, they’ll fall back to being around a .500 team – with Kyrie Irving. But if you’re Irving … why would you stick around for that?