A pivotal decision lies ahead for LeBron James, one which will completely change the future of not only the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also the entire NBA. James will have many suitors lined up to sell him on the benefits of joining their team, but only one will win the sweepstakes.
Cleveland may not be the front-runner at this point, but what could the Cavs do to convince James to remain with the team?
As the roster is currently constructed, the Cavaliers don’t pose much of a threat to the Golden State Warriors and aren’t a particularly attractive destination for James from a purely basketball-related standpoint. If James leaves for the 2018-2019 season, the Cavs are a surefire lottery team, and possibly the worst squad in the league.
mprovements have to be made if Cleveland wants to contend for another title and keep James. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers are limited in the steps they can take to do that. They are currently nearly $37 million over the salary cap, and almost $17 million over the luxury tax threshold.
They have been over the luxury tax since James returned in 2014, so the repeater tax is hitting them hard. Add to that the fact that the only legitimate trade assets the Cavs own are Kevin Love and the eighth overall pick, and things aren’t looking so good.
General manager Koby Altman will do what he can, although it may not be much. Before we look to improve the team, we first need to make sure it doesn’t get any worse than it already is.
ose Calderon and Jeff Green are both unrestricted free agents this offseason. Calderon likely will not receive much interest from other teams, and while he wouldn’t be a major rotation piece, his high basketball IQ and good locker room presence make him worth keeping as a third-stringer.
Green signed with Cleveland for the veteran’s minimum in order to win a championship, and while he wasn’t able to reach that goal, he was a big reason why the Cavaliers were even able to reach the NBA Finals this year. During the regular season, Green averaged 10.8 points per game on 54 percent shooting inside the arc.
His three-point shot is lacking, but he is a very good slasher, and his length and athleticism is very valuable defensively. He is easily the best backup that LeBron James has had during his career. Green’s performance this past season has probably earned him a larger contract with a different team, but the Cavs should offer him the mid-level exception of just under $4 million to try and entice him to stay.
Rodney Hood is a restricted free agent, meaning that he can sign a contract with any team, but the Cavaliers can match any contract offer and keep Hood. His dynamic isolation scoring ability is something that the Cavs can’t really find anywhere else, and retaining him should be a priority, as long as another team doesn’t go completely overboard and offer him a ridiculous contract.
Now we are left with pretty much the exact same team that just got swept in the NBA Finals. It’s time to make a trade. The ideal target is the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, but Cleveland doesn’t have enough to offer San Antonio for a top-five player. The same goes for Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. Paul George is a free agent. C.J. McCollum would be somewhat of a lateral move if Kevin Love was sent to Portland in exchange for him.
Who is available that can help LeBron James and is actually available?
The Washington Wizards may be looking to break up their backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, as Wall will end up making $46 million in 2022-2023 alone, and Bradley Beal will earn over $25 million next year. Either player would be a great fit in Cleveland, as both a point guard and shooting guard is needed.
Beal’s scoring ability would take some of the pressure off of James, but Wall is the ideal trade target. Wall is not the greatest shooter, but he is a good scorer and excels at creating open looks and finding his teammates. He is also a terrific defender. Wall would fit in very well next to James, but it would take more than just the eighth pick and Love to get him.
The best player that Cleveland could realistically trade for is the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker. Walker is not an elite guard, but he is a very good one, capable of knocking down a three-pointer or taking the ball to the rim himself. His defense is not as good as Wall’s, but it is better than Kyrie Irving’s. In order to get Walker, the Cavs would have to communicate with the Hornets’ front office before the draft, and select the player whom the Hornets want at eight. Then, a month later, Walker and the rookie would be swapped.
However, the Cavaliers would have to do the Hornets a favor in order to make the trade go through. Wing Nicolas Batum is under contract through the 2019-202o season at $24 million per year, with a player option for 2020-2021. Batum is not a bad player, but he is not worth his contract, and Charlotte does not want to have to pay him that much over the next three years.
So, Cleveland sends J.R. Smith to Charlotte in exchange for Batum. Smith does nothing for the Hornets, but he can be waived for less than $4 million before the 2019-2020 season, instead of paying his $15 million salary.
The Cavs would also like to get Dwight Howard from the Hornets for his rim protection, rebounding, and size mismatch against Golden State, but Howard’s $23 million salary is pricey, and Charlotte would rather pay him right now than take on Tristan Thompson’s contract for longer.
Walker would start at point guard, with George Hill coming off the bench, where he is better suited at this point in his career. Batum and Hood would battle for the starting shooting guard position, but both players would get significant playing time. James and Green would play the 3, and Kevin Love, Thompson, Larry Nance Jr., and Ante Zizic handle the duties at the 4 and 5.
If Walker and Batum don’t exactly sound like they would keep James in Cleveland, it’s probably because they wouldn’t. But without another team giving away their star players for pennies on the dollar, can the Cavaliers do much more?
Not really. This is about as good as it’s going to get.