LeBron James’ relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers may be even worse than we thought, according to a report Tuesday from The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. It has previously been reported that James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert don’t trust each other, but Lloyd paints a damning picture about how James has virtually no relationship with him, or anyone else, in the Cleveland front office anymore.
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In the piece, Lloyd describes the severed relationship between Cleveland’s megastar and those running the franchise with numerous examples. To summarize:
- James recruited Jamal Crawford last summer, but the team signed Cedi Osman instead.
- James asked that the team not trade Kyrie Irving no matter what, saying he would mend the relationship.
- James was not told about the Irving trade to Boston until the deal was already agreed to.
- When James was asked about head coach Tyronn Lue’s job and responded, “I don’t know what’s going to happen with our team,” it was taken as a flimsy voice of support for the beleaguered coach. But according to Lloyd, James legitimately did not know since he has no real relationship with Gilbert or general manager Koby Altman.
Beyond James’ broken relationship, Gilbert’s role atop the team has baffled and frustrated many within the organization:
- Gilbert refused to extend former general manager David Griffin’s contract after the 2016 championship, culminating in Griffin leaving Cleveland last summer.
- Griffin’s salary as general manager was bottom five in the NBA when you excluded his championship bonuses.
- Gilbert has slowly taken more and more control of the franchise with each subsequent general manager, according to Lloyd, who reports that people believe that it’s no coincidence that the Cavaliers’ front office is now mostly made of 30 year olds who have been thrust into an overwhelming situation. That has allowed Gilbert to take an even greater stake in basketball operations. (The Cavaliers say Altman’s role is no different than Griffin’s.)
All this is to say: things are not good in Cleveland.
What does this all mean?
It increasingly sounds like the Cavaliers might not be major players at the trade deadline, particularly with the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick. Gilbert views that pick as insurance for James’ departure, even though Brooklyn currently only has the eighth-worst record in the league with no incentive to tank. (It’s still a valuable pick, though, and the bottom-eight teams remain close together.)
Cleveland will surely make one or two moves, but the Brooklyn pick may remain with the team. That would be the surest sign that the Cavaliers are accepting a future where James walks away. If Gilbert is indeed behind the front office moves, maybe he believes the relationship is irreparable.
There is not, however, any indication that the Cavaliers would move on from James early by trading him, nor could they without his approval. The Vertical’s Shams Charania reports that James was committed to finishing this season in Cleveland no matter what. And to be fair, James isn’t totally absolved from this situation — to sign Crawford over Osman, for example, would have been a poor basketball move, and there may have been no hope of reconciliation with Irving no matter what James thought. But much more of this is on Gilbert.
There are deals that Cleveland can make between now and Thursday’s deadline, and there is another level of effort that the Cavaliers can put forward once they reach the postseason, especially for James himself. But there are likely not solutions — not good ones, anyway. And the tendrils that are connecting James’ future to Cleveland appear to be fraying further with each passing day.