Friday’s bombshell report that Irving had requested a trade in large part because he no longer wants to play with James left the Cleveland Cavaliers reeling, NBA fans the world over flocking to their trade machines, and LeBron reaching for the aux cord. As the weekend drew to a close, though, news broke that the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player wants to make it clear that no matter what turbulence might come over the next 11 months, he’s not abdicating his throne in Northeast Ohio before he’s good and ready. From Chris Haynes of ESPN.com:
No matter the reconstruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, no matter the potential for heightened inner turmoil, no matter the win-loss record, and with or without Kyrie Irving, LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources told ESPN.
James, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony are the only players with no-trade clauses. James holds a $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season, which means he could elect to test unrestricted free agency next summer.
In regard to that scenario, a decision has not been made.
The four-time MVP winner, according to sources, is focused solely on competing for a championship as a member of the Cavs and will fulfill his contractual obligations, whatever unexpected circumstances may arise.
This shouldn’t surprise us in the least.
Yes, James is reportedly frustrated with the current state of affairs in Cleveland. With owner Dan Gilbert showing general manager David Griffin the door rather than giving him a new contract after the 2017 NBA Finals. With Gilbert failing to land top choice Chauncey Billups as the Cavs’ new president of basketball operations (reportedly due in part to Gilbert trying to get away with a lowball salary offer for the gig).
With an offseason marked by around-the-margins moves (bringing back Kyle Korver and Richard Jefferson, bringing in Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and Turkish forward Cedi Osman) that don’t figure to make the Cavs any more serious a challenger to the Golden State Warriors than they were in June. With the month of uncertainty surrounding Cleveland’s front office that might have contributed to missed chances to land a pair of All-Stars. And, now, with word that Irving wants out.
If he’s so frustrated that he can no longer stomach what might look to him like detrimental intransigence (or incompetence) from the owner’s box, then sure, he could make like Kyrie, demand a trade, and make it clear that he’ll waive his no-trade clause to whichever destinations he chooses to help put himself in a better situation.
On the other hand … this is LeBron James.
He has fought for every bit of leverage he could muster, and earned every ounce of it he now holds. When you’re the best player in the world, you insist on things like player options in the third year of your deal and the right to refuse any trade the team might present, and you get them, because you’re the guy who brought Cleveland its first professional sports championship in more than five decades. You move when you want to move; you don’t have to move for anybody.
Yes, replacing Irving with, say, Derrick Rose would reduce the likelihood that the Cavs romp their way to a fourth straight NBA Finals berth with the ease they displayed a couple of short months ago. But if all things aren’t possible through LeBron, then at least a whole hell of a lot of them are, and Gordon Hayward aside, the Cavs will still be considered the class of the conference so long as James is suiting up in wine and gold come Halloween.
No, James’ odds of toppling the Warriors won’t look any better without one of the game’s most explosive offensive creators riding shotgun. But by maintaining what status quo he can muster, LeBron remains in line for an eighth straight trip to the championship round, makes his full freight of just under $33.3 million, and retains the opportunity to re-enter the free-agent market next summer if he so chooses without having to unnecessarily uproot his family. He continues to operate on his own timetable. Not anybody else’s.
Irving’s request, of course, works the other side of that particular street. The 25-year-old has evidently decided — no matter how many shots or how high a usage rate he can roll up, annual trips to the Finals or no — that he is finished playing a supplementary role, so even though he’s got two years left on his deal and no real leverage to speak of, he’s making his voice heard. He’s making his move.
On some level, LeBron probably has to respect that. Doesn’t mean he’s going to react to it with anything more than Instagram videos, though. If James leaves Cleveland again, he will do it when he wants, how he wants, for the reasons he wants, and nothing — not even a “devastating” turn of events — is going to change that.
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