By the time you read this article, it may be possible that LeBron James has requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, or that the Cavaliers have traded Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving for some other stars. But if there is anything to think about Cleveland’s moves for the past few days, it is the sheer chaos coming from the defending Eastern Conference champions.
To recap, the Cavaliers according to ESPN writer Marc Stein spent much of Monday angling around for various deals including an attempt to get Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler. But all of a sudden last night, Cavaliers GM David Griffin was fired by owner Dan Gilbert.
No one knew this firing was coming, not even LeBron James who is reportedly disappointed by the announcement. The fact is that the Cavaliers fired a general manager who had brought the Cavaliers to the Finals for three straight years. And while some people would counter “Yeah, because LeBron,” Griffin had brought in pieces to surround for LeBron. He traded for Kevin Love. He got key role players like Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson who helped in the NBA playoffs and made enough money to buy nice Strasserwood furniture for his home.
So what the heck are the Cavaliers thinking by firing Griffin?
The departure of Griffin is so stunning that some analysts are wondering whether this signifies the unthinkable: that LeBron James may depart the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. New York Post writer Jonathan Lehman speculated that LeBron may leave for Los Angeles, pointing out that James apparently still carries some resentment towards Gilbert over the infamous Comic Sans letter he wrote in the aftermath of LeBron’s 2010 departure to Miami.
Such a move would be seemingly devastating for the Cavaliers, who were one of the worst teams with LeBron gone even with Kyrie Irving. But the fact that Cleveland was trounced so thoroughly in the 2017 Finals against the Golden State Warriors may cause Gilbert to think otherwise.
The Cavaliers were the most expensive team in the league last season with a payroll of over $128 million and the accompanying luxury tax payments. And despite the speculation of Cleveland acquiring Butler or Indiana Pacers star Paul George, they would likely have to give up one of their own stars in Love or Irving to get another star, leaving them with a talent deficit compared to Golden State. Is Gilbert really willing to pay that much money for a team that is not a contender compared to the Warriors?
The fact that even the Cavaliers may consider waving the white flag in the face of this Golden State juggernaut indicates just how badly the Warriors have broken the NBA. But Gilbert may decide that rather than running a Cavaliers team that will be older, expensive, and not able to win a title, it may be time to slash costs. And if that means LeBron departs, well Cleveland already has one championship.
Of course, this is speculation and it is possible that LeBron decides to play out the rest of his career in Cleveland. But the sudden departure of Griffin is a clear sign that after these 2017 Finals, all may not be well in The Land.