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While the Western Conference grew tougher and the Boston Celtics added a much-needed star, the Cleveland Cavaliers have mostly stood pat this offseason.
The quiet summer and lack of big moves have not sat well with LeBron James, according to USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt.
Zillgitt reports that after a summer during which the Cavs re-signed Kyle Korver and added veteran point guard Jose Calderon and journeyman forward Jeff Green, James is “frustrated” and “concerned” about the team’s future.
After the Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in five games in the Finals, James told reporters he needed to sit down and “figure out” the Warriors. The Cavs, it seemed, needed to add more talent, more length, more versatility to a squad that looked overmatched. Instead, they only tinkered on the edges, much to James’ dismay. From Zillgitt:
“Expecting an aggressive offseason approach that would close the gap on the champion Golden State Warriors, James soon found his anticipation and optimism diminished after Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert dismantled the front office, declining days before the draft and free agency to bring back general manager David Griffin and vice president of basketball operations Trent Redden.
“Gilbert’s decision left the Cavs without the franchise’s top two front-office execs at a critical time, and it left James frustrated and concerned about the team’s ability to put together a roster that can better compete with Golden State, the person with direct knowledge of James’ thinking told USA TODAY Sports.”
Griffin’s departure reportedly caught James by surprise, though it didn’t necessarily stop the franchise from chasing big names. According to Zillgitt, the Cavaliers were “close” to making a deal for Jimmy Butler shortly before Griffin’s exit. Butler was later traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Cavs also reportedly pursued Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but the former was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the latter was reportedly taken off the trade market for now.
While Gilbert has not been stingy about spending – the Cavs’ payroll and luxury tax will be about $210 million this season, according to Zillgitt – the team tightened its pockets while pursuing veteran guard Jamal Crawford this summer, which reportedly bothered James. According to Zillgitt, the Cavs offered a minimum salary of $2.3 million to Crawford. Despite being courted by James himself, Crawford signed with the Wolves on a deal worth $4.4 million per season.
The report, of course, adds to the growing rumors that James could flee Cleveland when he becomes a free agent in 2018. There’s been speculation that James could look to join the Lakers, who boast a young core and enough cap space to lure two star free agents next year. However, moving West would also mean competing with the Warriors juggernaut, the always-present San Antonio Spurs, the new-look Houston Rockets, and up-and-coming Wolves.
Since returning to the Cavaliers in 2014, James has signed short-term contracts as both a means to make more money and to keep pressure on the Cavs front office. If James feels the team has gotten complacent this offseason, the pressure will be on to convince him to stay before he can leave next July.