- The Cleveland Cavaliers may be beyond repair as the trade deadline approaches.
- The Cavs have been plagued by infighting, and an explosive new report revealed growing friction between LeBron James and the front office, namely team owner Dan Gilbert.
- There is growing skepticism that the Cavs can make a trade that would turn their season around, and may choose not to make a big move as chatter grows about James leaving in free agency.
With the NBA trade deadline on Thursday, the Cleveland Cavaliers are under pressure to make a big move, but there may not be anything that can save their season.
The Cavaliers are 6-9 in 2018, with the third-worst defense in the NBA over that time frame. Their net rating – the amount a team outscores or gets outscored by an opponent per 100 possessions – is -7.2, better than only the 18-36 Phoenix Suns.
According to several reports, the Cavaliers may be beyond repair this season. According to an explosive report from The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, there is tension between LeBron James and the front office, namely with team owner Dan Gilbert, as the team has been “pivoting” away from James’ input on franchise decisions.
James and Gilbert have a turbulent history. When James left the Cavaliers in 2010 to join the Miami Heat, Gilbert infamously wrote a public letter criticizing James’ character that left James incensed. The two reportedly reconciled when James returned to the Cavs in 2014, but reports have indicated that they may have never totally gotten over the incident.
According to Lloyd, things started to turn in the offseason when Gilbert did not renew then-GM David Griffin’s contract. James supported Griffin, who often kept James in the loop on front office goings-on, according to Lloyd, and even publicly vouched for him.
Then, when Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers, James told the front office not to deal him, believing he could repair the relationship. However, the team decided to deal Irving, and the trade that sent him to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 pick was never run by James.
According to Lloyd, James now has no relationship with the front office. Cavs GM Koby Altman, who was promoted following Griffin’s exit (though only after the Cavs reportedly low-balled Chauncey Billups, their top choice for GM) is reportedly seen as a “front man” for Gilbert, who is calling the shots.
Lloyd reported that during a fiery team meeting in January that left the locker room “divided”, James directed his ire at the front office, though it’s unclear what he said.
There has been pressure on the Cavs to use that Nets pick (likely a top-10 pick) as part of a package to improve the team. But it appears the team’s free-fall and rising tensions may disincline the team from making a big move, as James may be set on leaving in free agency, anyway.
That, in turn, doesn’t reflect well on the front office in James’ eyes, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick. Amick reported the Cavs are “refusing to even discuss” trading the pick (their best trade asset), which sends the message to James that the team is preparing for life without him.
Amick argued that any team would be wise to do everything they could to build around the NBA’s best player, but instead, the draft pick appears to be their insurance policy if James leaves again.
However, it’s unclear what type of players the Cavs could target with that pick that could turn the team around. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on “The Lowe Post” podcast that the Cavs can’t make trade that could plug all of their holes.
“The relationships are frayed at every level – player-on-player, coach-on-player, owner-on-player, front office-on-star player,” Wojnarowski said. “There’s no savior for them. There’s no trade that’s going to fix this, certainly not anyone who’s available or what they could get with what they have.”
James has a no-trade clause and reportedly won’t waive it, meaning the Cavs can’t get ahead of a potential departure this offseason.
There is a growing belief in the NBA world that the Cavs problems this season are unlike their usual January struggles – mid-season slumps that get turned around. The team’s defense is a disaster, and from the sounds of it, things behind the scenes are just as ugly.