Article written by: Cody Rashkow
Yesterday morning the Cavaliers pulled off deal that will send a conditional first round pick and Tyler Zeller to the Celtics, as well as Jarrett Jack and Sergei Karasev to the Nets. The Cavaliers will be compensated with second round picks from both teams, but more importantly the Cavs saved themselves about $10 million in cap space. This move almost certainly puts the Cavs into the front running to acquire Lebron in free agency. By what all the signs are saying, Lebron does not seem interested in returning to a Miami team that is lacking premier talent to pair with Lebron, and lacks any financial flexibility to make themselves more intriguing to Lebron. They likely will bring back Dwayne Wade at a lower number but for more years and if they sign Lebron they would only have about $2-3 million to bring in anybody else. Cleveland seems to be the media favorite for the team to acquire Lebron if he does not resign in Miami.
At this point, if we can assume that Lebron will not go back to South Beach, then he will attempt to find the best situation to make a championship contender by adding him. What Cleveland can offer: Besides it being Lebron’s first team, and the fact he is from Akron, they offer many positives. Lebron is looking for a team that he can stay with for what we would assume will be the second chapter of his prime. A four year deal would take Lebron through the age of 32, and these could be his best years barring injury. Cleveland offers a very young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and newly drafted Andrew Wiggins. By all accounts, Lebron would not only fit in with this group, but now Lebron becomes they guy and everyone feels a little less pressure and can allow their game to grow. Cleveland also can make moves involving Brendan Haywood or others to save more cap space to go sign another big man or another addition. Another rumor on the table is that Minnesota had called about Andrew Wiggins in a trade that could involve Wiggins and Kevin Love as the main pieces. It starts to become very scary if you can imagine a big three with Irving, James and Love. The negatives in Cleveland though are fairly obvious. Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs, wrote a very vile letter to Lebron when he left Cleveland in 2010 and it was a very public breakup. It’s unknown at this point if Lebron could put all that behind him. Also, while youth is attractive, Lebron knows as well as anybody Cleveland may be too young. If he arrives and it becomes the Kyrie and Lebron show and nobody else can find a way to get involved this could also be a problem. Lebron loves shooters and clearly can motivate the guys around him so this also may be an initial problem that could be worked out a quarter or midway through the season. The issue here likely will not be overlooked. A wild card here is Cleveland’s hire at coach. David Blott comes over and is already considered one of the most brilliant basketball minds based on his work in Israel. It is unknown however what Lebron thinks of this coach and if he would want to play for him.
If Lebron decides that Cleveland is not the place for him then the next best landing place has to be in Phoenix. No other team can offer the cap space and flexibility that Phoenix can. With a very up and coming roster Phoenix offers more depth and experience than Cleveland. In one scenario Phoenix can sign Lebron for the max deal, sign Eric Bledsoe for between $10-11 million and sign another player for the mid level exception. Many of Phoenix’s plans are not clear because of how close to the chest they have played the offseason. They apparently listened to an Indiana offer that would have brought Lance Stephenson and George Hill to the valley but would have been exchange for NBA’s most improved player Goran Dragic. The suns have been reported saying that they have no interest in dealing Dragic at this time. But if the possibility that Lebron could be brought here, it may be an inevitable move to save more cap space for other players or to acquire pieces. Dragic is currently signed to a deal that will allow him to opt out after next season. Dragic has performed highly above his contract so it seems very likely that the Suns will either need to restructure the contract for the Slovenian point guard or lose him to free agency. Another scenario that has been highly discussed is if Lebron and Carmelo Anthony could come to Phoenix. This is also a possibility but it is unclear if Phoenix is paying two top tier players what the plan for either of their current point guards because they likely will not be able to keep both under this scenario. Another advantage for Phoenix is that Lebron’s agent Rich Paul also represents Eric Bledsoe. Hopefully there has been at least mutual discussion through Rich Paul as a mediary. The negatives for the Suns are what always seem to be the negatives for Phoenix. Robert Sarver is still not considered the best owner in the NBA, he has shown in recent years that he is willing to spend to build a winning team but who knows if he is willing to ride close to the salary cap and risk that some years there may be luxury taxes. Phoenix plays in the stacked Western Conference that somehow is still getting better. The West features the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Dwight Howard and Harden in Houston, the young kids in Portland, Blake Griffin and the Clips, and oh yeah the reigning MVP Kevin Durant in OKC. So there is a lot more resistance it seems, to get out of the West.
Lebron’s newest decision will shape the course of the NBA for the next few seasons because the balance of power is going to shift. If he goes back to Miami, Chris Bosh has informed him he will not take less money so he likely will take the deal offered in Houston. Lebron in Miami now is not going to be the same Heat team from the last few years. This is the main reason why one could argue he opted out; he does not see them as a contender when they can only afford to pay Lebron with a bunch of scrubs. The Cleveland situation will also shift the balance of power in the East. The Pacers will likely emerge as the favorite to win the East since they had made the Eastern Conference Finals the previous year. If Lebron lands in Phoenix, it may force Adam Silver’s hand to look at the current makeup of the NBA and see if they need to shake up the conferences.