Photo via Getty Images
LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert are obviously at fault for the probable Cleveland disaster that will ensue once James leaves via free agency after the conclusion of the 2018 NBA season.
In addition, the Cavs have not put themselves in any position to realistically contend for a title, except for the fact they have the luck of being in the Eastern Conference without a true threat.
Teams like Golden State, Houston and San Antonio all have made moves to become better. Boston, although their offseason was suspect, Miami, and Minnesota are all smartly building to ascend rather quickly after 2018.
Cleveland, arguably, has gotten worse. Their team is already full of veterans that will just be one year older when they inevitably get beat by the Warriors in five games in the 2018 NBA Finals.
However, it didn’t have to be like this for Cleveland. They were lucky enough to have the best basketball player on the planet and a young blooming superstar in Kyrie Irving, but James and Gilbert’s stubbornness got in the way of a possible dynasty.
Gilbert’s arrogance is costly
First and foremost, Gilbert’s arrogance is absolutely ridiculous. His letter after Jame’s departure to Miami was idiotic as it didn’t exactly close the door on his return, but it makes his second departure even more likely.
Secondly, his decision to low ball employees is laughable. He let former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin walk after not renewing his contract (Gilbert has never extended a GM’s contract). Gilbert, knowing he wouldn’t extend Griffin’s contract, denied interview requests from the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks. Therefore, Griffin couldn’t look to move on to a new organization as it was too late to sign with an organization on July 1.
Gilbert, most likely, hoped that Griffin would have no other choice but to come back and accept a low offer to stay the general manager. Unsurprisingly, Griffin was let go and the Cavs are still searching for their new general manager as of July 7.
As such, Gilbert then went after ESPN analyst and former NBA all-star Chauncey Billups. The negotiations did not last long as Gilbert offered Billups just $1.5 million per year, $2.5 million short of the typical starting general manager salary. They then raised their offer to $2 million, but that was still miles short of a respectable offer, per ESPN’s Chris Haynes and Marc J. Spears.
For perspective, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who has no NBA or front office experience, got an annual salary of at least $4 million per year, $2 million more than Gilbert’s second offer, via ESPN’s Briant Windhorst.
As expected, Billups walked and will continue to be a player for Ice Cube’s new league, the BIG 3, and an analyst for ESPN.
Gilbert has been so bad for the franchise that he has essentially forced James out of Cleveland as it is probable that James will find a new franchise for the following season, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
James’ win-now approach only helped for one season
James not returning next year is a product of Gilbert. However, the team not being able to compete for a championship is squarely on the shoulders of LeBron.
In addition, James is only leaving because the team can’t compete in the long-term. If he didn’t make poor front office decisions, then he would be expected to return in 2018 despite the horrifying Dan Gilbert.
Anyways, James wanted to win-now badly and he should have, but James’ ego got in the way of making the correct decisions for the franchise.
Yes, without James the franchise is meaningless, but that is because of James on the court. Not his acumen in the front office. James forced Griffin to bring in many aging veterans for an extremely high salary that is destroying the future, even the future James could have been a part of.
Remember, James, when he arrived in 2015, had two rising superstars. One in Kyrie Irving, who is there now, and Andrew Wiggins who was the No. 1 overall pick at the time.
Instead, James didn’t put Wiggins’ name in his letter announcing his return and got the team to trade him for Kevin Love. Amazingly, James was rumored to have made that deal not to win, but because of Wiggins’ decision to not pick James’ friend to represent him as his agent, via Windhorst.
An absolute ridiculous decision that would have helped them match up with Golden State more effectively now and leave the franchise with two stars when James decided to retire.
In addition, James was a major reason for the horrible contracts that are currently left with the team.
Currently, the Cavs owe Love $22.6 million in 2017, $16.9 million more than Wiggins’, per Hoops Hype. If they traded Iman Shumpert and had Wiggins instead of Love, they would have more than enough money to go after Boston Celtics forward Gordan Hayward, who would be a perfect fit in Cleveland as he is a knockdown shooter.
Cleveland owes JR Smith $13.7 million and it goes up about $1 million each following year. A player similar to Smith, Warriors guard Nick Young, is making about $5.2 million next season. Rudy Gay, who is better than Smith, will be getting $17.2 million over two seasons, a far better deal than Smith’s.
Even Iman Shumpert is getting paid over $10 million for next season to just score 4.4 points per game in the 2017 NBA postseason.
It was a great trade to bring Smith and Shumpert from New York, but James all but forced the Cavs to overpay and resign them after the championship. A smart general manager would have let them walk.
One could also to point to Tristan Thompson’s contract as horrible for the team as he is not worth the $16.4 million he is due in 2017. In fairness, it seemed like the right move at the time after his impressive 2015 playoff campaign.
Even Channing Frye, who played under 13 minutes per playoff game, is due $7.4 million next year.
If James didn’t interject and let just two of these guys walk, then Cleveland would have enough cap space to maneuver and bring in a Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Paul George or whoever could bring them a step closer to the Warriors. Unfortunately, they didn’t and the future is bleak.
Even worse, the Cavs will owe $74 million to Love, Thompson, Korver, Shumpert, and Smith (over 74% of the cap) in 2018 further hindering any possible rebuild if James bolts.
James’ poor decisions hurt Cleveland’s future not his
James has all the power over Cleveland, so he decided he should run the franchise from top to bottom by becoming the de facto general manager and coach. Cleveland can’t say no because he would walk. However, James thought he knew what was best for the organization and ran the Cavs straight into the ground.
Luckily for James, he can leave after 2018 before the dumpster fire begins in Cleveland.
Ultimately, let the players play, the coaches coach and the general manager gm.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.