The Cleveland Cavaliers are a mess, and we concocted six trades that might help clean it up, including one for Sacramento Kings guard George Hill that both teams are circling, but the real problem may be that LeBron James is convinced the one deal that really would have helped is no longer on the table.
Amid all the drama — Cavs coach Tyronn Lue suggesting his players are writing their own agendas just before they anonymously pled for roster changes and called a team meeting to slap around Kevin Love and the team’s “new guard” — we find out, at least according to Brian Windhorst on ESPN colleague Zach Lowe’s podcast, that LeBron is still stewing about a deal that has passed Cleveland by.
“What’s really pissing LeBron off is that he felt like the Cavs could have gotten Paul George and Eric Bledsoe, and they didn’t get him,” Windhorst told Lowe. “Now, you can bring on executives and agents or you can talk to them off the record and you can debate how close it was to happening, and I’m sure if Dan Gilbert would ever speak freely … he would say, ‘Well, I needed LeBron to commit past this year if I was going to trade and LeBron wouldn’t commit, so therefore it’s LeBron’s fault this didn’t happen.’
“Everybody’s going to have their own story. I’m just telling you LeBron is there, and he’s like, ‘We could’ve had Eric Bledsoe and Paul George, and instead we have a draft pick who I’m never going to meet — well, I don’t know about that, but I’m not meeting him this year — and we have Isaiah Thomas who is very clearly hampered and we have Jae Crowder, who’s having the worst year of his career.’
“And whether or not having Paul George and Eric Bledsoe would’ve made that much of a difference really matters, I don’t know, but I know that’s what LeBron thinks about it, because he knows that was on the table, that they couldn’t execute back in June, and then he knows that they could’ve gotten out of this deal — that, yes, OK, they made the deal for Isaiah, and then they got Isaiah, took a look at him and were like, ‘Oh, boy, that hip is really bad,’ and they had that three or four days where they could’ve backed out of it. And you’re just like, ‘Why would you not back out of that deal if you knew he was this injured?’
“So, regardless of LeBron’s positioning in this, that’s where he’s at.”
Well, then, that’s a lot to unpack.
The failed deal(s) for George and Bledsoe were long rumored since June, and ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan nailed down the specifics earlier this month: Just prior to his pre-draft exit, former Cavaliers general manager reportedly “explored a three-way deal” that would have sent Kyrie Irving to the Phoenix Suns and landed both George and Bledsoe in Cleveland. According to MacMullan, that trade fell apart when the Suns (for some reason) refused to include the No. 4 pick they eventually used on Josh Jackson.
LeBron has a different opinion, per Windhorst. He reportedly blames the Cavs for the deal’s failure, which could be revisionist history, since Kyrie’s belief that LeBron pushed for his ouster was the root of the All-Star point guard’s own trade request, according to MacMullan and FS1’s Chris Brousssard.
In other words, as far as I now understand it from all these reports, LeBron wanted to trade Kyrie for George and Bledsoe, the deal fell through, Kyrie got pissed and requested a trade, George got dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kyrie was traded to the Boston Celtics, and Bledsoe ultimately ended up on the Milwaukee Bucks. The Thunder, Celtics and Bucks are all better for it, and the Cavaliers are worse. And now LeBron is stewing in a mess that he may or may not have created for himself.
Hey, I’d be pretty pissed none of those guys were on my team, too, even if I was partially to blame.
The Gilbert and Thomas anecdotes from Windhorst’s account are also fascinating. Was LeBron’s unwillingness to commit long-term in Cleveland the reason the Cavs didn’t more passionately pursue a deal that may have left them with only Bledsoe and no LeBron or George at the end of this season? And is LeBron holding it against the Cavs that they didn’t call off the Thomas deal and keep Irving? That can’t be so good for the current team’s morale. It would also explain a lot going on in Cleveland — the personal agendas, the pleas for roster changes, the finger-pointing and the old vs. new guard.
Either way, LeBron needs to look in the mirror. If there is any truth to his longing for George and Bledsoe, some measure of this drama is his own creation, and there’s nothing he can do about it now, except to accept his role in it and move forward or move on, leaving the Cavs to pick up the pieces.
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