NBA Rumors: Cavaliers Expected LeBron James To Join Lakers After Winning Title In 2016, Per 'The Athletic'

When LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in July, it came as little surprise to pundits and fans who might have been expecting the move in the aftermath of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2018 NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors. However, a new report suggests that the Cavs were already predicting the same thing as far back as 2016, not long after they won their first-ever NBA championship.

Citing a report from Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, Bleacher Report wrote on Thursday that the Cavaliers "had an inkling" of James' future plans about a few months after their 2016 title win. This reportedly played a role in Kyrie Irving's request to be traded, as the All-Star point guard didn't want to play for a team that would be a shell of its old self should James join the Lakers upon becoming a free agent.

As noted by Bleacher Report, LeBron James remained with the Cleveland Cavaliers for two more seasons after they became NBA champions, but failed to lead the team to victory against the Warriors in the 2017 and 2018 Finals. The publication added that the Cavs were "especially listless" in the latter series, as the team was playing without Irving -- following his trade to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics gave up their own star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, as part of that trade, though the Cavaliers sent him to the Lakers before the 2018 trading deadline, getting youngsters Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson in return.

The new report came hours after James made his first return to Cleveland in the 2018-19 season, as the Cavs hosted the Lakers on Wednesday night. With the Lakers eking out a close 109-105 win over the Cavaliers, Cleveland remained at the bottom of the NBA -- with a league-worst 2-14 record. Los Angeles, on the other hand, improved to 10-7, and is currently seventh place in the Western Conference. So far, four-time MVP James has averaged 28.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.9 assists.

Regardless of when the Cleveland Cavaliers first expected LeBron James to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, previous reports suggested that the 33-year-old forward made his decision partly based on roster moves which the Lakers had made after the 2015-16 NBA season ended.

Citing unnamed people "with knowledge of the negotiations," USA Today wrote in July that James joined the Lakers because the team has the some of the pieces in place to "contend for a championship soon." With the second pick in both the 2016 and 2017 NBA Drafts, Los Angeles selected Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. They also added Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart in the latter draft, giving the Lakers four young players who have all contributed significantly since their respective rookie years.