The Cleveland Cavaliers 2017-2018 season has not gone as planned. After being defeated in the Finals last year by the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs made a major move in the off-season by trading disgruntled All-Star Kyrie Irving to their conference rival, the Boston Celtics. In that trade they received Isaiah Thomas, coming off a career year where he averaged 29 points per game, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round draft pick. The Cavs hoped that the trade would ease locker room tensions and solidify their starting lineup so LeBron James and company would match up better with the Warriors in the Finals at the end of the season.
However, things do not always work out according to plan. Isaiah Thomas’ hip kept him out almost half the season, and, after returning from injury, has not been the same prolific scorer while sharing the court with LeBron. Cleveland also decided to add a plethora of veteran role players to the team hoping their experience would help, but instead the older players have been inconsistent and liabilities on defense. After bouncing back from a disastrous start to the season, the Cavs are 3-7 in their last 10 games. Cleveland’s struggles have many people wondering if the Cavs chances of winning another championship (or even getting to the Finals) are gone, and with LeBron on the last year of his contract, if the Cleveland front-office should concede the season and begin to prepare for life after LeBron.
In a much improved East, will the Cavs even be able to get out of their own conference?
While the current Cavs team is obviously still very good, there is a growing concern that they will not be able to even make it out of the Eastern Conference. The East is very tight right now with many talented teams, something the conference has not been able to say for a while. Cleveland is currently sitting at 3rd in the East right now, but also only three games out of 7th in the standings. Teams at the bottom of the playoff picture, including the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Detroit Pistons, all have wins against the Cavs, not to mention the dominance being displayed at the top by the Celtics and Toronto Raptors. If the Cavs (potentially) can’t even get out of the East for the first time since LeBron’s return, will he leave? If there is that chance, the Cavs may want to decide to start the rebuild before that time.
If they do get out of the East and have a rematch with the Warriors in the Finals, is there any chance they can win? And if they can’t, will it force LeBron to leave in free agency?
So, hypothetically, if the Cavs do get out of the East, there is a strong likelihood that they will face the Warriors out of the West. With that being said, the Cavs have been swept in their season series with the Dubs. Their older, shaky defense has had a tough time covering Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson for one game, let alone a whole playoff series. The consensus is that if it comes down to a Cleveland/Golden State Finals, the Warriors will prevail. If that is the case, combined with the fact he is headed into free agency, will it mean LeBron has to leave Cleveland to compete for more titles? There have already been speculations that he will join forces with MVP candidate James Harden and old friend Chris Paul in Houston, and form a super-team to challenge the Warriors. Regardless of where he ends up, if it isn’t Cleveland, it will leave them in a very tough spot. Isaiah Thomas will also be a free agent, and a team of veterans plus Kevin Love is not an ideal spot for most big-name players. If the Cavs want to avoid this situation and set themselves back years in a rebuilding process, do they begin trading away assets now, potentially including the Nets first-round draft pick?
With the Nets 2018 first-round draft pick and several assets teams competing for a championship would want to acquire, would rebuilding now be a better option so they can be in a better situation post-LeBron?
With the two possible scenarios I have laid out, is it really worth it for the Cavs to draw out one more decent year with LeBron and hurt themselves in the long run? Besides that Nets pick, they have players such as Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, and JR Smith that contenders would love to have, and would give up picks and young assets for them. However, the real prize is the Nets first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft. That pick is currently projected to be No. 8 in the upcoming draft and is very coveted around the league. If they traded that pick and a couple players, the Cavs could salvage a potentially disastrous situation. Whether or not the front-office will choose this direction is unknown, but trying to build around LeBron to keep him in town might prove to be too difficult.