The 2016-17 NBA season was not the league’s best effort. The regular season was dull and perfunctory, with teams resting high-profile stars. The playoffs proved even less competitive. Golden State cruised through the Western Conference undefeated. Cleveland rolled through the East with a 12-1 mark. The Finals were over in five games.
Kevin Durant joining the league’s best team killed off much of the competitive intrigue. With Warriors players in their primes, that may be the outcome for years to come. It looked as though the NBA would enter the summer without much in the way of soap opera either. Then Cavs owner Dan Gilbert stepped in.
If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland! Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1🏆
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 20, 2017
Gilbert and James have not had the smoothest relationship. Gilbert infamously flamed LeBron in Comic Sans after his decision to take his talents to Miami in 2010. James did come back to Cleveland. However, he has notably avoided signing long-term deals, trading security for leverage.
James signed a two-year deal in 2015, with a player option for the second year. He kept a player option after the second year of his current agreement, which comes up in the summer of 2018.
One suspected LeBron’s leverage would keep Gilbert from meddling too much. “Keep LeBron happy, win, profit” seemed like a solid formula. But this latest drama has added serious weight to talk that LeBron could decline his option and leave the Cavaliers after next season. If it’s not more likely LeBron leaves, it’s definitely easier now, as fans will blame Gilbert.
Short of another Manti Te’o type scandal, it’s the best thing that could happen to the sports media.
LeBron could kill off the controversy by signing a long-term extension with the Cavs. But he won’t. So we’ll get a year of “will he or won’t he” melodrama building toward the summer. Just the perception that LeBron may leave added immediate spice to potential Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul decisions.
We’ll have the palace drama within the Cavaliers organization. Into the power battle between Gilbert and LeBron may step Chauncey Billups, who has no front office experience. He would get to wade through that thicket and try to pull off a complex restructuring of a championship-caliber team within a couple weeks.
There’s the added angle of where LeBron may end up. The most discussed destination will be the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron owns property in LA. He has aspirations to become a Hollywood mogul after he is done playing. There would be no better way to ingratiate himself than bringing the Lakers back.
Not coincidentally, the Lakers just traded DeAngelo Russell and Timofey Mosgov for Brook Lopez. The only reason to make that move is if you’re clearing the deck to take on a salary like LeBron’s along with Paul George in 2018. The Lakers have the ultimate salesman to pitch themselves in Magic Johnson.
It’s worth remembering LeBron could take less money to bring in more reinforcements. D-Wade will be a free agent in 2018. Carmelo, if inclined, could decide to not exercise his player option in the final year. He could get a substantial portion of the banana boat crew back together.
We potentially have the NBA’s biggest star, LeBron, forming a super-team with the NBA’s most prestigious franchise, the Lakers, in a massive media market to take on the Warriors. Seems like something that would arouse interest.
Let us not forget too: The Lakers had the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft and selected point guard Lonzo Ball. So we can toss a strong dash of LaVar Ball into that gumbo as well. ESPN’s First Take will all but have to relocate to Los Angeles.
This LeBron story could be everything. It could be nothing. It’s too soon to tell. The important thing is we now have much to talk and type about in June and July. If you meet Dan Gilbert (and aren’t a Cavs fan on the knife edge between a championship and a sad oblivion), thank him.