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The 5 Things the Cavs Must Do If LeBron Leaves

LeBron James glances at the bench.
LeBron James already has one foot out the door in Cleveland. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License
  • It’s time for the Cavs to prepare for life after LeBron. Our five-step program will help them return to the playoffs within three years
  • Can the Cavs get a top-ten draft pick for Kevin Love?
  • Will Trae Young still be available with the eighth pick in the NBA Draft?

LeBron James hasn’t formally announced that he’ll leave Cleveland in free agency, but speculation of his impeding departure has been growing all season long. It began as a whisper when the Cavs lost eight games in January. It became louder when they were pushed to seven games in the playoffs by the Pacers and Celtics. And it reached an ear-splitting crescendo when JR Smith mistakenly dribbled out the clock during Cleveland’s loss in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Every losing streak, miscue, and act of outright incompetence has pushed LeBron one step closer to leaving Cleveland. It should come as no surprise then, that top sportsbooks like BetOnline believe the Cavs have just the third best odds of signing the four-time MVP.

Team BetOnline Odds
Los Angeles Lakers +100
Philadelphia 76ers +400
Cleveland Cavaliers +600
Houston Rockets +600
Boston Celtics +1000
San Antonio Spurs +1000
Los Angeles Clippers +2500
Miami Heat +3300
Golden State Warriors +3300

Fortunately for Cleveland, we’ve come up with a comprehensive five-step plan that will help them to weather LeBron’s latest departure and allow them to return to the playoffs within three years.

1. Sign and Trade LeBron

The absolute worst-case scenario for the Cavs would be for LeBron to decline his player option and to leave the team high and dry as an unrestricted free agent. Luckily there’s an elegant solution in which both sides can benefit.

LeBron can help himself and the Cavs by opting into the final year of his contract and agreeing to a trade to the destination of his choice. The agreement would guarantee him his full $35.6 million salary and would clear the way for him to sign a five-year max deal with his new team six months after the trade.

LeBron can help himself and the Cavs by opting into the final year of his contract and agreeing to trade to the destination of his choice.

If that scenario sounds familiar it’s because LeBron’s close friend, Chris Paul, did the same thing last June when he opted into the final year of his contract and arranged a trade to the Rockets. Houston received Paul, while Los Angeles ended up with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick, cash considerations, and quite possibly, a partridge in a pear tree.

The Cavaliers also did something similar in July 2010, when they signed LeBron and promptly dealt him to Miami for the rights to five future draft picks.

If LeBron’s preferred destination is Los Angeles, as many suspect, then the Lakers could send back a package featuring fellow free agents Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. If LeBron would prefer to end up in Philadelphia instead, the Sixers could offer a package centered around JJ Redick and Amir Johnson.

None of the aforementioned players represent equal value, of course, but they can help the Cavs remain relevant while the team focuses on building a contender. Alternately, they can also be waived or moved at the trade deadline to acquire draft picks and create more financial flexibility.

2. Trade Kevin Love

Kevin Love has always been an awkward fit in Cleveland, but he proved during the NBA Finals that he still has plenty of value by averaging 19 points, 11.3 rebounds, and one steal in 33.2 minutes per game. He was refreshingly aggressive on offense, particularly during the first quarter of each game, and crashed the glass with reckless abandon. The Cavs should take advantage of his positive performance and offer the 29-year-old All-Star to the highest bidder.

The Celtics and Jazz have both expressed interest in Love in the past, and each team has a war chest of draft picks and young prospects to offer. The Cavs should also enter into discussions with the Grizzlies, Mavs, and Magic to see if they can entice them to surrender one of their top six picks in this year’s draft. A top six selection could net Cleveland a foundational piece like Missouri point forward Michael Porter, Texas big man Mo Bamba, or Villanova swingman Mikal Bridges.

Cleveland General Manager Koby Altman should insist that any team who wants Love must also take on the final two years of JR Smith’s deal.

But why stop there? Cleveland General Manager Koby Altman should insist that any team who wants Love must also take on the final two years of JR Smith’s deal. A player like Smith has no place on a rebuilding club where his questionable half time hydration methods and frequent outbursts can easily corrupt impressionable young players.

3. Cut ties with Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Rodney Hood, and Kendrick Perkins

Let’s face it, the Cavs have more dead weight than a morgue. The team could save $6,278,506 simply by not re-signing Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Rodney Hood, and Kendrick Perkins, all of whom are free agents.

Player Status 2017-18 Salary
Jose Calderon Unrestricted $2,328,652
Jeff Green Unrestricted $2,328,652
Rodney Hood Restricted $1,608,046
Kendrick Perkins Unrestricted $13,156

The savings are important for a team that has repeatedly been hit with the league’s luxury tax, but they’re not the primary reason for shuffling the deck. Bidding adieu to the four players would also open up roster spots that could be used on young, emerging talent from around the league.

Surely the Cavs would be better served auditioning players from their G League squad than in wasting a spot on a player like Perkins, whose only meaningful contribution during the playoffs was trying to trip Steph Curry when he ventured too close to Cleveland’s bench.

One of the players they might want to take a look at is Grant Jerrett, a 6’10” bruiser who averaged 16.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks last season for the Canton Charge. The 24-year-old is a former McDonald’s All-American who has had a cup of coffee with the Thunder and Jazz. He won’t make anyone forget about LeBron (or even Tristan Thompson), but he’s the kind of low-cost player the Cavs should use to plug their roster holes until the team is ready to contend.

4. Draft Trae Young

The Cavs need a hit a home run in this year’s NBA Draft to hasten their rebuild and to give their long-suffering fans a sense of hope. No player is better equipped to help them accomplish both of those goals than Oklahoma point guard Trae Young.

The All-American is the first player to lead the nation in points and assists in a single season, and has earned comparisons to Steph Curry thanks to his lightning quick release and penchant for highlight reel plays. Young is dynamic, explosive, and best of all, likely to still be available when the Cavs select eighth.

5. Remain Patient

There’s a tendency in professional sports to want to win immediately. It’s a noble impulse, but it’s one that the Cavaliers would be wise to ignore.

There’s a tendency in professional sports to want to win immediately. It’s a noble impulse, but its one that the Cavaliers would be wise to ignore.

Cleveland should spend the next two seasons gutting its roster, stockpiling draft picks, and force-feeding minutes to young, developing players. It won’t be pretty, but few cities are better equipped to endure years of ineptitude than Cleveland. If Clevelanders can stomach ten losing seasons from the Browns then they can certainly handle a couple of sub .500 campaigns from the Cavs.

By the end of the 2019-20 season, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver, and Larry Nance will be off the books and the Cavs will be able to return to contention. For the first time in years, Cleveland will have a young, talented roster with enough cap space to add a pair of max free agents.

LeBron’s future is bright, but the Cavaliers’ future can be even brighter.

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Ryan currently serves as an Editor and resident Lead NBA and MLB Writer for SBD. He has authored his own column for both Fox Sports and AskMen, and has created campaigns for the WWE, the NHL, and the NFL. Ryan's critically acclaimed stories have been published in 20 books.