By Stephen D. Riley, Special to AFRO
We’ve been pondering LeBron James’ next stop for the past few seasons while the Cleveland Cavaliers have been keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn’t depart again. James has done wonders for the Cavs organization, turning a ‘90s laughingstock into an annual Finals contender with merchandise sales through the roof. But now the time has come for the Cavs to rebuild and reset. And, if James wants to do one last thing for Cleveland, he’ll leave this summer and help his longtime franchise get their rehabilitation started sooner rather than later.
Cleveland landed the No. 8 pick in June’s draft after the NBA lottery on May 15. Last summer’s Kyrie Irving trade to Boston didn’t just strip James of one of the best sidekicks in his career but it also provided Cleveland with a valuable lottery selection in a deep 2018 draft. For a roster void of young talent, holding a top-10 selection is vital. As this postseason has shown, this Cleveland team is a shell of the 2015-2016 version that erased a 3-1 Finals deficit to the dynasty-forming Golden State Warriors. It’s literally been all James, all the time this spring.
Remove James and the Cavs may not scrape 20/30 wins next season, likely giving Cleveland enough futility to nab another top-10 pick next season. With huge contracts inked to Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and George Hill clearing the books in 2020, that would provide the Cavs with either cap space or trade bait in their pursuit to rebuild quickly. Cleveland has the highest payroll in the league but should James elect to depart this summer due to his player’s option, that would remove the $35 million-plus that he would be owed next year.
Going into next year with their No. 8 pick on the roster with the potential of landing another top selection next summer as their payroll clears would put the Cavs in the ideal rebuilding situation. As Boston and Philadelphia have shown, having rosters stocked with young talent with little money committed can do wonders for a franchise. James isn’t winning another title in Cleveland unless Kevin Durant wants to relocate to the Midwest and do James a favor. But that’s not happening and neither is another NBA title parade through Ohio anytime soon. But the sooner James leaves then the quicker Cleveland can start planning for another one.