Report: Cavaliers made trades without long-term commitment from LeBron James

Dan Feldman
NBC Sports

The Cavaliers have been trying to get LeBron James to commit to Cleveland long-term, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seemingly particularly wary of going all-in this season if LeBron might leave in free agency this summer. But LeBron pledged to stay only the rest of the season, no longer.

Yesterday, the Cavaliers traded for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. In those deals, Cleveland:

  • Increased spending this season by $10,706,233 ($582,337 in prorated salary, $6,923,896 in increased luxury tax, $3,200,000 in cash sent to the Kings and Jazz) – plus the cost of additional players with two cleared roster spots, which be taxed at 425% of their salaries

  • Increased its 2018-19 payroll by $15,455,332 – not counting paying Hood in restricted free agency or the luxury tax

  • Increased its 2019-20 payroll by $6,621,967

  • Surrendered its own 2018 first-round pick, a 2020 second-rounder and swap rights on its 2024 second-rounder with Utah

That’s significant long-term cost. Did it earn the Cavaliers a pledge from LeBron?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Cavs did not get a commitment from LeBron James that he will stay past this season before executing today’s trade, sources said.

This is unsurprising. LeBron values his leverage, and he won’t relinquish it this easily. He can opt out next summer, and once again, Cleveland will be forced to please him.

Yesterday’s trades could help. They revitalize what had increasingly become a toxic environment. They make the roster better-equipped to win now. And they remind LeBron management is committed to winning.

But LeBron also views big spending as an expectation, not a favor. He doesn’t seem inclined to give Gilbert the benefit of the doubt on anything. However LeBron feels today about the trades will dissipate, and his last game experience heading into the offseason will still likely be a playoff loss.

For four years, LeBron and Gilbert have formed a tense, prosperous partnership that has resulted in three straight trips to the NBA Finals and a championship. LeBron has delivered on the floor and drawn attention to the Cavs. Gilbert opened his checkbook in a major way, and that continued yesterday.

But thanks to his repeated short-term contracts and no-shortage of teams eager to court him, LeBron still has leverage.

The Cavaliers hold some cards, too. They didn’t trade the Nets pick, the most valuable chip in a potential post-LeBron rebuild. Or that pick could be used in a win-now trade this summer to woo LeBron.

No matter what steps were taken yesterday, the effort of convincing LeBron that Cleveland is the right place for him never ends. He has made sure of that.

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