Advertisement


NBA

Will The Banana Boat Sail To Cleveland?

on

The Golden State Warriors — the NBA’s reigning super team — pushed LeBron James to his limit as a player. After James’ Cleveland teammates failed to rise to the challenge, the Warriors may test his limits as a GM. Despite any protestations to the contrary, James invented the super team with Miami’s “Big Three.” With Golden State threatening to dominate the NBA for years to come, James’ only option may be to prove that he has the pull to summon his own group of Super Friends.

The key will be convincing Phil Jackson to accept Kevin Love in a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Love’s impact was brutal in the NBA Finals, a team-worst -13.6 net rating. His inability to create his own shot placed an ever-increasing burden on James to carry the team. Tristan Thompson was second-worst at -11.3 as Golden State put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional big man by dominating with smaller lineups. Anthony may have defensive issues, but it was Golden State’s superior wing depth that decided the Finals. And if Anthony is ready to make a move, he will have the option in July to waive his 15 percent trade kicker to make the trade math easier.

Despite Love’s performance, Jackson and the Knicks should have any number of reasons to accept a trade for Love. Jackson’s public campaign to get Anthony out of New York has created a toxic team culture, and free agents are rumored to be wary of his fixation on the Triangle offense. With Love under contract for two more seasons, the Knicks don’t have to worry about his potential free agency until 2019. And Love’s passing skills make him an ideal fit for the Triangle.

If Jackson bites, that’s when things could get very interesting. Another team that needs to make a change is the L.A. Clippers. Rumors abound of Chris Paul’s interest in multiple NBA teams. This may just be a play for leverage in Paul’s quest for a five-year super max contract from L.A., but if he’s serious about leaving, a sign-and-trade to the Cavaliers could be the best-case scenario for Doc Rivers and new consultant Jerry West. The Clippers could be faced with a choice of losing Paul for nothing or facilitating a sign-and-trade and receiving the much younger Kyrie Irving in return. Such a move could be the key to retaining Blake Griffin, who is almost certain to depart if the Clippers lose Paul without replacing him with a significant player.

Do James and Klutch Sports really have the juice to pull something like this off? Cavs owner Dan Gilbert better hope they do, because it may represent his best hope to keep James beyond next June. With Paul enjoying the attention of multiple suitors, it seems unlikely he would commit to Cleveland long-term only to see James bolt after next season. A commitment to the Cavaliers from Paul would strongly imply a commitment by James beyond next season.

From there, it gets even better for Cleveland. After all, what’s a banana boat without its captain? If Anthony waives his no-trade clause and Paul decides to force his way to Cleveland, Dwyane Wade could be the next Super Friend to answer James’ call. The Bulls are extremely unlikely to facilitate a trade that helps the Cavaliers, so Wade would have to opt out of the final season of his contract and sacrifice millions to chase another ring with LeBron. Would the lure of challenging the Warriors alongside James, Paul, and Anthony sufficiently tempt Wade? We may find out very soon.

As if this gigantic banana split wasn’t treat enough for Cavaliers fans, here’s the cherry on top. If Paul, Anthony and possibly Wade join James in Cleveland, the floodgates will open for ring-chasing veterans ready to sacrifice dollars for a spot on a roster that can legitimately challenge Golden State. And the player at the front of that line could be — drumroll please — Chris Bosh. The Cavaliers could sign Bosh to a minimum deal and allow him to skip road trips to limit his hours in the air in hopes of having him ready for the playoffs.

LeBron James has risen to the challenge throughout his career, but the challenge now is to prove that he can attract the kind of supporting talent he needs to dethrone the Warriors. Would Gilbert risk alienating James if he asked the Cavaliers to make his dream scenario of playing with his best friends a reality? Keep in mind that Irving only has two more guaranteed seasons before a player option in 2019. If James departs next summer, Irving could follow him out the door 12 months later. If you’re Dan Gilbert, the word “no” is not part of your vocabulary in conversations with LeBron this summer.

The scenario is not without risk for Cleveland, as Anthony’s defense and Paul’s health are always a concern. But that’s part of why the whole thing could work. Irving could breathe new life into the Clippers while Love could prove the perfect compliment to Knicks centerpiece Kristaps Porzingis. It’s time for LeBron and Cleveland to deploy the Bat Signal.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Buddy Grizzard

Buddy Grizzard

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.