NBA AM: Trading LeBron – Its Laughable, But Hear Me Out

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Trading LeBron – Its Laughable, But Hear Me Out

To say the Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling to find their way might be a bit of an understatement.

The Cavs have won three straight games, albeit against teams like the Mavericks, Knicks, and Hornets – also known as teams they should beat. They are one game above the .500 mark and starting to string things together, but still a far cry from the leader in the clubhouse they are expected to be, but there is a lot of time remaining on the season.

The Cavs have a ton of new faces, they have endured some early injuries including a significant training camp injury to LeBron James, so their struggles are easy to justify, but they are struggles nonetheless.

Bleacher Reports’ Howard Beck chronicled a hefty piece on James this week in which it was suggested by an unnamed NBA executive that maybe the Cavs have run their course and should consider doing the unthinkable, which is trading James.

Before we get too far into this, James has a no-trade provision in his contract, so he controls his future, and that’s always been by design. James has the option to be a free agent this summer, and there has been talk for some time that James may seek a new team in July, especially if the Cavs are not a title contender.

James has been unwavering in his view that he is in “win-now” mode and seeks another championship immediately.

This brings us back to the idea of trading James.

If you have followed the Cavaliers management of the James relationship, they have tried to keep him happy. They have traded for players that fit James’ style of play. They have spent gobs of money re-signing and retaining players in James’ circle. They have done virtually everything possible to keep James content in Cleveland. The problem is they are not dominating. Maybe that changes when Isaiah Thomas enters the equation, maybe it doesn’t.

When former Cav and current Celtic Kyrie Irving asked to be traded from Cleveland, a highly placed executive with an Eastern Conference team suggested that Cavs needed to corner James on his future—not so much as demanding an extension, although the Cavs could do that, but rather demanding an explanation of intention. In other words: ask James directly if he wants to remain beyond the current season.

If the answer is indifference or hesitation, then the smarter move organizationally would be to ask him to agree to a trade. He could always say no, but at least organizationally, you know where you stand and can make decisions based on that, especially if the Cavs can’t climb the Eastern Conference ladder.

If James is receptive to staying, then it’s a no-brainer to stay the course. But, if James has one foot out the door, it’s not crazy to try and extract value out of him while you can, especially if it’s not coming together.

It sounds silly to consider trading one of the league’s top players, but if he is walking in July and you are not certain to reach the Finals does it make sense to let the ship run aground again?

At the end of the day, James would have to approve any trade involving him, but wouldn’t it be smart to at least have the conversation, especially if the best you can be is a few games above .500?

It is still early in the season, so maybe three games become ten, but given how the Cavs have played to this point does that seem likely?

Time will tell.

The Loophole to Jettison Deng

Our own Eric Pincus penned a piece for Bleacher Report this week in which he explains how the Lakers could ultimately be rid of forward Luol Deng’s contract. The answer is something of an exploitable loophole, which as of this week (according to sources), the Lakers seem resistant to explore, but, it remains an option if they wanted to use it.

The Lakers can actually extend the Luol Deng contract. On the surface that seems silly even to consider, but if you follow the logic, it might be the best answer for the Lakers if their goal is to sign two max-level players in free agency in July.

Deng currently has $36.8 million owed to him on his deal. If the Lakers used the stretch-provision, which allows a team to cut a player and spread his remaining contract money over twice the remaining contract years plus one year, they could reduce the cost on Deng down to roughly $7.4 million over five years. He has two remaining years on his deal; twice the remaining years is four, plus one year is five years stretched.

The Lakers could, with Deng’s blessing, add three more years to his deal. The loophole is those years do not have to be fully guaranteed. In fact, they do not have to be guaranteed at all. Adding three more years to Deng’s contract would then allow the Lakers to stretch his remaining guaranteed money out over 11 years, and reduce the $36.8 million remaining down to $3.3 million. That’s a hefty cap number to carry for a decade, but considering that might be the best way to get out of Deng, it’s an option worth considering.

According to sources, the Lakers are fully aware of this option but are not ready to explore it. The Lakers seem to be holding out hope they can trade Deng and possibly a roster piece or two and jettison the salary.

Deng and his agent have been working with the Lakers on trying to find an exit, however, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be a team willing to make a move on Deng that wouldn’t send cap money back to the Lakers.

If the end goal is clear the money from the cap, extending Deng makes the most sense, especially if the Lakers added a million or two to the package as an inducement. It may seem silly to give Deng more money to ultimately be rid of him, but to get an extension done that would allow his remaining money to be spread out over 11 years, that’s not an easy sell to the player, even though he wants out of the situation too.

The other part of offering some additional guaranteed money is the NBA would have to approve such a deal, and anything that blatantly attempts to circumvent “the spirit” of the CBA can be declined.

The wrinkle as Pincus chronicles is that even with Deng gone, the Lakers might not have enough cap space for full max deals. So that wouldn’t be enough space for say LeBron James and Paul George, but it would give them enough flexibility to add say DeMarcus Cousins and George unless the players involved opted for slightly less than their full maximum allowable salary.

It is an interesting option available to the Lakers and well worth the read if you want to dig into the details.

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