The Cavaliers reached a familiar result in 2017, falling in the NBA Finals for the fourth time in their third appearance, but what would follow was anything but familiar.
What seemed like a pillar of stability in the organization was shaken completely with Kyrie Irving’s request and ultimate trade to conference rivals in the Boston Celtics. What came with the deal was a paradigm shift that the franchise has never seen with LeBron James on the team.
For the first time ever with James in tow, the Cavaliers are looking towards the future rather than just a year-by-year championship hunt.
Part of that has to do with James potentially only being in tow for only six more months, a free agent at the end of the year with more rumors of his departure.
Irving’s trade facilitated the forward-looking mentality by returning not just a legitimate replacement in Isaiah Thomas, but the most coveted non-roster spot in the league in the Brooklyn Nets’s unprotected first round pick in 2018.
The pick could be used to acquire another superstar, or a championship piece at the very least, prior to February trade deadline. Given the fears of a departing star, not to mention Thomas on an expiring deal as well, it may not be the best choice for the Cavaliers to bail on their accelerated rebuild.
Even if James were to stay, it would serve the franchise well to have a young, potential superstar learning from one of the top-two players of all time, making for a smooth transition to a LeBron-less era to come.
Brooklyn’s pick is not the only manifestation of Koby Altman and the front office looking forward. The team is giving plenty of minutes to young Euro Cedi Osman in order to get him acclimated to the NBA game. Osman is very unlikely to help the Cavaliers in the 2018 playoffs, but very likely to be a part of their plans in the next era.
They have retained a fellow Irving-return in center Ante Zizic, who has essentially had assistant director of player development Vitaly Potapenko glued to his side at every practice.
As long as James remains with the organization, the goal will be to maximize his remaining talent to win another NBA Championship, but whether or not they will be further willing to mortgage the future remains unknown.
Until LeBron commits to signing with the team past 2018, that should be the thought process, and unless he signs long term in the off-season, the Cavaliers should draft one of the top amateurs and develop him.
While Irving’s trade turned the organization on its head. It remains to be seen whether or not the trade could actually help in the short-term, but it will almost certainly have helped the long-term gain.
If James will be gone after 2018, it will be better to have traded Irving a year sooner and accelerate a rebuild.
Should Altman play his cards right, the Cavaliers should be able to compete with Irving’s Celtics at the back end of their window.