LeBron James may or may not be “100 percent” certain to leave Cleveland after this season, but the Cavaliers are reportedly already preparing for life without the King. According to Kevin Durant, James has more than earned the right to dictate the terms of any possible departure.
Durant was replying to a tweet Wednesday from rapper Lil Dicky, who said, “If I’m Cleveland, I’m one thousand percent trading LeBron.” James actually has a no-trade clause in his contract, which also gives him the ability to opt out in 2018, but the Warriors forward took the tweet at face value, saying that the Cavs “can’t trade a legend.”
“He is Cleveland, he gets to hold the cards,” Durant added.
James, of course, hails from nearby Akron, Ohio, and it almost seemed preordained when the Cavs first landed him as the No. 1 overall pick in 2003. After leading Cleveland to its first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, he stunned fans by defecting to the Heat in 2010, but he returned in 2014 and said, “What’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
That mission was accomplished in 2016, when James led the Cavs to a shocking comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors in the Finals, giving the franchise its first NBA title and Cleveland its first major-sports championship in 52 years. As it turned out, Golden State’s defeat led to the team recruiting Durant in free agency, although he was widely criticized for leaving the Thunder to join an already powerful squad.
In fact, one Twitter user responded to Durant’s “legend” remark by calling him “the biggest coward to step foot in the NBA.” The forward, who won 2017 Finals MVP honors this year while helping the Warriors get revenge on James’s Cavs, took a kill-them-with-kindness approach to that insult.
Durant then returned to his exchange with Lil Dicky, who had noted the acrimony between Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and James over the latter’s 2010 exit in free agency. “If I’m Gilbert, I’m getting something back this time,” the rapper said.
“I feel what you’re saying,” Durant replied. “Most owners think that way, but then you realize it’s LeBron James.”
Lil Dicky’s comments may have been spurred by a tweet Wednesday from Chris Sheridan, a former NBA reporter who claimed, “This will be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair.”
Cleveland-based sports reporters such as Fox 8’s John Telich and Plain Dealer beat writer Joe Vardon described Sheridan’s tweet as “speculation” and “100 percent false,” respectively, but Sheridan was hardly the first to at least suggest that James was heading into his final season with the Cavs. The NBA rumor mill has had the four-time MVP eyeing Los Angeles, where he owns a home, and Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving’s recent trade demand reportedly was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to flee to a better situation before James himself does.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, whose NBA intel is rarely dismissed as “100 percent false,” wrote Tuesday that as Cleveland ponders what to do about Irving, it is “operating under a self-prescribed mandate: presume a future without LeBron James.” He added, “The Cavs aren’t giving up on the possibility of re-signing James next summer, but they are no longer investing blind faith in the hope he will stay.”
The increasingly pervasive sense that James has at least one foot out the door in Cleveland likely informed Lil Dicky’s suggestion that the team “blow it up” before its most important player does it for them. History told Durant, though, that even that darkest of clouds for the Cavs could have a silver lining.
Durant is correct that, in James’s four-year absence, Cleveland won the NBA draft lottery three times. Irving was one of those picks and the Cavs used the other two players, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, to help swing a trade for veteran forward Kevin Love and create a championship-caliber “Big Three.”
Now, if the Cavs trade away Irving and if James departs in 2018, they won’t have any of their four No. 1 overall picks. Cleveland fans will, however, have happy memories of a hugely successful stretch, one that should cement James as, to use Durant’s term, “a legend.”