LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2014 NBA offseason. If he didn’t sign, they likely would have had Trevor Ariza.
The Cavs also reportedly looked to acquire Ariza at the trade deadline before they finished the season with 33 wins and 49 losses. They then expressed interest in him during the offseason before they eventually received a league-changing commitment from James.
During a recent podcast appearance with Bill Simmons, former Cleveland general manager David Griffin confirmed these reports (via The Ringer):
“[Kyrie Irving] recruited every free agent that we were going to bring in — and successfully so. Everyone was willing to play with him and was excited to play with him and we were waiting on LeBron to make his decision. Obviously, if LeBron wants to come back, you’re going to get the greatest player of the generation, you’re going to bring LeBron. But Kyrie was really engaged in building a team around him … and Trevor Ariza would have wanted to come with us. We had got commitments from a lot of guys.”
Other players the Cavaliers may have been interested in included Jared Dudley and Joe Johnson.
Irving would have played point guard while Andrew Wiggins (who they traded to land Kevin Love) would have joined him in the backcourt. They would have had Ariza as their small forward and as a veteran presence who could have helped on both offense and defense.
Cleveland would have reportedly offered him between $8 million and $10 million per season. This was exactly in line with the four-year, $32 million deal he ended up signing with the Houston Rockets.
It wasn’t the first (or only) time that James prevented Ariza from playing for the organization. Here is a report from Brian Windhorst in 2010 after his first stint with the Rockets (via ESPN):
“The Cavs had privately been disappointed over the last two years about the lack of intensity James put into their free-agent processes, last year feeling like they lost out on Trevor Ariza because James refused to commit to the future when Ariza called to ask him about it. In fairness, James was just telling free agents the truth even if it was costly to his team in the short run.”
It’s worth mentioning that the Cavaliers were also reportedly interested in trading for Ariza during the 2016 offseason after they won the NBA title.
The roster with Irving, Wiggins and Ariza obviously never materialized. However, it’s certainly an interesting thought experiment to speculate how they would’ve performed in the Eastern Conference with that core.