Now the bar hasn’t only been lowered, it has been removed completely. “We’re going to compete next year,” Altman said. “I don’t know what that looks like, I don’t want to put a timetable on it. I don’t want to use the ‘P’ word like you killed me for before. “I do know that we’re going to have the kind of grit and grind work ethic that guys are going to want to be a part of. We will see. We will see where it all shakes out. We have to be committed to everyday growth and not so much the win-loss outcome.”
More Rumors in this Storyline
“Since 1994, Cleveland has shared countless unforgettable moments at this arena,” Cavaliers Chairman and Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert said. “From hosting world-class music acts to multiple NBA Finals games, the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has been the epicenter of entertainment in Cleveland for decades. Today marks the beginning of the next chapter in the evolution of this incredible facility, as not just one of the world’s premier sports and entertainment venues, but a hub of technology that is leading the charge in innovation, efficiency and fan experience.” The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon by Gilbert, Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner, Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse CEO Len Komoroski and Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman. They were joined by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.
Marc J. Spears: The Cavaliers name Kevin Clayton as Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement, a new position for all organizational properties including the Cavs, AHL Cleveland Monsters, G-League Canton Charge, AFL Cleveland Gladiators, NBA 2KL Cavs Legion and Quicken Loans Arena.
“Was it a plan to get LeBron? No,” Paxson said. “Was it a plan to take one more step back and see if we get a difference maker at the high end of the lottery? Yes.”
The Cavs only won consecutive games once all season, and that was in March, under interim coach Keith Smart. The year before, when they went 29-53 under Lucas, they reeled off winning streaks of four, three and two games. “He didn’t get let go because we wanted to lose more games,” Paxson said. “Those are never easy decisions. I love Luke because when I sat down with him and told him we were letting him go, he said, ‘well, am I still going to get paid?’ And I go, ‘yeah.’ He goes, ‘thank you very much.’ But he was respectful about it and he understood. It was going to be a tough job for whoever had it that period he was there.”
The Cavs fired Lucas on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which at the time was a sensitive matter. Paxson said he and Lucas laugh about it now. The year before the tank, Lucas was fined and suspended for the first two games of the ’02-03 season for allowing LeBron (of all people) to work out with the Cavs. “And then I don’t get to coach him,” Lucas said. “He cost me $250,000, and LeBron still won’t give it to me.”
Koby Altman and LeBron James exchanged friendly hellos, chatted about Altman’s summer wedding and said their goodbyes. The two never had much of a relationship during their only season together as star player and GM. James was frustrated with the way his final year in Cleveland unfolded, and Altman was given the unenviable task of dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade demand within his first few weeks on the job.
James suggested he didn’t feel he was lied to by Altman, so much as Altman was overruled by owner Dan Gilbert. “You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby (was just named GM), but at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as (former GM David Griffin) had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much,” James said.
Cavs front-office officials declined to be quoted for this story but disputed that Altman gave James any indication the trade would not occur. They also said Altman asked James whether he would commit to the Cavs long-term if Irving were not traded, and James said no.
Cavaliers interim coach Larry Drew says he’s making progress in contract negotiations with the team. But now the Cavs are facing yet another coaching saga. Former Cleveland assistant coach Jim Boylan, 63, is suing Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, general manager Koby Altman and the team itself for age discrimination.
Drew also came out before Thursday’s game and said talks with the Cavs about restructuring his deal to be the interim coach “are moving forward in a positive direction.” This was news to some of the people involved with the talks. Drew had twice publicly aired his grievances against the front office for failing to extend his contract or give him more money to take over for Lue. So, if anything, Drew did the team a square by saying there was progress. Took some of the pressure off.
I asked Cavs owner Dan Gilbert about Drew and he said “I leave that up to Koby Altman and I’m confident they will get it worked out.” Altman won’t discuss negotiations that are apparently ongoing. I know Altman did not want to bring in someone else to coach the rest of this season, so it is indeed possible they do something to make Drew happier about his situation. As I said the other day, Drew’s only recourse is to apply pressure by publicly complaining and winning. Or, he could quit.
Marla Ridenour: NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he spoke to #Cavs GM Koby Altman about J.R. Smith answering question if he wanted to be traded with, “Yeah.” Sounds like Smith might escape possible league fine as reported by @Adrian Wojnarowski
Marla Ridenour: #Cavs owner Dan Gilbert on acting coach Larry Drew wanted his contract restructured: “I think Larry Drew is one of my favorite guys, favorite coaches, but I just don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on Koby (Altman’s) and Larry Drew’s negotiations.”
Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith said he hopes to be traded, but declined the front office’s suggestion that he leave the team because he felt he owed it to the fans who embraced him. “Yeah. Honestly. They know,” Smith said when asked about his wiish to be dealt. “They don’t want me, so they obviously know.”
Smith said after shootaround Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts that it’s hard for him to put on a Cavs jersey every day, but he will help young players who seek him out even as he’s been dropped from the rotation. “They asked me if I wanted to be around the team and if I didn’t I could leave and go home and do whatever,” Smith said. “I can’t do that to these fans, I can’t do it to the city. To come from where I came from, from pretty much nothing to Cleveland and the way the city embraced me, the fans embraced me, the relationship I have with them, I can’t do that to them. It’s not about me, it’s not about who wants me here and who doesn’t want me here, for me it’s all about the fans.”
Joe Vardon, then of Cleveland.com, reported that Smith’s camp was told this summer he likely would not play this season. But Smith is still upset with what he perceives as a lack of communication, perhaps wanting to hear it directly from General Manager Koby Altman. “I don’t mind taking a back seat or sitting down or if you don’t want me to play, I don’t mind that. But at least communicate that to me,” he said. “To feel like you’re going to play one day, and then you just don’t play, coming from four Finals appearances, starting, winning a championship, and doing all these things. Sacrificing your body and injury and fighting through all of that to be, you can’t even look me in my face and tell me, that’s disrespectful to me.”
Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman fired coach Tyronn Lue on Sunday, sources told The Athletic.
Joe Vardon: Altman called Lue into his office and let him go, sources said. The Cavs are 0-6
This story is based on interviews with a half-dozen people inside or close to the Cavs organization. The Cavs are 0-3 this season and already struggling with two seemingly incongruous priorities they set for themselves before camp started last month: to stay competitive in the East and to develop young talent. The front office is still committed to winning this year rather than tearing down, a source said, and views what happened Sunday as not representative of who the Cavs will be this season.
The front office wants Lue to play younger players. No one has specifically ruled out a spot for Smith, and once when I pressed general manager Koby Altman about it, he said “this is what camp is for.” It’s just, well, Osman and Hood and Clarkson and Sexton are going to be on the floor. The Cavs even told Smith’s circle over the summer that playing time might be tight for him. Lue could certainly bring Smith off the bench and play him alongside Korver like he did at times last year, but Lue said “I don’t like that as much.” Lue always preferred to split Korver and Smith, but if Hood and Osman are the starters, either Korver and Smith will be playing together or, well, one won’t be playing much.
Could they have gotten more in the trade for Kyrie Irving last summer? Should they have done whatever it took to land Paul George from Indiana, regardless of whether James was willing to commit long term? “You go back, and you always scrutinize everything you do as a general manager. That’s why we don’t f—ing sleep at night,” Altman said. “But I don’t think this was anything we did right or wrong. This is what he wanted to do for him, as a personal preference or a family decision. And I’m OK with that. I have to be OK with that.”
Rick Noland: Altman says “every expectation is to keep” Sexton
Dan Gilbert: (3/3) 3. Trade 1.0 last summer & Trade 2.0 at the deadline led by a humble, talented, young GM: Koby Altman. W/o either of these 2 bold moves orchestrated by Koby & the @Cavs front office, we would not be here w/ a good chance to bring another one home to CLE. #WhateverItTakes
I like Koby personally. I think he’s incredibly intelligent. To come as far as he has as fast as he has is proof, considering he was coaching in the Ivy League six years ago. But he was third in command last season in Cleveland and was rushed into a job for which he wasn’t prepared because over the years, those who know Gilbert well insist he has considered the GM role less and less important. That might have been his biggest miscalculation in all of this. Now a franchise that boasted the postseason slogan the last few years of “All-In” instead hedged its bets last summer with the team’s two most important players.
Marc D Amico: Ty Lue said today of Danny Ainge: “You want him on your side. He always gets the best deals. He always makes the right moves.” Do what you wish with that…
But Lue uses the regular season as a canvas to paint his playoff picture. He tries lineups, rotations and coverages that may or may not work, and he withholds others for the postseason because he knows they will work. Also, he listens to his boss, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert — who told him in a text message early this season to dare to be different.
Lue said team owner Dan Gilbert also had that conversation with him. So, it was unequivocal, Lue’s coaching tenure with the Cavs was going to be on pause until he addressed the issues he said he’d been dealing with for more than a year. “It was just kind of, it was tough because of course you guys see it first,” Lue said. “I don’t come back to the bench and then you’re tweeting and doing all that stuff and it becomes kind of national. And after that kind of happened, the Chicago game, I just thought that when Koby and Dan and those guys talked to me, it was the best thing for me. Having LeBron’s validation, just being like, ‘I got it. Take some time off, get yourself ready for the playoffs. I’ll take care of the team. I’ll make sure everything is good,'” Lue continued. “And he’s playing at a high level, so he’s a man of his word.”
Altman thought back to a conversation he had with Heat general manager Andy Elisburg three or four weeks prior to the trade deadline, sources said. Elisburg made his way through the Cavs’ roster alphabetically, rattling off the names he could see the Heat making an offer for. When he got toward the back end of the Cavs’ roster — W is the fourth-to-last letter, after all — he said something to the effect of, “Yeah, and you have a 2-guard that we have a little bit of history with.” Altman told Elisburg at the time that he was contemplating a major overhaul, which could change Wade’s role on the team. Elisburg filed the information away, informing Heat president Pat Riley of the dialogue. On the morning of the trade deadline, at just past 9 a.m., Elisburg heard from Altman again. Would they want Wade back in a Miami uniform?
With the Heat on board, Altman had two people to talk to: first James, then Wade. Much like Lue’s approach with Wade starting or not to begin the season, Altman wanted to leave it up to Wade: stay in Cleveland with a reduced role or return to the franchise that drafted him and made him the star he is today. “Absolutely. It should be his decision,” James told Altman, according to sources. Wade understood the direction the Cavs were going and appreciated the option. Miami was an easy choice.
And the struggles became more acute as Irving and the Celtics excelled. The grumbling got louder as the Cavs’ losses piled up. James privately began to complain about how other all-time greats in the tail end of their primes played for franchises that added Hall of Fame-level talent to support their championship aspirations. The Chicago Bulls got Dennis Rodman for Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers got Pau Gasol for Kobe Bryant. The San Antonio Spurs got Kawhi Leonard for Tim Duncan. The All-Star whom the Cavs got for James wasn’t impressing him. Or other players on the team. As one team source put it, when asked about Thomas in the week leading up to the trade deadline: “I’m all for an underdog story, but you usually expect some humility to be a part of that story.”
James, per sources, wasn’t expecting huge deals by the Cavs at the deadline, maybe a small one or two, before being informed the night before the deadline that there were big possibilities in the pipeline. He obviously was, and is, very close with Wade, respected Rose’s work in getting healthy again and enjoyed Frye’s personality. He didn’t dislike Thomas, but they obvously didn’t mix well on the floor. It’s clear that James is once again engaged. He’s vocal with his new teammates and his splits — which were awful in January — are back to their norms. But he says that was an independent decision of his, not a reaction to the work Altman did.
On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN. The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more of a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber. The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.
“It was sloppy,” one league source familiar with the draft-day discussion told ESPN, adding that any talk about trading a player of Irving’s ilk — however informal it might be — should be handled strictly between the GM and owner, because of the sensitive nature of its content. Once a player feels expendable or undervalued from his own team, getting him to buy back in is a prickly proposition.
While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Koby Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN. It was a big difference from David Griffin, who was in constant communication with James in their three seasons in Cleveland together. Altman had his reasons, however. For one, he and his fiancée welcomed the birth of their first child, who experienced health complications, and Altman was there for his family as a father. Also, unlike in years past, the Cavs had two first-round draft picks to prepare for in the 2018 NBA draft. Altman’s scouting duties were more involved than Griffin’s were in the past. The fact that Altman went to James prior to the trade deadline for a sit-down meeting to loop in his superstar about the potential deals the Cavs would swing, as earlier reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, was seen as progress.
But if he stays, it gets crazy expensive, as Brian Windhorst laid out at ESPN: “Focusing on the future, if LeBron James remains and accepts a new max contract or picks up his option and the Cavs re-sign Rdoney Hood — who will be a restricted free agent — they will break all current records. It is hard to predict the market for restricted free agents. This summer is especially challenging because teams are expected to tighten spending. If James stays and Rodney Hood remains with Cleveland and lands a long-term deal that starts at $12 million or more, the Cavs would likely crest $300 million in total spending based on the contracts they have on their books. That would include roughly $150 million in luxury tax alone.”
Six months after his promotion to GM, Altman’s marching orders were these: Bring on younger, athletic players under contract or control beyond the 2017-18 season and work to soothe a splintered locker room. In ESPN’s conversations with those involved in the final hours of completing the three trades, a common theme emerged: One way or another, Altman planned to make dramatic changes to the roster. Whatever incarnations of deals emerged and re-emerged, the Cavaliers organization was sure of this: Isaiah Thomas had to go, Dwyane Wade deserved to make a decision on his own and, ultimately, Cleveland couldn’t give LeBron James reason to leave so easily in July.
When Altman visited with James in the Cavaliers’ practice facility a week ago, he let him know that there were still talks alive with the LA Clippers on a Jordan deal. What’s more, there was significant progress: Altman had ownership approval to send the Clippers Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and the Cavs’ 2018 first-round pick for Jordan. The Clippers were willing to accept the trade, but on one significant condition. Clippers general manager Michael Winger explained to Altman that LA didn’t want another shooting guard. He hoped to find a third team that would take Shumpert and his $21 million with draft compensation, and have the Clippers get a center back. Altman and Winger agreed to make more calls to try to find a third team to make the deal work. Winger wondered whether Altman would let him talk to Shumpert’s agent about a possible contract buyout, but Altman wanted trade talks to be further along before granting that permission.
He also knew that he needed to circle back and connect with James again. The Cavaliers’ charter flight would be leaving soon for Atlanta, and he wanted one more face-to-face meeting. This time, he told James of the trades they were completing — and asked for his blessing to offer Wade the chance to return to Miami. Wade’s role would be minimized in Cleveland, and Altman wanted to afford him the respect of letting him return to his old team. Altman had called Heat GM Andy Elisburg with the Wade idea. He ran it past president Pat Riley. Sure, they told him. We’ll bring him home. Let us know.
Once Altman raised the idea with Wade and his agent, Leon Rose, there was no hesitation. Soon, all of the deals were done. Thomas, Frye and Shumpert were headed West, Wade had gone home and now everything had changed in Cleveland. Finally, Altman and his staff stood to let out a yell, hug and high-five. Whatever happens, they knew this: In one of the most impactful trade deadline days ever, Koby Altman and the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t prepared to extinguish an era. Twenty-four hours had changed everything.
The gap between LeBron James and the Cavaliers is widening. As the losses mount and the team’s uninspired efforts persist, July 1 and the start of free agency hangs over this franchise as a day of reckoning. How did we get here? How did James’ storybook return to Cleveland spoil so quickly? Less than four years ago, James was proclaiming “I’m back!” to a packed football stadium on the University of Akron’s campus as fireworks illuminated the night sky. Now this union is in danger of collapsing again. The root of the problems can be traced back to two key issues: David Griffin’s removal as general manager and Kyrie Irving’s subsequent trade to the Boston Celtics.
For the past seven months, the Cavs have been noticeably pivoting away from James’ recommendations. He was vocal both publicly and privately in wanting Griffin to return as GM. Instead, owner Dan Gilbert replaced him days before the draft with Koby Altman, the inexperienced 35-year-old who is widely regarded as not ready for the mammoth task in front of him.
James recruited Jamal Crawford last summer to come to Cleveland, but instead they ignored him and signed rookie Cedi Osman. James told the Cavs not to trade Irving regardless of how disgruntled he appeared. Irving was under team control for two more years, and James was adamant he had no leverage. “Bring him to camp,” James told the Cavs. He was confident he could repair whatever damage Irving felt was done to their relationship. But Irving made clear to Gilbert and the Cavaliers he wanted out of Cleveland because he did not want to play another minute with James, one source told The Athletic. Given how close Irving and James were to the ends of their contracts, the Cavs chose to move Irving while they believed he still had peak value.
The pivot away from James’ wishes has been noticeable, particularly since this is a franchise that since losing him in 2010 has been willing to do — and spend — whatever was necessary to get him back and keep him happy. James and Gilbert have no relationship. Neither do James and Altman, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Whereas Griffin would consult with James and keep him informed of major roster decisions, that is no longer happening. James doesn’t trust this front office, and there is no communication now between management and star player. It perhaps played a role in James yelling and cursing at multiple front office executives during the now-famous team meeting a couple of weeks ago that began with players questioning Kevin Love’s absence from a recent practice. Multiple sources confirmed James cursed toward at least two team executives during the heated meeting.
Six years ago, Altman was an assistant coach in the Ivy League. Now he has vaulted from third chair in the Cavs’ front office last season to the man in charge. While the Cavs insist Altman’s duties are no different from Griffin’s job before him, up and down the roster and throughout the organization, the belief is unanimous that Altman is the front man and Gilbert is in full control.
Sam Amick: There are some people in the league who would not be surprised at all if [the Cavaliers] are pretty quiet [at the trade deadline], and then maybe improve around the margins. I heard some stuff today—nothing juicy in terms of specifics—but just the idea that GM Koby Altman is certainly active and talking to a lot of teams, and trying to turn over every rock. So we’ll see. The Brooklyn pick is front and center, and the debate about whether or not they should give it up. I would be shocked at this point if they changed their stance and put that on the table. I think [the Brooklyn pick is] the Dan Gilbert baby he wants to use to rebuild if and when LeBron James leaves.
Now in their fourth season since James returned, is mental fatigue taking a toll on the Cavs? Sam Amick: It’s a whole lot more complicated than the fatigue factor, and it has everything to do with the layers of dysfunction that the Cavs are battling. Cavs general manager Koby Altman is trying hard to shed the contracts of Tristan Thompson (two years, $36 million remaining) and J.R. Smith ($14.7 million next season, team option worth $15.6 million in 2019-20 with $3.8 million guaranteed), two players who were re-signed in large part because of LeBron’s omnipresent influence. They’re all represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who built the agency with a huge assist from James. As it pertains to the Cavs’ interest in the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, a person with knowledge of that situation said Cleveland continues to offer only its own first-round pick and this kind of unwanted money in those stalled negotiations. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
According to ex-Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, that is not actually the case. Speaking to The Starters for this week on NBA TV, Griffin said that LeBron does not have that kind of involvement in personnel moves nor in coaching team. Griffin said that it’s quite the opposite, that LeBron would actually rather not be bothered with those things given the load he undertakes in carrying his team each and every season.
David Griffin: “It’s not true at all. He doesn’t want to have that role. He doesn’t really want to do those things. He is obsessed with winning basketball games. What he wanted to do was lead the guys in the locker room and be as good as he can possibly be. He spends more time on his body and getting himself mentally and physically right than any player I’ve ever seen.”
The Cavs’ players do not trust each other. It appears as if some of them don’t like each other. Two of them — Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye — were told they’d probably get traded two weeks ago but then weren’t. Their coach has been hesitant to shake up the lineup as he has failed to motivate his veteran team. Tyronn Lue’s performance has been questioned in recent weeks. His fidelity to playing certain lineups while abandoning others that previously were highly successful is so mystifying that it has launched conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, he is not at the center of the storm. This is all a whirlwind around LeBron James vs. the Cavs’ front office, which is to say it’s about James vs. owner Dan Gilbert.
In the games since, LeBron James’ defensive effort has further wilted. His aggression has waned. His frustration has grown. And his leadership, which at times has been controversial in its style but never questioned in its intent, has faded. He is absolutely culpable; his past month has been one of the worst of his NBA life. This comes after the first two months of the season in which he was a leading candidate for MVP. Which makes his erosion all the more clear. And the Cavs are culpable for allowing the trust and the relationship with management to crack. The Cavs know crisis better than anyone — they’ve been immersed in it on and off for four years. But this is a different situation. Everyone can feel it.
Chris Fedor: #Cavs LeBron James when asked about trades: “That’s not a question for me. I show up to work every day. I bust my tail every day. I’m the 1st one to get to the gym & one of the last ones to leave. I do my part. I control what I can control and that is what I can control.”
“The word is out that Dan is running things,” a rival executive told B/R. “Frankly, that’s where he’s happiest and the role he’s most comfortable in.”
As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported after Irving was dealt to the Celtics in August (the holdup being Thomas’ ailing hip), Gilbert was the driving force behind the trade—in large part due to how much he coveted the Celtics’ unprotected first-round pick from the Nets. Sure enough, Gilbert was spotted with Altman and several Cavs scouts at the Oklahoma-Alabama game Saturday, taking in a matchup of two top points guards in the draft, Trae Young and Collin Sexton.
As the Cavaliers try to save their season through potential trades, the big one they pulled off last summer doesn’t look so good right now. Kyrie Irving’s desire and request to leave the Cavs last summer are well documented. Wanting to leave LeBron James’ shadow and the culture James dominated in Cleveland, upset that former general manager David Griffin was gone and miffed that the Cavs considered trading him to Indiana for Paul George, Irving asked owner Dan Gilbert to trade him. Gilbert didn’t have to honor the request, though, as Irving had two years left on his contract.
According to multiple sources, Kyrie Irving threatened to sit out the season and have surgery on his knee, convincing Gilbert and Cleveland’s front office that the relationship with Irving was not salvageable. Irving’s agent, Jeff Wechsler, declined to discuss what was said to the Cavs with cleveland.com, and Dan Gilbert did not personally respond to a request seeking comment.
With a contentious team meeting apparently not enough to shake the Cleveland Cavaliers from their extended midseason slump, another loss finally convinced coach Tyronn Lue that it is time to shake up his lineup. JR Smith, who balked at his demotion earlier in the season when Dwyane Wade began the year as the starting shooting guard, told ESPN that he would hold no ill feelings and would accept a bench role now if it would help the team. He acknowledged that he isn’t playing up to his standards and wants the team to play better.
It wouldn’t be Keeping Up With The Kavs if we didn’t have a little ownership drama, now, would it? In the latest chapter of the dramatic operation that is the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s been reported that owner Dan Gilbert is looking to sell his majority stake in the Cavs. This would be yet another incredible turn of events for the Cavaliers who seem to find new ways to get into the news cycle despite the fact they can’t win any games right now. Gilbert owns a majority stake in the Cavs while former majority owner Gordon Gund is the team’s second largest share holder.
The current consensus among many executives around the league is that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Altman will, ultimately, hold onto the Brooklyn pick. The likelihood of Cleveland ever getting a potential top-10 pick again in the James era is Who in Whoville size. “I don’t think there is a player on the market that justifies it unless LeBron targets someone and makes it a condition of his return,” one executive texted Sunday.
No one inside the organization suggested Saturday that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was preparing to fire the only coach who’s won a championship for this organization, and Lue will not make changes to his coaching staff. But some sort of reckoning could be coming. The 148 points allowed tied a franchise record that’s stood since 1972. Cleveland’s lost its last two games on national TV by a combined 58 points. The Cavs are nearly the NBA’s worst defensive team, and are 3-9 dating to Christmas.
The trade winds are beginning to blow around the Cavaliers and they may sweep up players who’ve been here for all of the glory years. Coach Tyronn Lue is not calling for any trades, at least not publicly. “I like the group that we have,” Lue said Saturday, prior to the Cavs’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “We just haven’t been healthy the whole year, have had to do some different things, but I’m just focused on coaching the guys that we have. I like our group, any further questions with that you’ll have to talk with Kob…Koby Altman. Sorry.”
Cleveland clearly has needs, and realistic names [as trade candidates] are being tossed about. There’s also the “Brooklyn pick,” or the Nets’ No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft the Cavs acquired as part of the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade. Everyone wants to know if the Cavs would trade the pick, and there’s been much speculation that Cleveland would not, in fact, make a deal involving it. That’s not true, league sources have told me.
The Cavs would consider trading it if the right player were available — a player who’s either elite or who has the potential to become elite and is signed for multiple years. That player may not be available. Paul George and the Thunder are getting it together. The Pelicans are playing better with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The Cavs need a player who can dribble and shoot (sounds simple, but I’m serious), and after that, maybe a rim protector.
LeBron James hasn’t made any decisions about his future. He has noticed, though, that he’s had very little, if any, communication with the front office. Same for his representation. James was in constant contact with David Griffin when he was general manager. There isn’t much to be said between James and owner Dan Gilbert as far as next season or James’ next contact goes, because James will deal with that at season’s end. When the team was winning 18 of 19, it sure didn’t feel like James had anywhere else to go. Having lost eight of the last 11 games, it’s easy to say “who would want to hang around for this?” Don’t let the ebb and flow of this season sway you one way or the other on James.
What they didn’t know was Cleveland had explored trading Kyrie in June, long before he asked out, a fact conveniently omitted when word of his demand leaked. Irving made the decision to remain silent while the details of his request were, in his word, “distorted.” “I didn’t feel the need to say anything because I knew the truth, and so did they,” he says. “So it didn’t matter what others said.”
Still, for a split second, Irving winces, as though someone has pricked him with a pin. “They didn’t want me there,” he says.
Seven days later in Cleveland, James has just put the finishing touches on a win over Atlanta, the Cavaliers’ 15th victory in their past 16 games. He conveys through the Cleveland public relations staff that he has already addressed Irving’s departure and will decline to answer questions regarding their relationship. Now, as he stands near his locker at Quicken Loans Arena, he’s asked about Irving’s contention that the Cavs didn’t want him. “That makes absolutely no sense,” James declares.
No formal offer was made by any of the teams, but news of this potential transaction stung Irving, who, sources close to him say, became convinced that LeBron’s camp, which also represents Bledsoe, orchestrated the trade talks. Team and league sources refute that, saying that it was Griffin who initiated the trade talks with Phoenix. Griffin, who is close with Irving, sensed both his unhappiness and his restlessness and was preparing for the possibility that Irving would request a trade. But once Griffin was no longer employed by the team, the conversations stalled. Cleveland then engaged in talks with Indiana and Denver, according to league sources.
Irving and his agent, Jeff Wechsler, sat down with Gilbert on July 9 in The Vault at Quicken Loans Arena. In the meeting, they pressed Gilbert, sources say, about the future of James. Gilbert, in turn, asked Irving for desired trade destinations, and Wechsler rattled off San Antonio, New York and Minnesota. Boston was not mentioned, but, league sources confirm, Gilbert later became keenly interested in securing the rights to Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, which the Celtics had acquired in the 2013 trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets.
“Ky wasn’t as happy last year,” says one of his former teammates who talks with Irving regularly. “He wasn’t disruptive — just a little disconnected.” “Happiness comes and goes in the NBA,” Cavs veteran Channing Frye says. “Kyrie had every right to do what he wanted.” “I saw Kyrie high, I saw him low,” Iman Shumpert says. “He’s seen me tear up a locker room. We’re friends. You help each other through it.”
And now that he had achieved his goal and the gig was his, all Altman had to do was make sure whatever decisions he made didn’t go wrong and potentially help push the greatest player in team history, and one of the greatest in the history of the sport, LeBron James, out the door when he can opt into free agency next summer. Simple, right? “There’s no manual I was given to say, ‘Hey, take over this team that’s been to three straight Finals, and oh, you have the best player in the world, and you need to manage that and try to get him back,'” Altman told ESPN. “There’s no manual for that. I say it’s incredibly hard, I think they’re all hard. Each job is hard.”
David Griffin on parting ways with the Cavaliers: It was very much a mutual decision. I was not at all surprised. In fact, I had a whole lot to do with it going in that direction. I was really grateful to ownership to give us the bandwidth they did to do what we achieved.
Joe Vardon: Much has been made about the ‘chaos’ surrounding the Cavs over the summer. Was there a point where you felt it, too? Koby Altman: I mean, there was certainly a shock when you come to the office and David Griffin’s not there. The leader of the franchise and an incredible mentor to me. But, we’ve dealt with an incredible scrutiny nationally, locally, the outside narrative of chaos. We don’t listen to that. We’ve gone through that. Actually our most controversial year was when we won the championship. We made a coaching change midseason. And so we deal with that stuff, we just put our head down and go. We sort of ignore the noise. And throughout the offseason we were making positive additions. Again, the outside narrative wasn’t that, but every addition we made: from Jose Calderon, re-signing Kyle Korver, bringing Jeff Green in, Derrick Rose. These are really positive incremental steps to getting better, and that’s, we thought the team we were going to bring back was championship level. We’re going to add to get incrementally better.
Koby Altman: Obviously the Kyrie happened and sort of gave us a chance to reshuffle the deck and gave us a unique opportunity to (reshuffle the deck), but as this was going on, no, we weren’t wavering. We weren’t like ‘oh my God, what are we going to do?’ We knew we had a great team still. We were just incrementally trying to get better.
Joe Vardon (cleveland.com): So, you once worked in real estate? Koby Altman: I graduated from Middlebury College, a prestigious liberal arts school in New England where you think when you graduate that you have to go make money. All my friends went into finance or banking or whatever the case may be. I had no business background at all, so I said let me try to do something to put some business onto my resume so I started out in commercial real estate. We sold apartment buildings and I did pretty well at the start, so I was like, ‘let me stay into that.’ It probably was about three years before I really felt like I missed basketball. But that real estate background really prepared me for this job and any walk of life in terms of negotiation, dealing with people, very important people, very wealthy people that are motivated.
The Cavaliers hired former Utah Jazz front-office hand Andrae Patterson as their director of basketball administration, a source told cleveland.com. Patterson, 41, will work in a number of areas for the Cavs, from various player development programs to scouting both in the U.S. and overseas. He joins general manager Koby Altman’s staff after working as a personnel/player programs coordinator for the Jazz since 2015. In June the Cavs lost then-general manager David Griffin and his top assistant, Trent Redden. They also let salary-cap expert Anthony Leotti go over the summer.
During an appearance on ESPN’ The Jump, Griffin gave a brief, yet informative, breakdown pertaining to the outlook of the Cavs after all the moves done by the team’s current front office so far this offseason. Griffin was most impressed by the Cavs upgrading their defense that was toyed in last season’s NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors. Griffin was particularly positive of the addition of Crowder and Jeff Green to the roster, as he believes the two would make it easier for the team to adjust to opposing offenses. “They’ve done a really good job of getting more defensive versatility with the Crowder piece. Jeff Green is a nice acquisition at minimum that is going to be versatile piece for them as well. “
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert hired a private law firm to investigate whether Miami Heat president Pat Riley tampered to bring James to South Beach in 2010. The NBA dismissed Gilbert’s claim and absolved the Heat. If James does go somewhere else next summer, you have to wonder if Gilbert will choose to look into tampering once again. Even beyond James’ upcoming situation, anytime you hear of a multimillion-dollar deal agreed upon at 9:01 p.m. PT when free agency opens up, tampering will be questioned. Anytime a trade comes out of nowhere, tampering will be questioned. Said one assistant coach to ESPN: “I don’t know if it will ever stop.”
Koby Altman may be the latest person to call himself Cleveland Cavaliers general manager—the fourth in the past 12 years since Dan Gilbert bought the team—but multiple sources have told me that the Cavs owner was the one calling the shots on the trade that sent Irving to Boston, and he’s the one dealing with the fallout. Gilbert’s dysfunctional ways are old news. Gilbert himself joked during Altman’s introductory presser that his GMs have four-year presidential terms. “A state of organizational chaos is Gilbert’s M.O.,” one executive told me. “Gilbert thinks he’s the protagonist in the story of the Cavaliers, when, in reality, he’s the antagonist.”
Gilbert’s fingerprints were all over the drama that’s unfolded over the past week. Thomas’s health is what held up the deal, but according to multiple league sources with knowledge of Cleveland’s thought process, the unprotected Nets pick and Crowder were the pieces that Cleveland valued the most—those were the assets that got the deal done, not Thomas. The perception of the trade was that the Cavaliers and Celtics swapped franchise point guards, but for the Cleveland front office (and its owner), Thomas was the icing, not the cake.
Chris Broussard: “While the organization is doing their due diligence and being wise in planning for a future without LeBron, I know there are people within that organization that still think he’s not leaving,” Broussard said.
Chris Broussard: “They think this is all just a bunch of drama and talk, and we all know LeBron likes drama. So, again, we don’t know. But if I had to make a pick, I would say he does stay in Cleveland. I wouldn’t bet my house on it, but if you put a gun to my head, I’d predict that he stays in Cleveland. But at this point, I don’t think LeBron knows what he’s going to do. We know that this has been his M.O. for the last several years. Even when he went back to Cleveland from Miami, it was on a short-term deal. He wants to keep to his options open for various reasons – to keep Dan Gilbert on edge, to keep [the front office] trying to make the team better and just for other personal reasons. LeBron likes playing in this situation. I think that’s his M.O. and I don’t think we should assume that he’s definitely leaving Cleveland because he won’t commit there long-term.”
Chris Broussard: “However, there is reason to believe that he would leave. Heading into the draft, we know that Cleveland had a deal on the table where they could’ve gotten Eric Bledsoe and Paul George for Kyrie Irving in a three-team deal [with the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers]. Dan Gilbert went to LeBron and wanted him to sign long-term. He said, ‘I’ll do the deal if you sign long-term.’ And I’m told that Paul George was willing to [opt-in] to the final year of his contract. He wasn’t ready to commit long-term, but he told Cleveland, ‘Look, if you do this, I’ll pick up my option,’ so he would’ve been there for two years. And LeBron, still, did not commit long-term. Now, again, I’m not saying this means he is definitely gone, but it’s certainly a red-flag.”
Chris Broussard: The fact is, LeBron’s group keeps things very close to the vest. If anybody knows ‘where he’s going,’ it would be his wife, his agent Rich Paul, his business manager Maverick Carter, maybe his associate Randy Mims and maybe his PR guy Adam Mendelsohn, but nobody else. And those people aren’t talking. But again, I don’t think LeBron knows where he’s going yet; I think he’s keeping his options open.
Chris Broussard: “I think if LeBron James leaves Cleveland and it’s all about winning and where he can win the most championships then I think the best move for him would be to go to San Antonio,” Broussard said. “If it’s just about winning – not about wanting to be in LA or maximizing his business opportunities or wanting to be in a glamour market or wanting to go play with his friend Chris Paul or whoever – then he should go to San Antonio.
Chris Broussard: “And with the Lakers, there are so many questions. Let’s see what Lonzo Ball is. Let’s see what Brandon Ingram is. Let’s see what Paul George is willing to do. I don’t see LeBron going there by himself, without another star, so what happens if Oklahoma City gets to the Western Conference Finals and loses in seven games? Does Paul George stay? Again, I think there are too many questions, at this point, for LeBron to know where he wants to go.”
Given how far along the two sides are and what the Cavs are getting in return for disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving — Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first round pick — former Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin believes protege Koby Altman should proceed as planned, saying he would make the same deal if still running the front office. “I think I would have,” Griffin told NBA TV late Tuesday night. “I really think Koby Altman made a tremendous trade here, given the circumstances. When you’re trying to win a championship, there is no in between. You’re all the way with me, or you’re all the way against me. And I think this was a situation where Kyrie made it clear he had a goal set that might not have jived with what Cleveland’s was.
“They made a deal that, even in the absence of Isaiah Thomas, is a tremendous collection of assets and value Koby was able to get. At the same time, Boston made a trade to get a piece that really could be the key for them — a 25-year old player in his prime who is an NBA champion, an Olympic champion and is really just starting to scratch the surface of who he can be.”
Altman was extremely focused on the future in making this trade, a source said. This trade may give James much more faith in Altman as a general manager. It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.
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June 15, 2019 | 9:18 pm EDT Update
The Celtics, meanwhile, will pull back and most likely build around their young core, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the centerpieces. According to a league source, the Celtics never felt like a deal for Davis was close as discussions unfolded this past week.
Boston had a better collection of assets and young players to dangle if it chose. But the source said that the uncertainty surrounding Davis’s future had made the Celtics reluctant to overwhelm the Pelicans with their best possible offer, and that they had abstained from including Tatum in their packages.
There was some belief that the Celtics should chase Davis at any cost and attempt to win a championship next year, just like the Raptors successfully did with Kawhi Leonard this season. But sources said the Celtics also had concerns about giving up so many important pieces of their roster that they would not necessarily even be a championship-caliber team with Davis next season.
Even if Irving departs, the Celtics remain optimistic about the state of the franchise. They hold the 14th, 20th, and 22nd picks in this draft. Even though some, if not all, of those picks likely would have been shipped out in a Davis deal, sources said the pursuit of Davis did not affect the team’s draft preparations, as they carried on, business as usual. According to a league source, the Celtics will continue to explore ways to potentially use some of those picks in deals for other current players, but that nothing was imminent.