NBA Rumors: Cavs Operating As If LeBron James Will Leave Cleveland In 2018

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ return package in the Kyrie Irving trade proves the team is preparing for the future — a future that’s looking more and more like it won’t include LeBron James.

James potentially leaving Cleveland a second time isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, as there have been rumblings that the Cavs star might opt out of the final year of his contract next summer. But The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor took those rumblings one step further Thursday, reporting via multiple sources that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has been “operating under the assumption” that James will leave Cleveland after the 2017-18 season.

According to O’Connor, that assumption impacted how the Cavs approached trading Irving: Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman “targeted Irving trade packages that set up the franchise for the post-LeBron era, rather than the instant-gratification deals they’ve made over the past three years,” O’Connor wrote.

If Cleveland was convinced James was staying, O’Connor added, it would have sought a different return for Irving.

In that sense, LeBron’s potential departure actually helped the C’s land Irving. Boston was able to offer a potential lottery pick in the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round selection, and O’Connor notes that pick and Jae Crowder were the Celtics’ two assets that Cleveland coveted most — even more than Isaiah Thomas — because they best prepared the Cavs for a future without LeBron.

James leaving Cleveland in 2018 also would give the Celtics a much clearer path to the NBA Finals, so Irving and Co. probably are hoping that Gilbert’s instincts are right.

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images

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