When looking at why LeBron James ultimately left the Cleveland Cavaliers the second time, one must look back at the summer of 2017. The Cavaliers were coming off their third straight trip to the NBA Finals. However, they lost to the Golden State Warriors who had signed Kevin Durant the previous offseason. Had the Cavs brought Chauncey Billups into the organization in 2017, though, things could have been a lot different.
LeBron James needed more firepower with the Cavaliers
LeBron James teamed up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014. The Cavaliers ultimately went to the 2015 NBA Finals but Love and Irving were injured. James and the Cavaliers still took the Golden State Warriors to six games but ultimately lost 4-2.
Irving and Love were healthy in 2016, though. They helped James lead the Cavaliers to an NBA championship that season despite being down 3-1 to a 73-win Warriors team. However, everything changed in the summer of 2016 when the Warriors signed NBA superstar Kevin Durant.
The Warriors ultimately defeated the Cavaliers in five games in the 2017 NBA Finals. The Cavs then realized that a Love-Irving-James big three was no longer enough to win a championship.
A summer of missed opportunities
If the Cavaliers wanted to compete with the Warriors, the summer of 2017 was the summer they needed to make some big moves. However, they completely botched that offseason.
The Cavaliers first announced that general manager David Griffin was not going to return. Then, they missed out on a trade for NBA superstar Paul George. The Cavaliers were in talks with the Pacers and Denver Nuggets on June 22, the same night as the NBA draft, and they hoped to complete a three-team deal. The deal fell through, but the teams tentatively agreed to a deal in a conference call on June 30, according to Bleacher Report. George would have gone to Cleveland, Love would have gone to Denver, and the Pacers would have acquired Gary Harris and other pieces.
However, Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard reportedly backed out of the deal, according to Bleacher Report. He then sent George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony said in September 2017 that he was also supposed to be traded to Cleveland in a separate deal, according to ESPN’s Ian Begley. That didn’t happen either.
The offseason then ended up getting worse. Kyrie Irving requested a trade out of Cleveland in July. The Cavaliers then traded Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas – who might have been damaged goods –in August.
The Cavaliers then had an up-and-down season during 2017-18. They did make the 2018 NBA finals, but LeBron James ultimately left that summer.
The Cavaliers whiffed on bringing in Chauncey Billups
With Griffin gone, the Cavaliers needed his replacement. Adrian Wojnarowski reported on June 19, 2017, that the Cavaliers were considering former Detroit Pistons star Chauncey Billups for the president of basketball operations position. Dave McMenamin then reported the next day that Billups interviewed for the GM position. Either way, the team wanted him in its front office.
Jeff Goodman then reported that the conversations continued on June 21. Billups’ former teammate Richard Hamilton then said on June 22 that he spoke to Billups and that Billups was excited about the Cavaliers, according to 92.3 The Fan’s Keith Britton.
However, the Cavaliers then went into draft night with no GM or president of basketball operations. Did that play a role in them not getting the deal done for Paul George on that night?
Talks continued between Billups and the Cavs, though, according to Wojnarowski on June 25.
The Cavaliers, however, still did not have a GM on June 30 when the Pacers backed out of the Paul George deal. Then on July 3, Billups withdrew his name from consideration, according to Wojnarowski.
Billups could have saved the Cavaliers
Following that, Irving eventually requested his trade. Then, the Cavaliers traded him for Isaiah Thomas who was no longer as good as he once was. The Cavaliers’ team that was trying to contend with the Warriors had somehow separated the gap even further.
Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ owner, reportedly offered Billups a $1.5 million deal to be president of basketball operations, according to ESPN. The starting salary for that position is typically $4 million, ESPN reported.
So, all in all, the Cavaliers are to blame for that disastrous summer. The team should have offered Billups more money. However, had Billups ended up joining the Cavaliers, who’s to say that he couldn’t have helped the team strike a deal for Paul George. That could have potentially enticed Irving to stay. Then, LeBron James could have potentially stayed in 2018.
Had Billups gone to the Cavaliers, they could still be contending for championships right now. They could potentially have a dominant big three in Irving, James, and George. We are all left to wonder “What if,” though, as they are now a losing franchise yet again.