In an interview with Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, James said: “The door’s not closed on that” in regards to a third stint with the Cavs.
This was just one comment made by James during a mini media tour during the All-Star break.
— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) February 24, 2022
With the Los Angeles Lakers severely underperforming, LeBron seemingly wanted to put a little pressure on the front office.
James has since backtracked on some of his comments, however.
Quelling the rapidly spreading fire that was running rampant over who James would play for next.
But backtracking once will not completely stop the takes from happening.
A top-five player in the NBA hinting at a change of scenery is bound to attract attention.
Only time will tell if it will come to fruition.
Would Cavaliers Want James Back?
We will discuss whether James has any legitimate interest in a Cavalier return later.
Would Cleveland have any interest in a James return?
On one hand, it is easy to say they should jump at the chance.
While he is 37 years old, James is still averaging 29 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game.
The 29 points per game are the highest he has averaged since 2009-10 when he was just 25 years of age.
He is also doing so on an efficient 52 percent shooting which includes 35 percent from three on a career-high 7.8 attempts per game.
The Lakers may be struggling this year, but it isn’t due to LeBron falling off.
But Cleveland has a legitimate reason to not want “The King” to return.
The Cavaliers are on pace to have their first winning season since 1997-98 without LeBron leading them.
The Cavaliers have won eight straight home games. That is their longest single-season home winning streak without LeBron James on the team since winning 12 straight from January to March of 1993. Is this group of young Cleveland talent the best non-Bron Cavs core of all time? pic.twitter.com/Ac6erJ3rzu
— Elias Sports Bureau (@EliasSports) March 1, 2022
Cleveland finally seems to be building a culture in the post-LeBron era.
And as good as LeBron is, he comes with certain stipulations.
Mainly the fact that winning will be prioritized over anything else.
That means prospects, picks, and other supporting cast members are all fair game to be dealt.
A team’s timeline gets expedited to win now and the expectations that come along with it can bring a lot of pressure.
Would Cleveland be willing to sacrifice all they’ve built since James left a second time for probably one more season of serious contention?
It is a fair question to ask.
Just Smoke From LeBron?
There is always the chance LeBron only said what he said to light a fire under the Lakers’ executive team.
They were suspiciously quiet at the trade deadline even with the team falling well short of expectations.
James knows he only has a few years remaining, so he cannot afford to waste any chances.
Reports have since come out saying LeBron still plans to finish out his contract with the Lakers.
His current contract keeps him in the purple and gold through 2023.
The Lakers will still have James and his running mate Anthony Davis under contract for next year.
If they can figure out a way to get Russell Westbrook off the books, they should return to relevancy.
After all, they won an NBA title just two seasons ago.
LeBron may have just needed to air some of his frustrations out over the All-Star break.
In the end, don’t expect to see LeBron switching teams until the 2023 offseason.
James more than likely will not be leaving Los Angeles until 2023, but stranger things have happened.
What if Los Angeles doesn’t even make the play-in tournament this year and then can’t get Westbrook off the team this offseason?
The NBA is a rapidly changing league.
So, what might a LeBron-to-Cleveland deal look like?
LeBron is slated to make ~$44.5 million next year.
Cleveland has right around $100 million in contracts on the books next year.
Add in a possible max extension for Garland and the first team-option year for Okoro, and they are sitting right around $144 million – just under the estimated $147 million luxury tax level for next year.
However, acquiring James would almost certainly put Cleveland into the luxury tax.
Meaning Cleveland, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, would need to send out at least $35.5 million in contracts to make it work.
This is because any team in the luxury tax can take back 125 percent of the contracts they send out plus $100,000.
Would the Cavaliers have the contracts to make it work?
Kevin Love and his $28.9 million salary would be the starting point in any two-for-one deal.
That leaves Cleveland needing to find $6.6 million.
Assuming Garland, Mobley, and Allen are untouchable, that leaves Okoro, Cedi Osman, Markkanen, and LeVert.
All make well north of $6.6 million.
On the flip side, Los Angeles could take back up to $55.7 million in a trade.
Would Cleveland be willing to part with two of Okoro, Osman, Markkanen, and LeVert on top of Love?
Regardless of the package, the Cavaliers would be a vastly different team if they trade for James.