Trading for Luka Doncic Wouldn’t Have Kept LeBron James in Cleveland

Michael J. LeBrecht II-NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been almost two weeks since LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for sunny LA. Since then, we’ve been getting juicy details about the days leading up to his departure.

We received another one today in the form of a pre-draft trade offer which, to some, may have helped convince James to stay in town had it come to fruition.

Per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Atlanta Hawks offered the Cavs a chance to move up in the draft so they could take Luka Doncic, seen by many as the best player in this rookie class.

It should be noted the deal would’ve been more than just a pick swap. It would’ve involved Cleveland taking on additional salary in the form of Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore, while also removing protections on the team’s 2019 first-rounder currently owed to the Hawks.

Still, a story like this may lead some to question the Cavs. At the time, they were still trying to convince James to stick around. Why, then, would they pass up a chance at drafting the consensus best player available, with the knowledge that doing so could hurt their chances at keeping the best player in the league?

The answer is simple – it wouldn’t have worked. Even if Cleveland took Doncic, James would still be a Los Angeles Laker today.

Admittedly, this is speculation. Still, it’s not hard to back up.

Around the time this potential trade was proposed, we were still being told the Cavs were constantly looking for ways to convince James to stay. It sure sounds like making a move to grab Doncic, regardless of the additional stipulations, might’ve done the trick. It’s easy to hear today’s news and think Cleveland failed, that it saw an opportunity to woo James and instead said “pass.”

You should instead see it as the Cavs realizing what’s been evident ever since James announced he was joining the Lakers – he was never going to stay in the first place.

Everything we’ve heard in the days since he made his move has hammered this fact home. James’ relationship with owner Dan Gilbert was fractured beyond repair. Local beat writers have been noting how he’d essentially been planning his move to LA far earlier than this summer. James told the Cavs he didn’t need to hear any pitch, and they in turn didn’t feel compelled to make any major moves before free agency opened.

The bottom line is this outcome certainly seemed set in stone a long time ago. Acquiring Doncic wouldn’t have changed this.

For further proof, just look at the roster James just joined.

He signed with the Lakers despite their whiffing on every big name free agent available. James now leads a roster full of young and inexperienced talent. Since he joined the team, Los Angeles has added ill-fitting parts such as Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo. The Lakers, as currently constructed, might not even make the Western Conference Finals.

This isn’t meant to point out the flaws of James’ new team. It’s instead to highlight how his old one wasn’t a power move away from reversing this outcome, a reminder of how predetermined James’ destination was. Barring a mind-blowing, blockbuster move nobody saw coming — something far greater than trading up for Doncic — there wasn’t anything Cleveland could’ve done to change it.

Had the Cavs accepted Atlanta’s offer, moving up to grab the European star, James would still be a Laker. Cleveland would have a great rookie, sure, but the additional stipulations of the trade with Atlanta would’ve hamstrung the franchise. The team would’ve had to take on Bazemore’s $18 million salary, and the $19 million player option he has the following season that he’s sure to pick up. Toss in the fact Atlanta would likely fully own the Cavs’ 2019 first-rounder, and you can see how accepting the Doncic trade might’ve even made things worse.

Instead of this, the team has what appears to be a solid rookie in Collin Sexton, while also avoiding another ugly contract with no superstar to show for it. Though not necessarily appealing from a competitive standpoint, it’s easier to accept when you realize every path the team could’ve taken this summer ended with James in California.

Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook


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