Flashback to Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, and frame it as the true moment that would define the next generation of professional basketball in Cleveland. Its the 2nd quarter, the Cavs, facing a 3-1 elimination game in Golden State are already trailing by 15 with just over 3 minutes remaining. The crowd is going bananas — they can feel the home team pouncing on the overmatched Cavs, just one half away from their 2nd title in 3 years.
What would then transpire at the end of the 1st half in Game 5 defined the Cavs front office and potentially doomed their franchise from ever winning another title in the LeBron James era. By the time a fight for the ball breaks out between Kyrie Irving and David West, the refs stop play and both teams get antsy towards each other. Tristan Thompson, who was not having a spectacular series to say the least, is met with resistance from West, who has already muscled the much smaller Irving out of the fight for the ball. With anger and tenacity, West basically flung Irving several feet in the brief but intense tussle. Thompson was the first to approach West in defense of his superstar teammate, followed quickly by JR Smith and LeBron James.
What sticks out in this moment specifically is the nonchalant attitude displayed by Kevin Love the entire play. For all tense and purposes, Love can be seen in this moment with clear vision of the play, but instead of rushing towards his teammates with maybe a push or a shove, Love stands there with his hands on his hips. This says a lot about Kevin Love as a player and a competitor.
If your not willing to come to your teammates defense in an elimination game in the NBA finals, well why would they want to go to war with you? Was Kevin Love scared to engage with NBA enforcers like David West and Draymond Green? The game tape surely looks like it. Either way, if I was owner Dan Gilbert, or even GM David Griffin, surely my offseason would be geared around getting tougher players who match up better than Love at the power forward position. Considering the East is a crap-shoot and the NBA Finals are almost guaranteed keeping Kyrie and LeBron, moving Love simply seemed like the most logical thing to do.
However, the unthinkable happened. Maybe, the entire situation was doomed from the start. This is undoubtedly Cleveland professional sports, where usually if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. The first domino to fall was Dan Gilbert firing GM David Griffin. Actually, he wasn’t technically fired, his contract was simply not renewed. The two had been bumping heads and had serious disagreements over the future of the Cavs roster. Hell — heres a theory: maybe David Griffen thought it best to move Kevin Love for pennies on the dollar? Getting any 3rd star in Cleveland — even a Carmelo Anthony, for example, would give this Cavs team more juice to face Golden State next year. Reports around the league stated that there was considerably low interest for Kevin Love.
But it seriously begs the question, what was Dan Gilbert thinking? Surely this would be one of the most important off-seasons in franchise history, as the team was a roster reshuffle away from winning their 2nd title. To what extent that roster reshuffle would be is still up for debate, but in my humble opinion, if any of the big three had to go, it had to be K. Love. Surely, one would think that to ensure success, the current GM’s contract should have been renewed to guide this team in the right direction.
The nightmare for Cleveland fans continued as Dan Gilbert’s decisions created an NBA guideline of simply what not to do. And that decision was to involve Kyrie Irving in trade talks when he should have been untouchable, considering his role. After communication broke down between Kyrie Irving and the Cavs, more rumors surfaced that the Cavs were trying to move Kyrie for Paul George, which infuriated Irving and his camp. Making matters worse was the LeBron factor in the Cavs' decisions — was LeBron leading the charge to get Kyrie traded? Surely, Kyrie felt so, and leaked to the media that he no longer to play with King James.
Irving was bombarded with criticism that was well deserved. Media pundits argued that Irving was a losing all-star talent before LeBron got there and elevated the franchise to three straight finals appearances. Which is all true, but in Kyrie’s defense, without his dagger three over Steph Curry in Game 7 on the 2016 NBA Finals, the Cavs would be ringless. So his stake in the Cavs franchise was just as deeply rooted as LeBron James in many aspects. Kyrie used the media opportunity to push the narrative it was time to lead his own team, and his own legacy in the NBA, which should be admired.
After the Cavs media disaster of a 2017 offseason, what was left of teams’ front office had no choice but to trade franchise star and former number 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving away to their division foe, the Boston Celtics. Before assessing what they got back, its key here to note that nobody forced the Cavs to trade a franchise player to a team in the same division. The last team to do so was the OKC Thunder when they traded James Harden to the Rockets in 2012. Making this automatically the worst trade since James Harden, considering the pieces they got back in return.
Isaiah Thomas, the centerpiece in Boston’s trade package, was coming off a serious leg injury that could potentially derail his 2018 season. Jae Crowder is a decent “three and D” forward, and an unprotected first round pick in 2018 surely looks decent — on paper. But would it have been better than just keeping a disgruntled Kyrie in a Cavs uniform and making other moves? Definitely not. The 2017 NBA offseason for the Cleveland Cavs was a complete disaster, one to be remembered as a franchise killing and a large reminder of what not to do. Never trade your superstar player in his prime after reaching the NBA Finals. And if you can avoid trading him to a conference rival, don’t do that, either.