NBA Trade Deadline Portfolio 2018: LeBron James

It’s trade season, everyone! And that means everyone can be traded unless they can’t be! LeBron James is a person! Let’s see how this goes!
I’m not sure this is something that needs to be talked about. Nor am I sure that this is something that should be talked about. But damn it, we’re going to talk about it. LeBron James exists, and so do trades. Sometimes two different things come together to make one very special thing. Also, if we know one thing about anything in the NBA it’s that we know nothing. You can’t spell “LeBron James is never getting traded,” without realizing it can be shortened to “LeBron James is… getting traded.” Crazy how that works.
Now, I will admit that the likelihood of a LeBron James trade has always hovered around negative-eight percent. You see, LeBron James is the best player in the league. On one half of the deal, that’s great! You’d be getting the best player in the league! On the other side, though, it’s not great. You’d be losing the best player in the league. Deals often have to work for both sides, unless you’re trading Andrea Bargnani.
There’s a secondary complication. LeBron James has a no-trade clause. This means a trade can only happen if LeBron wants it to happen. This goes beyond just the other team involved in the trade, it means the assets involved as well. Generally if someone is going to trade the best player in the league, they’re going to want the best possible trade package in return.
But LeBron wouldn’t want his new team to do that. Hollowing out the team you’re going to to aid the team you’re leaving hasn’t worked out well in the past. Carmelo Anthony tried that once, and it led to Phil Jackson being hired. Now New York is a Mad Max type wasteland with abandoned cars and flaming subway rivers.
So the only way a trade would work is if there is so much dysfunction within the Cavaliers organization that LeBron is willing to leave Cleveland again and so early that he wants out in the next few days and that the turmoil makes management decide that the best player in basketball is no longer worth the hassle. Maybe a long string of bad games, or an injury to a star player, or snippy on-court behavior, or a dip in LeBron’s numbers.
But what are the odds of a long string of bad games…
Now to be clear, the above “hm” wasn’t a hm-well-I-guess-it’s-going-to-happen “hm” but a hm-that’s-weird “hm.” It is weird. It’s bizarre, and strange, and weird. It’s like all the stars have aligned only to realize the stars formed an ionic death ray and aimed it directly at Cleveland. Though as far as celestial death ray targets go, this one kind of makes sense.
So maybe we can push the probability of LeBron being traded from negative eight percent to a hefty negative two.
As far as on-court play goes, LeBron James is a known quantity as much as one can attempt to understand what makes a generational talent. He plays basketball real good. Sometimes he throws passes that go WHOOSH and then another person scores. Other times he gets angry, goes into the post, and nothing can be done. Death bludgeons you in the gut in the form of LeBron’s butt. Also, he’s the hometown hero who brought a championship back to Cleveland. This is the concept of an untradeable player.
It’s the off-the-court stuff that even makes this scenario negative-two percent viable, and also what gives this situation the potential to be anywhere from a big step forward to an unmitigated disaster.
For the Cavs, if things are getting so bad that the LeBron who twice made their franchise relevant and brought them a championship is someone they’re willing to trade, maybe there’s a good reason. Maybe all the anger and pettiness stems from him, and with him gone the team can form an offensive/defensive identity beyond “follow LeBron. You see that LeBron guy over there? Try to be where he wants you to be.” That’s the best outcome.
The other outcome is everything that’s ever happened. Team’s who have LeBron play worse when they don’t have LeBron. Think of the Cavs when he left Cleveland for Miami. Or Miami when he left for Cleveland. Or Cleveland every time he sits down in a game. No LeBron has never been better than yes LeBron. You’d have to get a hell of a package pack to be ready for that.
For LeBron, maybe he ends up in a situation he likes on a team that’s better. Or better and younger. Or better and younger with a team chemistry that his LeBronicity wouldn’t toxify. Maybe everything comes together and he can take down the Warriors and add to his legacy and so on and so forth. It seems LeBron wants championships. If he gets a championship, I’m sure he’d consider that good.
The other chance is that he’s just so fed up with the Cavaliers he’ll take any opportunity to get out as soon as possible. Dan Gilbert isn’t great at making friends. Maybe he’s tired of Kevin Love being tired of being next to LeBron James. Maybe Isaiah Thomas is too short and it kind of creeps him out. The grass is always greener until you realize that they just spray-painted some paper shreddings and glued it to wet plywood.
For the other team, the best outcome is acquiring the best player in the league.On the other hand, any amount of the unknowns could turn out to be the worst case scenario. If the situation were so impossible that LeBron is on the block, there has to be a risk involved. Maybe it’s one you can suss out and deem worth the chance. Or maybe you’re buying a bomb no matter what. It’d be a talented bomb, but even really nice things can blow up in your face and shoot little shrapnel 23’s through to the back of your skull.
There are just so many things that have to go wrong for a trade to be possible. And when that many things go wrong, the trade looks less and less of a good idea. If it can work for one reason, it won’t work for the other. LeBron is probably staying put. Or maybe he won’t. Let’s bump it up to a negative-one percent chance.

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