With LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland right around the corner, Joe Vardon of The Athletic revisits the 2017 trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston and contributed to James’ decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Lakers in 2018. As LeBron tells Vardon, the Irving deal with the Celtics helped signal the end of an era in Cleveland.

“Everyone knows that when Kyrie got traded it was the beginning of the end for everything,” James said. “It’s not a secret.”

In his account of how that Irving deal got done, Vardon writes that James spoke on the phone to Cavs general manager Koby Altman the day the trade was agreed upon. Vardon cites four separate people present for the conversation who say that – at the end of the call – Altman told LeBron the trade wouldn’t happen. However, the deal was completed shortly thereafter.

Cavaliers officials who spoke to Vardon denied that Altman gave James any assurances that the deal wouldn’t happen, adding that Altman asked LeBron if he’d commit long-term to the Cavs if they kept Irving, and he said no. In any case, James doesn’t feel as if Altman lied to him, according to Vardon — instead, the GM may have simply been overruled by team owner Dan Gilbert.

“You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby (was just named GM),” LeBron said. “But at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as (former GM David Griffin) had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much.”

While the Cavaliers still earned a spot in the NBA Finals without Irving, they were quickly dispatched by the Warriors, prompting James to seek a new challenge in free agency. Now a Laker, the four-time MVP will make his return to Cleveland this week, with the Cavs scheduled to host the Lakers on Wednesday.

As for Irving, he declined comment today when asked about his response to James’ comments, telling reporters that he’s done talking about his time in Cleveland (video link via Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston).

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