The Cavaliers believed LeBron James was eventually headed to the Lakers as far back as 2016, but they missed an opportunity to send him off with another championship by mishandling the Kyrie Irving trade, writes Jason Lloyd of The Athletic.

Irving and the Cavs were both trying to protect themselves from the fallout of LeBron’s departure, Lloyd adds. Irving submitted a trade request that eventually landed him in Boston. Cleveland’s front office started the rebuilding process by making the Nets’ unprotected first-rounder the key part of an otherwise underwhelming package from the Celtics that also brought Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a second-round pick in 2020.

James was criticized for not reaching out to Irving and trying to change his mind about leaving the team, but he doesn’t believe he could have made a difference.

“I think by the time it got to me he wanted to be traded, I think he was already gone,” James said. “He was already gone and it was up to the organization to do their job and try to keep him as well. The guy still had two years left on his contract. They didn’t have to give him up. It could’ve been repaired then. Bring him in, let’s see what happens. I don’t think his stock drops if he still comes to Cleveland, see what happens and at the trade deadline you could still do it then.”

The Cavaliers were able to make their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals without Irving, but they were swept by the Warriors. Lloyd recalls that many of the Cavs’ players thought Golden State was beatable last year, but they didn’t have enough star power to make it happen.

There’s more from LeBron’s triumphant return to Cleveland:

  • Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert opted to skip Wednesday’s game, Lloyd adds, which underscores the state of his relationship with James. Although Gilbert’s reaction to James’ departure this time was more dignified than the letter he wrote in 2010, the relationship between owner and player has never fully recovered.
  • James received a loud ovation from Cavaliers fans during pre-game introductions and was grateful for a highlight video the organization put together, relays Chris Fedor of The video highlighted James’ accomplishments on the court and in the community, including the I Promise School that his foundation helped to establish.“They did it the right way,” Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson said of the video. “I think everyone understood and was almost like, ‘We appreciate this guy, he’s given us so much, he’s given us everything he’s got, so we appreciate it. If he wants to move on and start another chapter in his life, we’re all for it.’”
  • Last night’s warm reception was a stark contrast to how James was received when he returned to Cleveland with the Heat, notes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. In 2010, James was viewed as a traitor by fans and was portrayed as a villain by the team. “From the time we landed yesterday, it just felt a different way,” he said. “I’m a different person. We’re all different from eight years ago, I think, both good and bad.”

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