The Cavs have their backs against the wall in the Finals, and it would take a Herculean effort for them to come back to stun the Warriors again. With no sign of Golden State’s dominance ending any time soon, rumors about LeBron James’s future in Cleveland have begun circulating. On the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Joe House and Bill Simmons discussed LeBron’s options.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Is It Time for LeBron to Leave Cleveland?
Simmons: [Kevin] O’Connor and I talked about whether there’s a possibility [James] might go to L.A. a year from now. You’re hearing more and more people talking about it now. What would you do if you were LeBron?
What’s your game plan? What’s the rest of your career looking like in your head? Let’s say you lose this series in five; let’s say they lose on Monday night. What’s your career arc, at that point, in your head?
House: So you have the luxury of being able to dictate your future on an annual basis. You love Cleveland, you brought a title to Cleveland, and that’s not just friends and family: That’s blood in Cleveland.
But can he feel like, "Well we were in the Finals every year after I came back, and we got to that one chip. I love you Cleveland, but I’m now 34, 35 years old" — which he will be.
Simmons: With crazy miles on him. After next season, he’ll have like, 54,000 [minutes] on him, including playoffs.
House: So I don’t think it’s nuts to think that he would look for a situation where he could play with other great guys. I mean, we just talked about this: All the great players want to play with other great players now.
Or Just Time for the Cavs to Trade Kevin Love?
Simmons: I think his best chance to succeed is to stay in Cleveland.
I wouldn’t want to leave Kyrie [Irving]. Who’s a better wingman than Kyrie right now? Kyrie’s unstoppable! I wouldn’t leave Kyrie. I think the fundamental problem with their team is that, if the Warriors are the hump they have to get over every year, they can’t play [Tristan] Thompson and [Kevin] Love together at the same time for long stretches against this Warriors team. They have to pick one. So either keep Love — which, if you get rid of Thompson, now you have basically no rim protection whatsoever — or you turn Love into something that can make you a little more dangerous. I go back to February, and he’ll deny it to his death, but I really do think LeBron was sending Spidey signals to his organization and his owner and his GM that he wanted to trade Love for Carmelo [Anthony]. Because they saw what was coming.
House: I’m glad they didn’t do that.
Simmons: Well, let me ask you: If Carmelo’s in this series, what’s different about it?
House: Impossible to say. Melo’s never played in the Finals; Kevin Love has. And I’ve been pretty impressed with Kevin Love this Finals. I’m glad that he’s healthy for these Finals.
Simmons: I’m not dissing Kevin Love, I’m just saying their best five players can’t really play together in this series. They have to play four of the five. And if you flip Love for Carmelo, now you can play Thompson, LeBron, Kyrie, Carmelo, and J.R. Smith or Korver or whoever. That just makes more sense. Now, on the other end, they’d be throwing Melo into just as many high screens as they did with Kevin Love. I personally think they would have a slightly better chance with Carmelo in this game because it would just allow them to put better people on. Now you don’t have to play [Iman] Shumpert all these minutes, and you don’t have to play Kyle Korver in crunch time and some of the stuff they’ve been doing.
House: I don’t like it. And the reason I don’t like it is because we’ve never seen Melo play genuinely committed defense at the highest level.
Simmons: Carmelo’s biggest games have been in the Olympics, unfortunately.
House: Right, so that doesn’t give you a good feel for what kind of defense he’s capable of, either.
The Cavs’ Only Option Is a Blockbuster Trade … or Nothing
Simmons: So if they could flip Kevin Love for Paul George this summer, which is conceivable — it’s not inconceivable, let’s put it that way — then LeBron could have Paul George and Kyrie Irving on his team with Thompson as the "Draymond Green." I feel like that’s toe-to-toe at that point.
House: I’m not there. I want Cleveland to keep Kyrie, Love. … They need to add one more piece and I don’t think [you can move] Love [or] Kyrie. I think you just need to add an asset.
Simmons: Yeah, but here’s the problem: It’s impossible. They have taken this roster and bled every single possible trade/move they can make out of [it]. There’s no more assets to get.
House: We just talked about this: The great players want to play with the great players. Dudes will take a little bit less. Maybe somebody’s willing to take a lot less.
Simmons: They can’t even use their exception because they got crushed by the [luxury] tax so hard. I mean, it would have to be somebody taking the minimum. To me it’s like: If you can’t play Love and Thompson against the Warriors for long stretches, then pick one and trade the other, and try to get something for the other. Because both of them have value.
Or Try to Wait Out the Warriors
House: I understand, as we sit here today, it looks like the Warriors could be built for the next three, four, five years. But life happens. Who knows if, you know, Steph’s ankle problem reappears?
Simmons: So you’re saying instead of making a trade, hire somebody to hurt one of the Warriors?
House: I’m not saying that, I would never say that!
Simmons: You just said to hurt Steph’s ankles!
House: I’m just saying life happens! You never know, you can’t try and solve for a single problem; there’s 30 teams.