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Pipe Dreams: Trading for LeBron James

LeBron’s time in Cleveland appears to be running out. So if he put himself on the trading block, is there any way the King could wind up in Memphis?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

After winning the title in 2016, the Cavaliers have been nothing short of a disaster. Their skinflint owner forced out a GM who did everything within his power to put a team around LeBron, causing them to miss out on an opportunity to add Paul George. And now Kyrie Irving wants to be traded.

To top it all off, Yahoo Sports reported that Cleveland, in their efforts to move Irving, are using LeBron’s unwillingness “commit to the Cavs long-term” as a sign that he’ll opt out of his $35.6 million option next offseason. It’s hard to blame him. After all, his presence is the only thing preventing the Cavaliers from becoming the Ohio Knicks.

If that’s the case, and LeBron has, as most reports imply, one foot out the door, why not (as Matt Moore suggests) trade him?

For Cleveland, this makes sense because it would allow them to recoup some value for their best player rather than losing him for nothing if he chooses to once again spurn Dan Gilbert. For LeBron, this makes sense because he could rid himself of Dan Gilbert sooner rather than later.

So let’s imagine for a moment that this happens. That, for whatever reason, the Cavaliers decide that they’ll move the greatest player of his generation and that James is willing. Is it possible that Memphis could get into the mix?

Let’s break it down.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Why it Wouldn’t Happen

That Matt Moore tweet notwithstanding, sources have reported that LeBron would not waive his no-trade clause. Whether that’s because he’s committed to playing out his contract or because he doesn’t want to do the Cavs any favors by allowing them the opportunity to get something back for him in a deal is a matter of debate, but either seems possible at this point.

And while Chris Sheridan tweeted on Wednesday that a source said it’s 100% certain that LeBron is gone, that his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert is too far gone, James’ camp has continued to refute those reports.

Of course, James’ long-term plans to stay in Cleveland may be irrelevant. Even if James allows himself to be put on the trading block, his no-trade clause gives him the power to pick his situation, and it’s hard to see a trade to the Grizzlies meriting the exercise of that option.

The biggest strike against Memphis is its location. LeBron has avoided the gauntlet of the West his entire career, and the talent discrepancy between conferences has only grown this offseason, Gordon Hayward’s move to Boston notwithstanding. The West boasts four teams at least as tough as anything LeBron would face on his way to the Finals in the East.

Moreover, the Grizzlies roster isn’t a particularly appealing destination, either. It’s hard enough figuring out what pieces to add to Chandler Parsons that Cleveland might actually want in a trade. The fact is that the Grizzlies don’t have great surrounding talent outside of Mike and Marc, and much of their roster is riddled with injury concerns.

In short, Memphis’ roster is less proven, more unknown, and riskier than that of the Cavaliers.

(This article will now pause for the reader to make the obligatory Jeff Green jokes.)

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Why it Could Happen

Those are some pretty big negatives against the Grizzlies, but they do have a couple of points in their favor.

Memphis’ second-year coach David Fizdale was with LeBron during his four years in Miami, and it would appear Fizdale and LeBron got along pretty well. When Fizdale got married, LeBron asked him to be in a Samsung commercial with him as a wedding gift. That sort of familiarity might be enough to convince LeBron.

As mentioned before, the Grizzlies don’t have a lot of supporting talent. But what they do have are Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, two talented, veteran players at (or at least close to) the peak of their powers. It’s not unreasonable to argue that Mike and Marc represent an upgrade over Kyrie and Kevin Love, even if the complementary pieces aren’t on the same level.

On a lighter note, maybe LeBron would accept a trade to Memphis to do them a favor and make up for sitting out his lone game in Memphis last season.

Okay, so the arguments for LeBron accepting a trade to Memphis aren’t particularly convincing. But since we’re already there, let’s go a little bit deeper into the daydream and pretend that LeBron decided he did want to come to Memphis. What sort of deal would the Grizzlies have to put together to make a deal work?

Here’s three options: a two-team deal simply between the Grizzlies and Cavaliers; a three-team deal; and a BLOCKBUSTER MEGA DEAL that might make your eyes bleed.

You’ve been warned.

Two-Team Trade

The problem with most of these trades is Memphis’ pick situation. In order to get LeBron and get off of Chandler Parsons’ contract (a necessity to make the salaries in any deal work) the Grizzlies would likely have to give up picks, and the fact is they don’t really have much in that department.

Boston owns Memphis’ pick in 2019 if it’s outside of the top 8, in 2020 if it’s outside the top 6, or 2021. In other words, the Grizzlies can’t trade a first round pick until 2021 at the absolute earliest. That’s not a great asset. The Grizzlies would likely have to either trade another future first (way down the line) or throw some combination of second rounders.

Note: Rade is included mainly to make the salaries work. It’s also possible that the Grizzlies, if they wait a little longer, would include Wayne Selden in this deal, either in place of Davis, Baldwin, or Rade, but the Trade Machine has its restrictions, and I can’t really work outside those restrictions, even for the sake of hypotheticals.

Three-Team Trade

The bright side of bringing Boston in to this is that the Grizzlies can get their pick back, allowing them to them turn to Cleveland and hand over their 2018 pick (and whatever else is needed), a much cleaner situation that the two team deal above.

So why would Boston do this? To start, it gets off $5 million per season in contracts by swapping out Horford for Gasol. More importantly, it cleans out their greatest competition in the East, all but paving the way for a trip to the NBA Finals. The real question is how much would Cleveland want for taking on that Parsons contract in this deal.

Four-Team Trade

I told you it was ugly. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In addition to bringing LeBron to Memphis, this trade has the added bonus of wrapping up all the loose-end trade rumors that have lingered over the offseason. Kyrie gets his wish and ends up in Madison Square Garden, along with Chandler Parsons, Deyonta Davis, and Rade.

The Knicks also get out of the Carmelo deal, as Lillard and McCollum’s recruitment pays off. The Grizzlies get LeBron James. The Cavs, on the other hand, get a few expiring deals, Lance Thomas, Wade Baldwin, and every draft pick known to man for taking on the contract of Evan Turner.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s enough draft picks in the world to make this happen. I just wanted to watch the world burn.


All jokes and poorly assembled trades aside, I think it’s safe to say that even if LeBron decides to allow himself to be put on the trading block, the Grizzlies shouldn’t count on being the team that induces him to waive his no-trade clause.

The fact is that the Grizzlies simply don’t have the trade capital—either in young talent or draft assets—to assemble the sort of package that might entice the Cavaliers. Their young talent is mostly theoretical, and the cloud of the Jeff Green trade still darkens their future.

So while it’s nice to daydream of LeBron James in Memphis, even for just a season, the fact is it’s little more than a J.R. Smith dream.

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