The 2018 NBA Draft is now history after the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted University of Alabama point guard Collin Sexton at the No. 8 spot in the first round. The 19-year old spitfire was high on the Cavs draft board after workouts with them went well.
With Sexton on board, Cleveland now has a solid point guard to replace Kyrie Irving, their former playmaker which they took with the first overall pick of the 2011 draft.
But the bigger picture question is this — will he be enough to keep LeBron James in a Wine and Gold uniform or do they need to trade him for a veteran to retain the services of the 14-time All-Star?
Many believe that the Cavs chose the explosive guard regardless of James’ decision in the offseason. James has until July 29 to opt-out of his player option for the 2018-19 season and become a free agent.
Cavs management and LeBron
After the Cavs drafted Sexton, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin got hold of Cavs GM Koby Altman regarding the front office’s communication status with James and his team.
“We continue to have good dialogue with his management team,” Altman said. “I think LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does. He’s done that before, so this is nothing new for us.
“We want to respect his space during this process, and I continue to have really good dialogue with his management team as he goes through that process. That’s probably all I can say at this point regarding him, but we don’t take him for granted. We love him, this city loves him. He means the world to us and this franchise.”
Could it be that James and the Cavs management are subtly working together toward rebuilding the team into a championship contender?
The King’s Return
Back in 2014 when LeBron James released his Cleveland comeback letter through Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, the Cavs had just drafted No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins to be the franchise’s next great superstar. In his letter, he mentioned the young stars that made up the core of the talented but inexperienced Cavs — Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
Wiggins was inexplicably missing. Or maybe not so inexplicably.
It was widely believed that James was coming back not just to fit in and help the Cavs get to the playoffs, but to make a run at a championship immediately. To do that, he needed another All-Star to complete the triumvirate that was necessary to get them to the top.
Kevin Love was a tremendous player and one of the top forwards in the game. But he wanted out of Minnesota and he was going to be that other guy that James wanted. The Cavs couldn’t get him without paying a price and that meant giving up Wiggins.
The speculation then was, when LeBron James agreed to return to Cleveland, one of the young guys had to go and that had to be the untested Wiggins, which is why James’ letter never mentioned him by name. For the team to acquire a third All-Star, preferably a big man, they had to dangle Wiggins and his potential for superstardom to any team that was listening.
It was undeniable that James had the inside track on management’s plans for the team if he would return. When he announced his comeback, the superstar forward specifically didn’t include Wiggins knowing that the kid would be traded anyway.
Better to not keep young players’ hopes up, right?
Fast forward to 2018.
It’s hard to imagine that the Cavs have no idea what James wants to happen for the team to keep him. More than likely, he has made his conditions known to team owner Dan Gilbert and Altman and that they are now positioning themselves to acquire a veteran All-Star or two to get back to the Finals with a fighting chance to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.
To do that, there’s a chance that Sexton may not be around for long.
Any Takers for Collin Sexton?
The NBA is in the golden age of point guards. Almost every team has an above average playmaker who can break down the defense, pass the ball to the open man, and make a 3-pointer.
If the Cavs decide to trade Sexton, it will have to be to another team that has a veteran point guard or one that has an All-Star that can fit in with James’ talents. There are several teams that have either or both.
After another first-round exit, the Portland Trail Blazers may eventually trade Damian Lillard or his backcourt mate, CJ McCollum. Then, there’s Jrue Holiday who could be had if the New Orleans Pelicans decide to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins and need to get under the cap. There is Karl-Anthony Towns who appears to be disenchanted with the franchise’s direction despite entering the playoffs for the first time last season.
And what about Kawhi Leonard? The Spurs prized possession wants to go back to his roots and play for the Lakers, but he may be had at the right price. Perhaps he could be convinced to go to the Cavs and get a chance to play with James on a championship contender.
The Cavaliers have to come up with a very good trade package to convince any team to give up their All-Stars for an unproven player in Sexton, albeit one with the potential to become one himself. Otherwise, they may not get much in return.
The Case to Keep Sexton
Sexton was the best available talent in the eyes of Altman and they probably believe that he can be the centerpiece to their rebuilding efforts if James chooses to play elsewhere. At the same time, Sexton can play with the Cavs forward even if James decides to stay and be the team’s second option on offense.
During a college game, Sexton nearly pulled off an upset when he scored 40 points as Alabama played 3-on-5 against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Due to an altercation in the game, players were tossed and a later injury further depleted their roster. Sexton was spectacular in the 89-84 loss, making his case for a lottery selection.
That game sums up what the Cavs are getting with Sexton, an ultra-competitive and talented player who can will his team to a win or at least get them back in a game.
That’s something that the Cavalier bench lacked in the 2018 playoffs. Sure, there were moments when J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, George Hill, Jeff Green, and Love played well, but their contributions were too sporadic to provide any consistent support to James.
Sexton could change that.
But adding the 19-year old to the Cavs current lineup is not enough for them to win even just one game against the Golden State Warriors if they meet again in the Finals. This means that the Cavs are far from being done with their work this summer even if James re-signs with the team. They will have to bring in veterans who are capable of playing on the biggest stage.
The Cavs could keep Sexton and trade away their players with huge contracts. Those would be the contracts that belong to the aforementioned Hill, Smith and forward/center Thompson. The Cavs will have to hold a fire sale in order for any team to consider trading for any of these players. One player in particular who may be immovable is Smith whose infamous Game 1 in the 2018 Finals may be the most damaging blunder of his career. There is absolutely no market for Smith.
However, despite their pricey contracts, there could be some takers for Hill and Thompson who will prove valuable to teams needing veteran leadership. The trick is in convincing these teams to take either of these two knowing that the Cavs are looking to do this to bolster their own title hopes as well. It’s not an impossible task but it may be close to improbable.
Altman has his work cut out for him if they want to keep Sexton while getting rid of bad contracts. More than likely, the Cavs will have to package one or more along with Sexton just to get the All-Star that they want.
If he can somehow get rid of these contracts, it would open the door for other top free agents to join the Cavs such as Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins.
Will the Cavs Pull Off a Wiggins-Love Type of Deal with Sexton?
If the Cavs want to retain the King’s services and remain a title contender, the easiest way is to revamp the roster through a complete overhaul. That includes dealing Sexton along with a few of the immovable parts to get value. But that could bite them in the end if James still sees the team as inadequate and refuses to re-sign.
The safe bet is to keep Sexton and a few key pieces and trade away as many big contracts as possible, even if it means not getting as much value in return.
If they can do that, then perhaps they can get a free agent or two who will sign with them with or without James. That way, regardless of the results, the Cavs can be competitive regardless of the four-time MVP’s decision.
That is so much easier said than done but at least have they Sexton to build their team around.