Reimer: LeBron James possibly leaving Cavaliers in 2018 may have led Celtics to trade No. 1 pick

Alex Reimer
June 19, 2017 - 3:06 pm

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

A tweet last week from a fake Adrian Wojnarowski account duped the "Around the Horn" crew into debating the possibility of LeBron James opting out of his contract with the Cavaliers next year and signing with either the Clippers or Lakers. But interestingly enough, NBA reporters Frank Isola and Ramona Shelburne, who were on the panel, didn't discount the faux report. Instead, they bought into it, with Isola calling James' apparent plans the "worst kept secret in the NBA."

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge surprised most of the basketball world Saturday when he traded the No. 1 overall pick to the 76ers in exchange for the No. 3 selection and a future first-round pick. Given that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz is the consensus No. 1 selection, it's apparent Ainge isn't as enamored with him as other talent evaluators. In an interview Sunday with Bradford & Giardi, ESPN's Jeff Goodman said Duke forward Jayson Tatum would be the best fit for Boston. "Jayson Tatum is a Paul Pierce type player, he explained. "Not as athletic, but he can score the ball. He’s 6-foot-8, he’s got an unbelievable step-back jumper." 

Armed with potentially seven first-round picks in the next three drafts, the Celtics now possess the chips to make a run at an established star player, or two –– without entirely forfeiting their ability to build for the future. Stephen A. Smith reported Monday on "First Take" that league sources tell him the Celtics intend to use some of their newfound draft capital towards acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Bulls. In addition, Smith says they plan to make a run at Gordon Hayward in free agency. Hayward, who's been linked to the Celtics for months, played under Brad Stevens at Butler University. 

The Celtics adding Butler and Hayward to their pre-existing nucleus of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Avery Bradley –– Jae Crowder would seemingly be on the way out if Butler and Hayward were brought aboard –– would probably make them the surefire No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference on paper. But they still wouldn't be better than the Cavaliers, which makes it difficult to applaud the move today. 

That is, unless the phony Wojnarowski tweet about James opting out of his deal with the Cavaliers has some truth to it. And it appears as if that's the case. The real Wojnarowski said last week there's a feeling around the league that James will likely "head out west to one of the two LA teams." Comcast SportsNet's Brian Scalabrine took Wojnarowski's speculation one step further Friday, guaranteeing James makes the move to LA. 

Ever since he first reached free agency in 2010, James has only signed short-term deals in an apparent effort to keep his options open. In his first two years back with Cleveland, he signed one-year contracts with player options. His latest deal is for two guaranteed years, with an opt-out before year three. 

While James' homecoming was a nice story, it's important to remember the Cavaliers offered him a better chance to win than most other destinations. With point guard Kyrie Irving already on the roster, the Cleveland could supply him with a dynamc running mate right away. The Cavaliers also traded the 2014 No. 1 pick, Andrew Wiggins, to the Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love. The James-Irving-Love trio has played in three straight Finals, winning one of them. 

Throughout his entire career, James, who owns a home in Brentwood, has always been on the lookout for the best opportunity. With that history in mind, it wouldn't be surprising if he abandoned the Cavaliers in 2018. The Lakers, who are reportedly the favorites to land Pacers forward Paul George once he becomes a free agent, would appear to be the perfect match. Much like the Cavaliers in 2014, they also have a young star at point guard, D'Angelo Russell, who could be James' running mate.

The Eastern Conference would open up the moment James deserts Cleveland. The Celtics, assuming they're able to land Butler and Hayward –– or other star players of their ilk –– could immediately position themselves as the favorites in the Cavaliers' absence. They would still have to surpass the Warriors, or James' latest Super Team, but they could run the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. Their abundance of draft picks guarantees they'll have an influx of young talent, too, which means they can still build for the long-term if James opts to stay in Cleveland. 

Trading the No. 1 pick gives the Celtics more flexibility, not less. If James bolts to Los Angeles in 2018, they'll be ready to pounce. 


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