Cleveland Cavaliers maintain contention status, but still face uncertainty

Scott Howard-Cooper

Scott Howard-Cooper NBA.com

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Aug 23, 2017 12:56 AM ET

 

How does this trade impact LeBron James' future in Cleveland?

In the real sign of the predicament, the Cavaliers solved the Kyrie Irving problem Tuesday yet didn’t solve much while still facing an uncertain future at point guard, still facing an uncertain future period and dealing all over again with the regrettable move to break up with general manager David Griffin.

The Cavaliers did keep themselves in contention for another East championship by acquiring win-now veterans Isaiah Thomas, as Irving’s replacement at the point, and Jae Crowder, as a big gain for the defense, from the Celtics for Irving. Boston may have just moved past Cleveland as conference favorites, but the Cavs remained a threat by not going full rebuilding mode. Among the rest of the return package for Irving, rookie center Ante Zizic is a prospect worth tracking and the unprotected Nets 2018 first-rounder is obviously a payoff down the line.

> Offseason trade tracker: Who's gone where this summer

This is just a different kind of twisted knot, though. While the case can be made the Cavaliers emerged from the gloom of Irving’s trade demand as well as could have been hoped -- Thomas and Crowder to help now, a future of Zizic and likely at least a top-five pick in what is shaping into a very good Draft -- the franchise that is suddenly, strangely in need of stability acquired none.

 
Cleveland wanted Jayson Tatum in the deal, but Boston held firm.

Thomas is a free agent after one season. Maybe he reaches training camp without coming close to offering a long-term commitment. Or maybe he declares eternal devotion, turns out to be a great fit and owner Dan Gilbert is agreeable to the max contract Thomas has been openly seeking a year away. Maybe that is the case regardless of the rest of the roster because Thomas turns 29 in February and, by every indication, has many productive years ahead. But that is a lot of uncertainty when it’s the best player Cleveland hauled back for Irving.

An unproven general manager, Koby Altman, will be running his first draft room when the Brooklyn pick that went from the Nets to the Celtics and now the Celtics to the Cavaliers is finally on the clock in June. Speaking of uncertainty.

All of this -- the split with successful Griffin, the Irving departure, another transition for the ultra-resilient Thomas, ramping up to the 2018 lottery -- of course plays out with the possible departure of LeBron James in a little more than 10 months as an ominous backdrop. If James leaves as a free agent, the Cavs are going off the side of a cliff no matter what, except that now maybe they don’t have LBJ or Thomas for more than a season.

 
NBA TV breaks down the new-look Cavaliers and Celtics.

The team of three consecutive Finals appearances, and one crown in that time, is just trying to hold on. Since June alone, the Cavaliers lost four of five to the Warriors in The Finals, split with Griffin, got turned down by Chauncey Billups as the first choice to replace Griffin, was told Irving wanted to be traded, and then traded Irving, all amid building rumors that James had moved to the escape hatch.

Meanwhile, the Celtics added Gordon Hayward as a free agent, Jayson Tatum in the Draft and, on Tuesday, Irving.

That’s some three months for Cleveland. For now, though, the Cavaliers have a roster that can at least challenge in the East, and that’s something. It’s just not stability.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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