Rumors of LeBron James's willingness to visit with the Golden State Warriors during this summer's free agency period hit the Internet and caused a chain reaction. LeBron James called the report "nonsense," Kevin Durant said it's not "even close to being a true story," and the Open Floor Podcast weighed in with an extensive discussion.
The Crossover's Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss whether LeBron leaked this report, if it's a pointed dig at Dan Gilbert and the how the Warriors would react if given the opportunity to sign James on the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast.
Check out the full episode here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).
Andrew Sharp: I’ve got to be honest; my first reaction was that this is just the ultimate defeat for LeBron. The rumor makes no sense, it would be a horrible decision if it ever happened, and even the decision to leak it is a sign of sad, kind of pathetic desperation that has got to make Golden State people pretty amused.
The Warriors could hang another banner based on this story. In 2017–2018 we drove LeBron James completely insane, because this is just a new low for him and for the Cavs, and I don’t really know what else to say about it. It doesn’t make sense; it feels like fake news almost, except that it was clearly leaked to ESPN’s Chris Haynes by someone in his camp.
Ben Golliver: Well, I have an explanation for you, but I’m also glad you mentioned this is sort of a new low, because I was thinking of comparison points to what has happened here to LeBron over the last two years. If you start the chart at ‘The Block’ and the Finals victory and you chart it to where he is right now, basically what you’re describing is Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns collapse. So I don’t know if we call him Le-Bear Stearns.
My explanation is this: Who would hate this news the most, more than anyone? You’re right; it obviously came out of his camp. Who would get the angriest, the most frustrated, the saltiest and also be feeling the most leverage from this report going public. There is no question it’s Dan Gilbert.
Sharp: I knew you were about to say Dan Gilbert. But I don’t understand what he’s hoping to accomplish on that front. Is this literally just twisting the knife and trying to annoy Dan Gilbert? Because he’s not really creating leverage. If I were Dan Gilbert, I’d be like, ‘You know what LeBron, if you want to set your legacy on fire, sure, let’s send you to Golden State and see how that’s received among the basketball community.’
Golliver: A couple thing. First of all, it’s more breadcrumbs. We talked about this going into last summer, the mistakes around the David Griffin situation, and then LeBron’s weird comments about Tyronn Lue. Having this all kind of come out, it’s once again putting the onus on Dan Gilbert. ‘Hey, man, you better make a trade to get our roster better or I’m gone and all the blame is going to fall on you.’ That’s part of it.
But the other part of it to be, it’s personal and it’s spiteful. That’s just my reading of it. If you’re Dan Gilbert and your reputation nationally is basically like a loan shark who is sucking the money out of the once great rustbelt cities for your own edification, you won one title, LeBron got all the credit for it and you spent a ton of money to do it but no one really remembers you that way.
The people who you envy and you’re angriest at the most, it’s the Warriors ownership group, the darlings of Silicon Valley, the people who get the puff pieces from the New York Times Magazine, the people who are building their own new arena in San Francisco and getting all the attention, all the accolades and all the recent winning—the people who are actually going to have sustainable success here potentially over the course of the next 10 years. They’re not entering this constant boom or bust mentally that the Cavaliers have been as they’ve kind of gone through the LeBron James experience. If you’re Dan Gilbert and you read this story, you’re irate. You’re just like, ‘Why is he doing this to me? I paid him, I paid all these other guys, his buddies.’ You’re just really, really angry, and then you’re staring at a choice: Do you trade your first-round pick or not? And LeBron’s making it pretty clear here—you better trade it, you better get me some help.
Sharp: He’s doing it in the lamest way possible, floating these Warriors rumors is a bad look for LeBron. Leaving aside whatever play he’s trying to make with the Cavs, this is just sort of a strange move, right?
Golliver: I’m glad you mentioned that too, because I think my ridiculous LeBron leverage idea are better than LeBron’s own ridiculous leverage ideas. When we go back one episode and we talk about the logic behind him forcing a trade to Houston here at the deadline and playing for a title this year, that makes way more sense than playing around and with these rumor about Golden State. It’s a bad look for LeBron but I also think it’s kind of a pointed jab. I think this is kind of getting personal between those two guys.
That’s my read on the situation. I’m not citing sources on that. This is just when you carefully track this stuff over nine months, it’s the most obvious explanation. Here’s a question I had for you on this, because you’re peppering me with questions here. You remember during that Hamptons meeting for KD. That pitch. Everyone shows up in contrast to Russell Westbrook sitting out Oklahoma City’s presentation. You had Steph there, you had Draymond, Kerr; everyone was on board with bringing KD, from the ownership to Jerry West to all of the players. I want to ask you this: If they had the opportunity to sign LeBron to a max contract this summer, who is on board from Golden State’s side? Given all the roster sacrifices that are going to be involved, you’d probably have to trade Klay, lose Iguodala, KD might have to take less money. Who actually gets on board with doing that? My first take is that a lot of those guys would be like, ‘Nah, we’re good.’
Sharp: Yeah, and I think that’s part of what makes this such a bad look for LeBron. It’s that once people start thinking this through, I don’t know if the Warriors need LeBron, I don’t know if the Warriors want LeBron. Even if he was willing to come there, even if were like, ‘You know what, I’m not going to ask for $35 million this summer. I will play at a discount to play for a winning organization.’ I don’t know that they would risk screwing up the next four or five years of potential title teams by bringing in LeBron, which is another reminder that we’re entering a different phase of his career, and it was just such a rough look.
To answer your question in the literal sense, there wouldn’t be holdouts. They would go as a team if they wanted to do that. But I just don’t think that as a team they would ever make that decision, and say it’s worth it for us to bring in LeBron. And one of the funniest parts of the report was when he was talking about LeBron courting organizations with stability. I think at some point we have to admit that LeBron kind of guarantees that you’re not going to have stability as an organization if you bring him in. Because he’s playing a key role in a lot of what’s been crazy about the Cavs over the last few years. And granted, David Griffin was fired or not extended in June, so ownership has a ton of responsibility here too, but you can’t deny LeBron’s role in all this.
Golliver: There’s no doubt there’s a clear contrast sort of locker room culture-wise between LeBron—which that’s basically you’re in escape room playing dodge ball blindfolded—and the Warriors, who are basically doing yoga on paddle boards on the Pacific Ocean on paddle boards at sunrise. Very clear difference.
Sharp: And that was honestly my only takeaway from all this. I don’t want to be the guy who’s out here just hating on LeBron, but this is one of those stories where it’s tough not to talk about how lame it is for him. The only way that this makes sense for me and not be kind of depressing is to think about how much fun the Warriors have had with this internally.
You mentioned the block on Iguodala, and the aftermath of that title, when he comes out wearing the Ultimate Warriors shirt—and it was all awesome, I loved every second of that Cavs title and the month of celebrations that followed—but since then, the Cavs have just taken loss after loss after loss. And it’s almost like Warriors fan-fiction, because it just keeps getting so much worse, and literally this is LeBron floating the idea of him playing in Golden State and everyone in Golden being like, ‘I don’t know, man.’
Golliver: Yeah, like I said, Le-Bear Sterns, man. Because you dodge my question, I don’t think Steph would really want him. I’m not sure KD would want him. I think Steve Kerr would really think long and hard about how he could make it work and bring everybody together, get the best out of LeBron. I think Bob Myers would have some interest in him. I think Draymond has a certain affection for him. I could just see that being a split room, and if you have a split room I don’t know how a transaction of that size gets done.
You’re focusing a lot on LeBron’s legacy, which is the right way to look at this, but let’s not forget Steph and KD have legacies too, and every time they beat LeBron in the Finals, their legacies ratchet up, they move up that all-time players list. Golden State would have motivation to look at that as a move with pros and cons in a way that basically every other organization wouldn’t.