Could the Cavs trade LeBron?

Of course they could, but would they?

Henry Abbott of ESPN’s TrueHoop suggests that if LeBron’s flirtation with the Knicks continues, the Cavs may want to investigate the idea of trading LeBron instead of getting nothing for him if/when he leaves via free agency in the summer of 2010.

First, he discusses LeBron’s recent behavior over the last few months…

Even if you want to leave all your options open, all you have to say is that you love playing in Cleveland, you’re from Ohio, and you’ll worry about your next contract when this one is done.

That would be enough to get the amplifiers turned up. Teams would still clear cap space for you, just in case. But that’s not enough for LeBron James. He’s taking it to a whole different level. His amplifier goes to eleven.

The Yankees hat, the coy talk, calling New York his favorite city … I hope Cleveland pharmacies are stocked up with Maalox this Thanksgiving, because Cavalier fans are feeling the indigestion.

In PR terms, I see that quote above, and the others we have seen like it, as LeBron James slapping Danny Ferry, owner Dan Gilbert, and Cleveland fans across the face.

Then Abbott moves into trade talk…

I hear you, I hear you. YOU DON’T TRADE LEBRON JAMES. YOU JUST DON’T.

GM 101.

I know. I agree.

And I know that there are far more Dans — Ferry, Gilbert, and the like — in this world than there are LeBrons. The superstar ultimately holds the cards, and everyone else should act accordingly.

But that doesn’t mean you stand idly by as they loot the store. If at any point the Cavaliers believe LeBron James is going to leave as a free agent in 2010, it’s time to start preparing Cavalier fans for the fact that you might trade the guy.

At the very least, it might dim the lights a little on the LeBron James flirtation show.

Or it might end up being smart to actually trade him.

If he walks, top teams will have cap space in 2010, but it’s a good bet that the premium markets will be the ones to attract the blue chip talent like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In other words, Cleveland’s plan B for cap space in 2010 is probably not as sexy as New York’s. So better to trade for an asset that you can then pay more than anyone else to keep.

And let’s not pretend this free agent negotiation is really going to come down to some team executives wowing LeBron James with a nice tour of the city two summers from now. The Knicks, Nets, and Pistons have made their moves. The cards are on the table. There’s no good reason the decision makers in the LeBron James camp wouldn’t already have a good idea how they’d rank the contenders at this point. The only information to come is who is going to win the championships in 2009 and 2010, and who else might gain cap space.

So my point is, if you’re Danny Ferry, and you don’t have strong private conviction that LeBron James is harmlessly flirting, don’t you have to at least know what’s out there?

I know we have some Cavs fans that are regular readers; I wonder what they think of this kind of talk.

My first thought is that you don’t trade LeBron James. You do whatever you can to keep him, because the reward is worth the risk. Nothing you’re going to get in return is going to be worth what you lost. But if the writing is on the wall, and it becomes clear that LeBron is indeed going to leave, it might be worth thinking about. However, there’s a fine line between the realization that your superstar is truly leaving and taking action (i.e. floating the idea that he is “available”) that might shut the door on that superstar potentially re-upping with your team. You don’t want to push him out the door if you still have a 10-20% chance of re-signing him.

The other issue is the availability of potential trade partners. Like Kobe’s flirtation with the Bulls last year, it’s going to be tough for the Cavs to find a team that has enough to offer in trade while still having enough talent leftover to coax James to re-sign with the team once his contract is up. James doesn’t have a “no-trade” clause like Kobe, but the implication that he won’t re-sign would be enough to keep most teams from gutting their roster in order to get him.

One thing’s for sure – as long as LeBron keeps answering questions about his future, this story is not going away.

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LeBron and the Cavs visit New York tonight

It should be an interesting scene at MSG tonight as LeBron comes to town on the heels of the Knicks’ cap-cutting trade that sent Zach Randolph to the Clippers. Rachel Nichols speculates on what the scene will be like tonight:

Concerns over Mobley’s heart condition holding up Randolph trade

Zach Randolph has joined the Clippers, but he can’t play until Cuttino Mobley sees a heart specialist.

The source said Mobley would see a heart specialist on Tuesday.

When asked about ESPN.com’s report by reporters after the Clippers game on Monday, coach Mike Dunleavy said: “From the standpoint of Cuttino’s concern, there’s nothing they have or don’t have that hasn’t been known to us or hasn’t been approved by us and all the other teams he’s played for. Neither one of those guys has had any issues with any of the things that are even being talked about.

“All I know is that if Cuttino has anything, he’s been asymptomatic,” Dunleavy said. “He’s never had any issue with us. There’s never been one time that he missed a practice or missed a game or had any issues in any physical of any kind for us. I mean, I’ve been told by our doctors that the things that are under concern is not something that we haven’t known about or have had any issues with. So hopefully, it won’t be an issue.”

Another source told ESPN.com that Mobley’s condition has been present throughout his career and has never been a grave concern, although the Knicks were prudent in their diligence.

On the surface it would be hard to imagine the Knicks wanting to void the trade because they achieved their goal of clearing Randolph’s contract (which carried two more years and $33.3 million after this season).

No disrespect to Cuttino Mobley, but why would the Knicks even care if he has a heart condition? This trade is mostly a salary dump, though there is the possibility that Mobley and Tim Thomas may see some minutes this season. But really, if Mobley weren’t able to play, would the Knicks really take Randolph (and his salary) back?

If your goal is to free up cap space to make a run at LeBron James in 2010, and you’ve successfully found a sucker to take on Zach Randolph’s contract, then why would you jeopardize it by holding up the deal?

Click here for an in-depth analysis of how the Randolph trade affects the Knicks’ future salary cap flexibility.

For Knicks, Randolph trade is all about 2010

GM Donnie Walsh has pulled the trigger on another trade. After trading Jamal Crawford for Al Harrington, Walsh sent Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins to the Los Angeles Clippers for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas. The Knicks have long been looking to rid themselves of Randolph and his fat contract (which runs an additional two seasons at the tune of $33 M), even going so far as to “feature” the forward this season, allowing him to post near-career numbers (20.5 points, 12.4 rebounds), despite shooting just 43% from the field. If there are any Knicks fans wondering why Mike D’Antoni was playing Randolph 35 minutes but only giving 28 to David Lee, this is probably the reason why.

By allowing Randolph to lead the team in scoring and rebounding, the Knicks were simply baiting another team to trade for him. In this case, it was the Clippers that came knocking. The team is 2-11, and still clearly reeling from offseason loss of Elton Brand. Randolph is sort of a “Brand Lite,” in that he can do a lot of the same (offensive) things as Elton, he just can’t do them very efficiently.

But this trade should be examined from a fiscal standpoint, because in this case it’s all about the money. Mobley and Thomas both have contracts that expire in the summer of 2010, when a number of high-profile free agents (including LeBron James) should hit the free agent market. By trading away Randolph, the Knicks are now only on the hook for $20 million. In fact, no Knick is currently under contract for the 2010-11 season, but Eddy Curry ($11.3 million) and Jared Jeffries ($6.9 million) are likely to exercise their player options. And based on his improved play this season, the team is likely to exercise its option on Wilson Chandler’s rookie contract. These three deals roughly equal $20 million. There is also Danilo Gallinari’s rookie contract to consider, but the team will likely take a wait-and-see approach given the young forward’s balky back.

The trade also allows the Knicks to re-sign David Lee and Nate Robinson if they choose to do so. Over the past couple of seasons, the conventional wisdom was that the franchise would not be able to keep both players if they hoped to have the necessary salary cap space to make a run at one or two big-name free agents in 2010. With only $20 million committed, the Knicks could sign one or both players, but they need to be careful not to overpay.

Lee’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is down from a terrific 18.18 last season to a below-average 14.25 this season. Looking at his stats, his numbers have taken a dive in two categories: rebound rate (17.5 to 12.9) and true shooting percentage (60.6 to 56.2). The TS% is not guaranteed to bounce back, but with the departure of Randolph, there should be plenty of rebounds for Lee to gobble up.

So what is he worth? Well, it would be a coup if the Knicks could sign the 6’9” forward to a deal somewhere in the range of $6-$7 million per season. He’d be a nice fit alongside LeBron on the front line, but the truth is that Lee is the kind of player that can fit in with just about anyone.

While Lee has struggled with some of his numbers this season, Robinson is having a career year in D’Antoni’s system. His PER (18.07) represents a healthy jump from his numbers last season (15.70) and is currently the 12th-best amongst point guards. This rise can be mainly attributed to his better shooting and passing under D’Antoni.

Robinson has shown promise, he’s still just 5’9”, so the Knicks need to be careful not to pay him the kind of salary that a bigger guard (posting similar numbers) would command. Still, his production in D’Antoni’s offense has been terrific, so a salary in the $5-$6 million range seems appropriate if the team views him as its point guard of the future.

So, conceivably, the Knicks could have a core of Lee, Robinson and the improved Chandler, along with a payroll of about $33 million heading into the summer of 2010. Assuming a salary cap of $60 million (which is a conservative estimate), that’s plenty of space to sign LeBron. Given the Nets struggles with the move to Brooklyn, it suddenly looks like the Knicks are LeBron’s most likely landing spot. Playing in Manhattan would only serve to boost his monstrous profile – remember, he said his top goal is to be a “global icon” – and he’s already comfortable with D’Antoni after the two worked together the last few summers as part of Team USA. Moreover, D’Antoni’s up-tempo attack would be a perfect (and attractive) fit for LeBron’s skill set.

The Knicks would have an additional $18 million in 2011 once the contracts of Curry and Jeffries are off the books, but if the team is able to rid themselves of those contracts prior to that fateful summer, or if they elect just to re-sign only Lee (or only Robinson) they would have the cap room to sign not one, but two superstars.

Just imagine a lineup of LeBron, Lee, Robinson and Chandler along with the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire, and D’Antoni’s decision to move to New York instead of Chicago becomes much more clear.

Knicks, Warriors agree to Crawford/Harrington trade

Al Harrington said he wanted out, and the Warriors have swung a deal to send the forward to the Knicks for Jamal Crawford.

Harrington went public with a trade demand just before the start of the season after privately urging Golden State to move him for months. New York had immediate interest, seeing the versatile and mobile Harrington as an ideal frontcourt fit in new coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system.

It will require the Knicks to part with Crawford, their leading scorer and another player they had pegged to flourish under D’Antoni. The Warriors, according to NBA front-office sources, see Crawford as a versatile guard who, although not a pure floor leader, can function well in coach Don Nelson’s system while Monta Ellis recovers from ankle surgery — and in tandem with Ellis once he returns.

Yet it’s believed that Walsh has multiple motivations for re-acquiring one of his favorites. Another sizable lure is Harrington’s contract, which pays him $9.2 million this season, $10 million next season and expires after the 2009-10 campaign. That meshes with New York’s intent to slice payroll and get as far under the salary cap as possible for the highly anticipated free-agent summer of 2010 to join the bidding for Cleveland’s LeBron James.

Crawford has a player option after this season that would extend his contract by two years and $19.4 million. He is likely to exercise that option, so the Knicks were smart to move him if the main goal is to cut salary prior to the summer of 2010, when a number of high-profile free agents may hit the market.

The combo guard is playing the best ball of his career, and at 28, he is in his prime. He should be a nice fit in Golden State with or without Monta Ellis at his side. Crawford can run the point, but his natural position is off guard. He’s a volume shooter, as he has only shot better than 42% once in his career. But when he gets hot, he’s an unstoppable scorer.

Al Harrington has seen his numbers decline over the last few seasons after falling out of favor with Don Nelson. He should be a good fit as a power forward in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo attack. He’s athletic and can hit the long ball pretty effectively. I’m not sure what this means for David Lee, who plays the same position as Harrington (albeit in a very different way). It’s possible that the Knicks will package Lee with Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry in order to sweeten the pot for potential trade partners. Getting rid of either contract would go a long way to clearing serious cap space in the near future.

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