The Most Powerful Cavalier is…Not LeBron James

LeBron James is getting increasingly frustrated by the no contract status of J.R. Smith. Smith, an important piece to the Cavs regular season and championship run, is lingering out there in no-man’s land, not in training camp, not involved in two-a-days, not basking in the limelight of being a NBA champion with his other NBA champion friends, not making presidential endorsements like James just did when he gave a passionate endorsement to Hillary Clinton.

If this is math, it is a simple equation in the LeBron James calculus rulebook. Give J.R. what he wants or close to it. Let’s ramp this up for back-to-back titles. But what LeBron doesn’t know or want to accept is that he has run out of leverage as far as influencing the Cavaliers front office. (Not so in Ohio politics). He may be the most influential athlete in all of sports when he is off the court. But inside his own organization, his influence is dwindling.

This is why.

LeBron signed a multi-year deal. He isn’t going anywhere. The threat of his departure makes everyone yawn because it is not going to happen. Furthermore, the return to Miami nostalgia is no longer in play now that Dwyane Wade has left his favorite city. LeBron will never ask to be traded. That isn’t his style. He will play and push and pull whoever is on the court to extreme heights. He is one of the greatest leaders the NBA has ever seen. He will continue to lead. With J.R. or without him.

LeBron’s age is working against him in the leverage department. He will be 32 this year. After thirteen seasons, starting his fourteenth, his career is about building his legacy. He wants to eclipse Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. Jordan won six titles for the franchise that drafted him. He was 6-0 in the NBA Finals. No other NBA player can say that, not even Bill Russell. Every other Hall of Famer who has won at least three rings has also lost in the Finals. Not Michael Jordan. So the airness mantle is a hard one to tear down. Still LeBron is trying. And that means staying put and doing everything he can to win at least two more titles.

LeBron can voice his impatience and frustration but he no longer motivates the Cavs decision making. He is getting paid. The Cavs team building and team paying onus is on David Griffin from here on out.

This is the Cavaliers organizational identity. They low ball players, believing players will cave. That was their strategy with Anderson Varejao in 2007. A restricted free agent, Varejao was unsigned and was at home when the regular season began. In December, he signed an offer sheet with Charlotte that the Cavs matched. Is J.R. willing to wait that long? The Cavs doubt it. And who is going to sign him to an offer sheet?

Last year with Tristan Thompson, the Cavs refused to blink and Thompson took far less than what he was asking for.

The Cavs have a J.R. Smith dollar figure and they are not going to budge. They fully believe role players like J.R. Smith eventually get desperate. They are not principled. They can’t sacrifice. So they will buckle when it looks like a deal isn’t coming.

J.R. has caved before. He did it last year. He signed a deal worth $5 million when he opted-out of a contract paying him $6.5 million. Now he is trying to recoup what he lost because he was impatient.

But the Cavs are not losing sleep. No other team wants J.R. Why would they? He’s a three point shooter who can play defense when he’s motivated. But he is also emotional, reactive, impulsive and burdened by scoring droughts. J.R. needs a LeBron James playmaker. And since the Clippers aren’t interested in pairing him with Chris Paul, where else is he going to go that will give him what Cleveland can, another chance at a title?

That is why the LeBron whining doesn’t matter. Inking a new deal meant he lost the right to bully the front office. The Cavs will pay J.R. what they want to pay him and when they want to.

David Griffin has all of the control. He built this championship team. He brought J.R. over from New York. He brought Iman Shumpert in. He hired Ty Lue as an assistant. He fired David Blatt. He made all the pieces work. This summer he picked up the Bulls crumbs and added Mike Dunleavy. So, it is safe to say he knows what he is doing. When and if the J.R. non-signing affects the psychology and pulse of the team, then he will fix it.

He is the most powerful man in the Cavs organization. Not LeBron James. And this is the most important thing- David Griffin knows it.


photo via llananba