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As his Cavaliers prepare for their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James revealed to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (via ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst) that he called management to ask them to keep Irving.
“Even if you start back to the summertime where I felt like it was just bad for our franchise just to be able to trade away our superstar point guard. A guy that I had been in so many battles with over the last three years and obviously I wasn’t a part of the communications and know exactly what went on between the two sides. But I just felt like it was bad timing for our team.”
Irving revealed on ESPN’s First Take in September that he had no communication with James throughout the process:
The Cavs ultimately ignored James’ request, as they shipped Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas (who was recovering from a hip injury), Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets‘ unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick. The Celtics also agreed to include a second-round pick after concerns about Thomas’ health threatened to nix the deal.
The trade did not work out as well as Cleveland had hoped. The Cavaliers dealt both Thomas and Crowder as part of a midseason roster overhaul, and the Nets landed the No. 8 overall pick rather than a top-three selection.
Irving, on the other hand, helped Boston (55-27) put up the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, finishing five games ahead of Cleveland. The All-Star point guard underwent season-ending knee surgery in mid-March, but he averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists in his first year as a Celtic prior to going down.
In January, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com reported Irving threatened to have knee surgery and sit out the season if the Cavaliers did not grant his trade demand.
James and the Cavaliers ultimately defeated the Irving-less (and Gordon Hayward-less) Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. As their reward, they get a fourth straight showdown with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Cleveland enters the series as the biggest Finals underdogs in the past 16 years, according to ESPN.com’s David Purdum.
The Warriors would not be as heavily favored to win their third title in four years if Irving was still a Cavalier and healthy. After all, Irving helped deliver the Cavs’ first championship two years ago with the game-winning shot in Game 7.
Now, James and the rest of Cleveland can only wonder what would have been had management listened to the four-time MVP and not traded one of the greatest players in franchise history.