Irving still had two years left on his contract when he asked for a trade to get him away from the team’s uncertain future in the wake of LeBron James‘ upcoming free agency. The Cavaliers agreed to his demand, getting Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a draft pick that became Collin Sexton.
“It becomes a melting snowball,” Gilbert said. “We had to trade him when we did. What team would want Kyrie with only one year on his contract knowing he could leave after the season? You won’t get much back (under those circumstances).”
In addition, Irving’s agent implied that if the trade demand wasn’t met, his client might undergo knee surgery that would keep him out for most of the year. Irving wound up having two operations on his knee last season and missed the playoffs.
Gilbert expects Irving to move on again when he becomes a free agent this summer.
“I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” he said. “We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves (GM) Koby (Altman) made, we killed it in that trade.”
- James comes with “a limited shelf life” because of his age and contract situation, Gilbert said. LeBron reached the NBA Finals in all four years of his most recent stay in Cleveland, but was never willing to sign a long-term commitment, giving himself flexibility to leave if he didn’t like how the team was being run. “It’s a win now at all costs,” Gilbert said. “… It all revolves around the sun, which is him. Whatever pressure comes with it, it worked out. We won a title.”
- Gilbert denies that he was responsible for the decision to hire Michigan’s John Beilein as the team’s new coach. He said Altman came up with the idea and led a group of eight front office representatives who met with Beilein. “All eight loved him,” Gilbert said. “All eight wanted to hire him. They were polled individually. That caught my attention. This was a week before I met with John.” He also called the financial aspects of Beilein’s new five-year contract “very reasonable.”
- Unlike when LeBron left in 2010, Gilbert knows there’s no chance he will return someday to resurrect the franchise. So the focus now is creating a successful organization from scratch. “We have to build a culture and a team, beyond just adding a lot more talent,” Gilbert said. “I really believe in this front office and the coaching staff. We are putting together a team based on culture and character.”