Whenever the idea of LeBron James returning to the Cavaliers this summer was broached during the NBA predraft camp last week, personnel from around the league met the topic with a mixture of snickers, laughs, eye rolls and direct denials.
"It'll be a short conversation," one agent said. "No thank you and have a nice day."
One more stunning, unexpected turn of lottery magic has indeed ensured the Cavaliers of having many nice days between now and the June 26 draft. But it has also left them with a grueling decision, and it's not simply choosing whom to take with the No. 1 pick.
Based on opinions from around the league, the Cavaliers' odds of luring James back to Cleveland before Tuesday were probably smaller than the 1.7 percent chance they carried into the draft lottery. Today, however, everything has changed.
Before the Cavaliers decide whom to take with the first pick, they have to decide whether to even keep it. Team personnel privately believed throughout the season the Minnesota Timberwolves would be forced into trading Kevin Love this summer, and despite half-denials from Timberwolves ownership, it appears that process might indeed be starting.
The Cavs have long viewed Love as the type of piece that would entice James to return to Cleveland (it's why they've tried acquiring him each of the last two years), but now it's risky.
Love is only under contract for next season before he can invoke an Early Termination Option and become a free agent. The new collective bargaining agreement deters players in this situation from signing extensions -- Love can make far more money by playing out his contract and entering free agency.
But the middle ground might be the Cavs persuading Love to waive his ETO for next summer, thereby ensuring they'd have two seasons to convince him to sign a long-term contract when his current deal expires.
Then the Cavs would have to hope that two-year commitment is enough to coax James back, which would then be enough incentive for Love and Kyrie Irving to sign long-term deals in Cleveland.
It's a complicated shell game with multiple moving parts, but new General Manager David Griffin has talked about being aggressive and owner Dan Gilbert is known for going all in on Plan A without worrying about a Plan B.
If the Cavs truly want to swing big, this might be their path. Of course, the timing complicates matters.
The draft is June 26, and free agency doesn't begin until July. The Cavs would likely have to make a deal for Love by draft night -- or else another team will -- and then risk James returning to them a few weeks later.
And it's certainly a huge risk.
Regardless of tampering rules, the Cavs should have some sort of idea of James' intentions before July 1. If he has no interest in leaving the Heat this summer, the Cavs would be foolish to go all in on Love by burning the No. 1 pick on such a gamble. I've yet to find anyone who believes Love would stay here long term without James by his side.
If James isn't returning, the Cavs would be much better off keeping the pick, making a selection and hoping another year of growth from this nucleus is enough to either entice James again next summer or eventually return to contention without him.
A portion of the Cavs fan base is understandably exhausted from this never-ending James saga, from the constant will-he-or-won't-he return. But as long as he is the greatest player of his generation and the best player in the game, teams that believe they have a chance at acquiring him will strategically maneuver whatever is necessary to get it done. That includes the Cavs.
The Cavs' summer of wonder just became deliciously intriguing. Griffin has warned of personnel changes to make the roster fit together better, and with the potential for three first-round picks in 2015, more than $20 million in cap space this summer and another No. 1 pick at their disposal, he has plenty of options.
What no one knows, at least not yet, is whether one of them will ultimately include James.
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