Conflicting reports muddy outlook on LeBron James' future in Cleveland

With one year left on LeBron James' contract in Cleveland, there's already speculation that James may be looking elsewhere for his next contract.

According to NBA writer Chris Sheridan, the 2017-18 season will be James' last with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sheridan tweeted on Wednesday that James is "100 percent leaving" Cleveland due to a schism between him and ownership. This offseason, general manager David Griffin was let go and caused uncertainty in the front office, perhaps leading to Kyrie Irving's trade request last month. NBA reporter Joe Vardon was quick to tweet out a conflicting report, stating LeBron hasn't made up his mind on a decision.

With the conflicting reports, I wouldn't say we know anything more than we did 48 hours ago. James has already left Cleveland once, but he's likely earned himself enough good will thanks to the 2016 title to leave again without inciting nearly the same outrage he did in 2010. However, his poor relationship with Dan Gilbert wasn't an issue in James returning to Cleveland in 2014 and Gilbert has made good on his promise to stay in the luxury tax to give LeBron the best chance to win titles.

While they may not know whether James has one foot out the door, the Cavs' front office is clearly uncertain about their star's future The Land. It's affecting how they go about trade talks involving Irving, potentially shifting focus from short-term to long-term assets.

How does this affect Celtics? Well, the most obvious way is that LeBron leaving Cleveland would significantly boost their title hopes for 2018-19 and beyond. However, if James truly does have his eyes focused elsewhere, it could heighten Gilbert's/GM Koby Altman's willingness to deal Irving to Boston, though likely only if Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown is on the table. If the front office believes LeBron is leaving, they have less incentive to take on short-term assets like Isaiah Thomas' expiring contract unless they're looking to tank post-LeBron.

And the team may have fewer gripes seeing Irving succeed in Boston if they aren't able to field a roster capable of competing with the Celtics (2017-18 notwithstanding).

Lastly, one wrinkle to James free agency talks is how it affects Thomas's leverage come next offseason. The free agent market will likely grind to halt until James makes his decision, as it did in 2010 and 2014. If James seeks greener pastures out west, Thomas would become the top free agent for the best team in the East.

After helping pitch Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, he'd have every right to view himself as the centerpiece to the East's elite squad. And the Celtics' brass wouldn't be able to point to the team's inability to top James and the Cavaliers as a reason to avoid the luxury tax or ask Thomas to take less money, thus increasing the chances Thomas sees something closer to the max.

As with the last decade, the actions of LeBron James will have the ability to shape the NBA landscape. Therefore, his next big move in July 2018 will be quite the spectacle to behold.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

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