In his first public reaction since LeBron James chose to leave his hometown Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, Cleveland general manager Koby Altman on Friday said he was “extremely thankful” for James’ contributions, but admitted “a level of hurt” over the superstar’s departure.
Talking to a group of reporters in Las Vegas at the site of the 2018 NBA Summer League, Altman explained the range of emotions he experienced in dealing with the loss of James, the greatest player in franchise history who led the Cavaliers to four straight NBA Finals and their only NBA championship in 2016.
“When you first get hit with it, there is a level of hurt,” Altman said, per ESPN. “You’re hurt because of what you went through for the four years with him and what he meant to us.
“But I was extremely thankful, at the same time. I realize what we accomplished this year and the last four years, and we did a lot. I mean, it was four incredible years led by him, and I’m very thankful for the years he gave our team, this organization, the city.”
Altman said he and the Cleveland front office felt the team had a legitimate chance to retain James, who opted out of his contract a week ago and became the most sought-after free agent in the league since, well, the last time James was a free agent four years ago — when he returned home for his second stint in Cleveland after four successful seasons in Miami with the Heat. The Cavs’ GM shared a conference call with James and agent Rich Paul the minute free agency officially began on Sunday at 12:01 a.m. ET.
Little did Altman know that after his call, James headed to meet with Magic Johnson at one of the Lakers president’s Brentwood, Calif., residences.
“I didn’t know that was going on,” Altman said of the LeBron-Magic meeting. “At that time, thought we were still in the mix, obviously. I think he was still going through his decision-making process. But found out sort of like you guys found out.”
Altman said he found out about LeBron’s latest free-agency decision when Paul called him Sunday, shortly after the world found out when Paul’s agency posted the news on Instagram.
“I don’t think it was anything we did right or we did wrong,” Altman said of James’ decision. “I think this was a decision largely for him, and he deserved that.”
The Cavaliers GM said after hearing the news, he immediately called a group of the team’s veteran players — including Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, JR Smith and George Hill. Altman wanted to inform the team’s remaining core that the Cavs wanted them back, and still aimed to win.
Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue later said on an NBA TV summer league broadcast that he also “was shocked and hurt a little bit by the decision. But like I said, we talked, and he said that I’m his favorite guy. He loved being coached by me. He loved the four seasons we had together, and that this decision was totally just a decision for himself and his family. I can live with that.”
Altman added of James, “So we can’t take it personal. We’re not bitter. We’re thankful and happy that he spent the last four years with us, and again, I personally have a lot of gratitude for what he did for my career as well, what he’s meant for me. I have a championship ring. That’s an incredible thing that we accomplished. So, no, we’re very thankful.”
—Field Level Media