The first part of that off-season plan is figuring out what to do with All-Star Kevin Love — the team's best player and most valuable trade asset.
It's a complicated choice with numerous layers.
The Cavs have been adamant about fighting for a playoff spot. They are in much better shape than 2010 — the first time James left the organization in ruins. Love is an All-Star, the kind of offensive weapon that playoff-contending teams covet, but he can also play an important role for the retooling Cavs, serving as a veteran leader and offensive focal point.
Even with Love entering what could be the final year of his contract (he has a $25.6 million player option for 2019-20), the Cavs don't seem ready to move on.
"Kevin is an All-Star and you don't get better by moving Kevin," general manager Koby Altman said recently. "Kevin's been incredible for us for four years and he wants to be here, and to me that's a big part for guys that are here and the guys that we're gonna acquire, is that they want to be here and be a part of this new chapter and culture that we're creating."
But there's another truth here: Love is one of Cleveland’s few trade chips.
This is a new era. Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman are obvious building blocks. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., added at the trade deadline, could also be viewed as core pieces as well. Same with Rodney Hood, who is a restricted free agent. Ante Zizic should probably be grouped in there as well.
Any other player on the roster should be considered expendable. That means George Hill, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver. But none of them would bring as much back in return as Love. So if the Cavs determine it's time for a youth movement, going into asset-accumulation mode, then Love will garner plenty of interest.
In an ironic twist, the Cavs would benefit from losing this season. Their 2019 first-round pick is top 10 protected. If it falls outside the top 10 it goes to the Atlanta Hawks. Mediocrity is the worst spot in the NBA, and even more daunting for the Cavs given that protected first-round pick that could slip away.
So here's another question: What would the Cavs be able to get in return?
The Pacers acquired Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis from Oklahoma City for Paul George. That was before Oladipo became the Most Improved Player and an All-Star. The Chicago Bulls got Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft for Jimmy Butler. Love doesn't have as much value as George or Butler. But those are the kinds of packages the Cavs should target.
Here are the five most logical trade partners:
1. Going home
Cavs get: Evan Turner, Zach Collins and 2019 protected first rounder
Blazers get: Love
Most Love suitors will feel he is the missing piece — the player that takes them from lottery team to playoffs, or a borderline playoff team to one with a solidified spot or even a postseason squad to title contender.
Enter the Blazers.
They finished with 49 wins, grabbing the third seed in the Western Conference before being ousted by the New Orleans Pelicans in Round One.
Despite a dynamic backcourt, the Blazers haven't been able to replace LaMarcus Aldridge, who bolted three years ago. Taking the next step means getting more production inside.
The Cavs aren't getting Damian Lillard. They aren't getting C.J. McCollum either. That defeats the purpose for the Blazers. But if Cleveland sets its sights a little lower, it seems there could be a match.
The Cavs would have to take on Evan Turner's hefty contract, which finally comes off the books following the 2019-20 season. But this deal isn't about Turner. It's about Zach Collins, a 20-year-old stretchy big man who was the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft. Getting a pick back would also give the Cavs some insurance or perhaps even a second selection in 2019 if things really go the wrong way this upcoming season.
2. Taking his talents to South Beach
Cavs get: Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and 2019 first round pick
Heat get: Love
Miami is always on the lookout for stars. And there's a unique opportunity for some team to rise into the East elite. But Miami doesn't look ready. Yet.
Love could change that.
This is another deal where the Cavs must take a dicey contract to make the salaries match. Even though Tyler Johnson is owed nearly $40 million over the next two years, he's still just 26 years old and the try-hard player the Cavs seek to retain a championship culture.
This package is more about Bam Adebayo and a protected first-round pick anyway. Adebayo, 20, is a bouncy big man with huge defensive potential and an evolving offensive game. As a rookie, he averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 19.8 minutes.
The Cavs would be wise to ask for hard-nosed Justise Winslow, hoping he could be included instead of Adebayo or the first rounder.
3. Reunited with LeBron
Cavs get: Luol Deng, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and 2019 first round pick
Lakers get: Kevin Love
The Lakers are loaded with trade assets — a result of being one of the worst teams in the NBA over the last few years. But will they view Love as the missing piece?
It's entirely possible that the Lakers determine they would be better off waiting for San Antonio to budge on Kawhi Leonard or the Blazers to implode, making Lillard the next star to change teams. There's also a chance that the Toronto Raptors move on from DeMar DeRozan. The Lakers could have their sights on bigger game. There is no rush and a star may be coming next summer in free agency.
The Lakers are also desperate for shooting after using a bulk of their cap space on streaky Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope along with perimter clanker Lance Stephenson.
In February, the Cavs helped the Lakers free up cap space by taking Clarkson and Nance. Would they really help the Lakers move the atrocious Deng contract? Sure, if it means getting two talented youngsters and a pick as well.
The pick is incentive for taking Deng. Kuzma, named First Team All-Rookie, and Hart give the Cavaliers two future building blocks while allowing Los Angeles to hang onto both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.
4. Suns rise
Cavs get: Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren and Tyson Chandler
Suns get: Love
What would a 21-win team, one that just made the top pick in the draft want with 29-year-old Love? It's simple really. Eventually the Suns will need to add some veterans to an inexperienced team that lacks professionals. Phoenix started that this off-season, giving former NBA champion and glue guy Trevor Ariza $15 million.
And don't forget who is in the Suns front office. It's James Jones. Yes, the player Love singled out in an Instagram post after winning the NBA championship, the same guy Love leaned on most during the tumultuous times with the Cavaliers.
What's in it for the Cavs?
Bender is a developmental big man with outside shooting range that helps the Cavaliers keep the floor spaced and open driving lanes for rookie Collin Sexton. He's also under team control through the 2020-21 season when he will only be 23 years old.
Warren has improved each season and is coming off year where he averaged career-bests in scoring (19.6 points), rebounds (5.1), assists (1.3) and minutes (33.0).
Chandler is entering the final year of his deal and would give the Cavs a flippable expiring contract to use in a separate trade down the road.
5. Jazz patience pays off
Cavs get: Alec Burks, Dante Exum, 2019 first round pick
Jazz get: Love
This trade can't be made until later this season, as Exum signed a three-year, $33 million deal to stay with the Jazz. Love, however, is the kind of player they could use.
Their imposing frontcourt duo of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors makes the Jazz unique. Love would provide a different dimension, giving Utah a big man that can play out to the perimeter. His skill set would also fit well with Gobert and some of Love's defensive deficiencies could be masked by the Defensive Player of the Year protecting the rim.
Burks, entering the final year of his contract, has seen his playing time diminish significantly and could fall further down the depth chart with Grayson Allen's arrival.
Exum, 22, is immensely talented. Only injuries have limited him to flashes of potential. He has the size (6-foot-6), length, speed and athleticism that makes him an intriguing option for a team like the Cavs that has time to wait for him to blossom. The Jazz, on the other hand, have playoff aspirations, especially after the surprising run last season.