A Cavaliers player called Danny Ainge 'a [expletive] thief' for the Kyrie Irving trade

The NBA draft lottery brought the missing piece to the Kyrie Irving trade puzzle for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the finished product is enough to make a grown Cavs fan gag, even as the Game 7 hero of their 2016 championship team sits in street clothes on the end of the Boston Celtics bench.

Before George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson combined for exactly five more points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals than Irving, who underwent season-ending knee surgery in March, the Cavs learned that the coveted unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick that was the prize of the Irving deal had remained in the eighth spot in what many consider a six- or seven-player draft.

Then comes the real kick in the teeth for Cleveland, right at the top of Jason Lloyd’s Final Thoughts for The Athletic from a 107-94 loss to Boston that put them in an 0-2 hole, via an unnamed Cavs player:

“Danny Ainge is a f***ing thief,” he said. No explanation needed.

That comment reportedly came after one of many lopsided mid-winter losses, but it still stings.

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Kyrie Irving through his career
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Kyrie Irving through his career
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 1: Kyrie Irving poses for a portrait after getting introduced as Boston Celtics on September 1, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Duke Blue Devils guard Kyrie Irving (1) shoots against the Hampton Pirates during their second round NCAA men's basketball game in Charlotte, North Carolina March 18, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Kyrie Irving stands with NBA Commissioner David Stern after being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Newark, New Jersey, June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) reacts to making a three point basket in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge game during the NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando, Florida, February 24, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Cleveland Cavaliers' rookie Kyrie Irving (R) dribbles around Boston Celtics' defender Avery Bradley during the second quarter of their NBA basketball game in Cleveland January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Kyrie Irving (C) smiles during the U.S. Olympic basketball team practice at UNLV's Mendenhall Center in Las Vegas, Nevada July 6, 2012. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Sam Morris (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL OLYMPICS)
Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving brings the ball up court against the New York Knicks in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
East All-Star Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers competes in the three-point contest during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend in Houston, Texas, February 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
NBA All-Star LeBron James of the Miami Heat (6) and teammates Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks (7,) Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers look up at the clock in the fourth quarter of the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston, Texas, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Dec 10, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives against New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton (2) in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
January 16, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) moves the ball up court against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Kyrie Irving of the U.S. (L) goes up for a basket past Slovenia's Edo Muric during their Basketball World Cup quarter-final game in Barcelona September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Dec 2, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (right) and guard Kyrie Irving (2) react in the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) shoots as Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison (7) defends during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) attempts a shot against Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the second quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with guard Kyrie Irving (2) after a 106-101 win over the Chicago Bulls in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA guard Kyrie Irving takes a shot during the USA men's basketball national team minicamp at Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) and guard Mario Chalmers (6) celebrate after Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) missed a game-tying basket as time expired at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
June 1, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) addresses the media in a press conference during NBA Finals media day at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
June 2, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) shoots against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the first half in game two of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 10, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and guard Kyrie Irving (2) look during a press conference after game four of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors won 108-97. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson arrive home to a welcome party in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Main Press Centre - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 04/08/2016. Kyrie Irving (USA) of the U.S. attends a news conference. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Kyrie Irving (USA) of the USA and Facundo Campazzo (ARG) of Argentina compete. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Feb 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Western Conference forward Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors (35), Eastern Conference forward Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers (2) and Western Conference guard Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (30) talk in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) reacts after a play during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Quicken Loans Arena. The Wizards won 127-115. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 1: Kyrie Irving talks to the media as he gets introduced as Boston Celtics on September 1, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 28: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the Houston Rockets on December 28, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 20: Kyrie Irving #11 and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics talk during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 20, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics looks on in the second half of Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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What, exactly, did the Cavaliers get for Irving?

After Irving’s trade request last summer, the Cavaliers sent him to the Celtics in late August for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2019 first-round pick and Miami’s 2020 second-round pick.

Thomas, of course, was recovering from a season-ending hip injury at the time, coming off an All-NBA campaign, and the weight of expectations for a LeBron James team came down squarely on his shoulders when he returned too early in January to a team that needed a scapegoat. He played the part well. Crowder was among a handful of pieces who never meshed with LeBron, and both former Celtics were sent out in a series of trade-deadline deals that returned Hill, Hood, Nance and Clarkson.

Zizic is still there. He and Clarkson each earned the “DNP — Coach’s Decision” designation in Tuesday’s loss, and the other three might as well have, combining for five points on seven shots in 56 minutes.

Then came the pick from the 28-win Nets, who had the eighth-best odds of jumping into the top three, no thanks to their late-season upset of Cleveland. The 27-win Sacramento Kings, owners of the seventh-best odds, moved up to No. 2 in the draft. The Cavs could still have some intriguing players to choose from, namely Oklahoma’s Trae Young, but the odds of him becoming Irving are against them.

There’s still one piece to convey — the Heat’s second-rounder in 2020, the piece that sweetened the pot when Cleveland leveraged Thomas’ injury against Boston — but that seems like charity now.

But isn’t Irving injured?

Yes, Irving underwent season-ending knee surgery. And yes, he reportedly threatened to undergo that procedure — a cleanup of the hardware left in there after he fractured his left kneecap in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals — if the Cavs didn’t trade him. So, there is some question as to what Cleveland would have gotten out of him this season had he remained on the only roster he had ever known.

12 PHOTOS
Kyrie Irving cheers on Celtics from the sidelines
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Kyrie Irving cheers on Celtics from the sidelines
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 20: Kyrie Irving #11 and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics talk during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 20, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 6: A fan holds a sign for Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics in reference to his recent knee procedure during a game against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden on April 6, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game One of Round One during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 15, 2018 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Seven of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics cheers during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Seven of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics arrives at the stadium before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Seven of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: From left, Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics, Guerschon Yabusele #30, and Jaylen Brown #7 cheer from the bench during the second quarter of Game One of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Kyrie Irving #11, Jaylen Brown #7 and Guerschon Yabusele #30 of the Boston Celtics talk during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2018 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 9: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics looks on before Game Five against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 9, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics looks on in the second half of Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Kyrie Irving #11 Gordon Hayward #20 and Daniel Theis #27 of the Boston Celtics look on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers on May 13, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics reacts during the game against the Boston Celtics during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 13, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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But this deal goes well beyond this season. The Cavs tried to straddle the line between retooling for the present and rebuilding for the future, and instead they may have left both shelves empty.

They have gotten so little from the five players currently on the playoff roster resulting from the Irving deal that it is entirely plausible this group actually drives James out of Cleveland again. Outside of Hill, who started Game 2 alongside the four remaining members of the 2016 title team (James, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson), the Cavs have got less than nothing from the others. Hood, Clarkson and Nance have been net negatives, by a wide margin, and Zizic only plays garbage time.

Hill is 32 years old, often injured, and will make $20 million next season. The rest of them are still young. All are capable of filling roles on a decent team in the future. But LeBron isn’t there for a decent future. He’s there to be great now, and we saw how great they were with Irving alongside him.

If the Cavaliers felt compelled to trade Irving, a 25-year-old superstar with four All-Star bids and a championship game-winner already under his belt, you can’t come back with this return. And you might not be able to come back from this return. Irving’s surgery is expected to prevent longterm issues, rather than create them, and he will join a Celtics roster next season that is on the verge of making the Finals without him and Gordon Hayward. This is the world the Cavs and LeBron now face.

15 PHOTOS
The best photos from the Celtics-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals
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The best photos from the Celtics-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball in the second half against the Boston Celtics during Game Three of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 19, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket against Aron Baynes #46 of the Boston Celtics in the second half during Game Three of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 19, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket against Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics in the first half during Game Three of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 19, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball against Marcus Morris #13 of the Boston Celtics in the first half during Game Three of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 19, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics and JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers get into an altercation in the second half during Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: LeBron James #23 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers react on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics during Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics reacts after dunking the ball in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers attempts a shot past Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during the second quarter in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 13, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket past Kevin Love #0 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 13, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
May 13, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts to not getting a foul called during the third quarter of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) attempts a layup against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is guarded by Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris (13) during the first quarter of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts from the bench late in the fourth quarter in his teams loss to the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 13, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-83. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Boston Celtics Al Horford hauls in an offensive rebound with pressure from Cleveland Cavaliers George Hill during third quarter action. The Boston Celtics hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers for Game One of their NBA Eastern Conference Final Playoff series at TD Garden in Boston on May 13, 2018. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: JR Smith #5 and Jordan Clarkson #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers react to their teams loss to the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 13, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-83. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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What does this mean for LeBron James?

If you’re LeBron, and you just dropped 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a double-digit loss that pushed your season to the brink, you can’t be optimistic about the future in Cleveland. Not when you know Irving and Hayward will join a team that might be better than you right now — a team with a pair of youngsters in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who already look like superstars in the making.

If LeBron is primarily interested in competing for titles, as he’s stated in the past, it’s pretty clear Cleveland is no longer his best option. Other options  — the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers chief among them — may not be ideal fits, either, but at least you can talk yourself into their future.

If LeBron is more interested in staying home in Northeast Ohio, then he better hope the Cavs hit a home run with the eighth pick or turn it into a player who helps him win while he’s still in his mid-30s, if he wants to avoid living a banal NBA existence these next few years. This sounds grim. It is grim.

How do the Cavaliers really feel about it?

Publicly, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman put on a brave face at TD Garden on Tuesday.

“We’re pretty comfortable where we are,” Altman told reporters after the lottery. “We realize how deep this draft is. We’re excited about the potential of this pick and the player we can get at eight. …

“We’re in the Eastern Conference finals, which is a great achievement. We’re competing to get to the Finals. I think we have really talented young players and with this draft pick, it sets us up for sustainable success.”

The day a team with LeBron James at the top of the bill considers the conference finals a great achievement is the day that signals the end of an era. Whether or not Altman believes what he just said — that the group of players currently serving as cement blocks around LeBron’s feet on the sinking Cavaliers ship is a foundation for future success — there’s only one reality that matters: The Cavaliers miss Kyrie Irving more than the Celtics right now, and only one team is getting him back.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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