"The years where you're non-competitive aren't fun," Altman said, in his first public comments since James agree to leave the Cavs and join the Los Angeles Lakers. "And I know that's hard to build a culture that way and we've had a great culture of winning because of LeBron and that infrastructure that he brings right away. And I'd like to capitalize on that.
"You won't be nearly as good if you lose a player of that magnitude," Altman said, speaking of James. "But we can still be competitive, we can be tough, we can be skilled, we can be talented and we can still use that culture that's sort of been embedded these last four years."
Altman spoke before Cleveland played its first game at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Rookie Collin Sexton made his debut in the Cavs' 72-59 win over Washington with 15 points and seven rebounds. Second-year players Cedi Osman (15 points, 10 boards) and Ante Zizic (16 points, 14 rebounds) were with him.
Those are some of the players who represent the Cavs' future, since the best player arguably ever accepted a four-year, $153 million offer from the Lakers. But Altman thinks the Cavs' greater collection of players merits a longer look before blowing it up, and it starts with Love.
For weeks, Cavs officials have insisted behind the scenes that the team would not trade Love, even if James chose to leave as a free agent.
Love, 29, is a five-time All-Star who averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds last season. He's owed about $50 million over the next two seasons, and the last year is a player's option -- so keeping Love now could mean they lose him next summer as a free agent.
Also, the Cavs can only make a first-round pick in 2019 if they finish in the bottom 10 in the NBA in wins. Trading Love would make that more likely (that's basically what "tanking" means here).
Altman, as is evident from his remarks Friday, is under no illusion that the Cavs will keep alive their string of four consecutive Finals now that James is gone. He said they would "explore opportunities with the roster in general," but "as far as Kevin goes I don't see how you get better doing that."
"Kevin is an All-Star and you don't get better by moving Kevin," Altman said. "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."
Altman reached out to the Cavs' returning veterans, including Love, Kyle Korver, and George Hill (three players targeted by NBA analysts as possibilities for trades and/or buyouts) to tell them they should plan on returning.
And the discussion with each player was upbeat. It doesn't necessarily mean all of them will be back, or that they will remain with the team through the end of the season.
A team could offer draft picks or a compelling younger player for Korver (or even Love), or the Cavs could struggle anyway with all their veterans and sell by the trade deadline. Sources said teams have asked about Love in talks with the Cavs about other players.
But tanking, well, that's clearly a direction Altman said he wants to avoid for now. When James left the Cavs the first time in 2010, what followed was arguably the four-worst years in franchise history.
"To go the complete opposite direction, which we've been through, is not fun and it's hard," Altman said. "It's hard to sort of come out of that. And the unknown is really daunting to me.
"I really like what we have now and I don't necessarily want to go backwards."
Altman said restricted free agent Rodney Hood is "part of our plans," and said the Cavs had held discussions about offering a contract extension to Larry Nance Jr.
As of now, the Cavs are under the NBA's $123 million luxury tax line. If they can keep their payroll below it, they can avoid paying luxury taxes after four years of paying it and be free of the even higher penalties associated with being a repeat offender.
Altman said team owner Dan Gilbert has not insisted on staying out of the tax.
"I think if there's a right opportunity and it's worth it for our franchise, then we can explore that," Altman said.