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LeBron James: Doubt of Cavs' potential crept in midseason

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LeBron admits he wasn't sure about Finals appearance early on (1:24)

LeBron James reflects on the Cavaliers' tough road to the NBA Finals after Kyrie Irving was traded in the summer. (1:24)

OAKLAND, Calif. -- At one point during the regular season, LeBron James questioned whether the Cleveland Cavaliers would even make the playoffs and wasn't thinking he had a chance to reach his eighth consecutive NBA Finals.

"It was at points where, 'OK, will the Cavs even make the playoffs?'" James told ESPN's Rachel Nichols on Wednesday in an exclusive interview. "And I was like, 'OK, I am not settling for that conversation. Now that is just ridiculous. Now I have got to get into the postseason.'"

James was referring to a stretch in December and January when the Cavs lost nine of 12 games. They suffered a 28-point loss in Minnesota, a 34-point loss in Toronto and a devastating home blowout in which they allowed 148 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder -- all in a nine-day span.

During that period, James struggled and at times looked as if he were dealing with motivational issues. He said he had to give himself a pep talk to get out of his personal funk that was affecting the rest of the team.

"I was like, 'OK, I am not quite sure what we are going to do with this ball club. We are not playing good basketball, but you can't sell yourself short,'" James told Nichols. "'You have so many people looking up to you, you have so many kids to inspire, and you, yourself, you have always talked about be as great as you can be every day,' so I kind of hit that switch before the trade deadline."

James said he started having doubts about the Cavs last summer.

It has been widely reported that James was against the Cavs' decision to acquiesce to Kyrie Irving's trade request. For the first time publicly, James told Nichols that he did call management to ask them not to trade Irving.

"Even if you start back to the summertime where I felt like it was just bad for our franchise just to be able to trade away our superstar point guard," James said. "A guy that I had been in so many battles with over the last three years, and obviously I wasn't a part of the communications and know exactly what went on between the two sides. But I just felt like it was bad timing for our team."

"So I felt like the odds were against us from the summer," James continued. "And then you know we come into the season, and our All-Star point guard that we got from Boston [Isaiah Thomas] wasn't able to play until January. We just had so many things going with our team. We shuffled in different lineups, we shuffled in different players, we made a trade at the deadline, and I can't sit here right now and say that the Finals was a part of my thinking."

James was also not in favor of the Cavs' parting ways with general manager David Griffin last summer. But he said he continues to have a working relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who had the highest payroll in the league this season and added more when current GM Koby Altman remade the team by bringing in four new players to help the Cavs pivot on the season.

"It's not about me and Dan -- we have a great working relationship," James told Nichols. "It's not like we're not the best friends, and I don't think you should be best friends with a player, and an owner shouldn't be best friends unless I'm your father and that's my son, and, OK, cool we could be great then. But I think it's worked out for us both in these four years so far since I've been back."

James has made it clear repeatedly that he will not consider his free-agent options until the conclusion of the season. But he said he's at peace with the things he and the franchise have been able to accomplish over the past four seasons, which has included a championship and now four Finals appearances.

"I've tried to put this franchise at a level that is always seen in a positive light," James said. "From a basketball standpoint, from a social standpoint, from a brand standpoint. I get a lot of the light and the headlines, but I'm one, as long as I'm here playing for this franchise, when you see the Cavaliers, I want you to think of prestige and a great organization."

When Nichols asked if James' relationship with Gilbert would affect his free-agency decision, James said, "We're going to see."