By David Ford
On June 19, 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers broke a 52-year championship drought for the city. The curse was over. LeBron James returned to Cleveland and helped deliver on his promise.
Two years later, he left … again.
When James announced his decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, it sent repercussions around the NBA. The Western Conference became even more loaded than before, while the Eastern Conference became arguably much weaker than it already was. The Indiana Pacers now look like legitimate title contenders.
The NBA will undoubtedly contain a gaggle of storylines to follow. Kawhi Leonard with the Toronto Raptors, LeBron James and the Lakers (obviously), just to name a few, plus the question on every sports fans’ mind right now: is there anyone who can stop the Golden State Warriors? The answer is probably not, but that’s not what I’m here to argue.
Since James left Cleveland, the first instinct of the Cavaliers would be to completely rebuild. They should completely rebuild.
For the record, Kevin Love has been my favorite Cavalier of all time. He dealt with trade rumors and injuries during tenure and accepted a reduced role to accommodate James and Kyrie Irving.
“The Stop” against Stephen Curry will forever be iconic in basketball history, next to “The Block” and “The Shot,” of course. In my opinion, he never gets enough credit for his role in the Cavaliers’ defeat of Golden State in the 2016 finals (greatest day of my life). On July 24, 2018, the Cavs announced a four-year, $120 million extension for Cleveland, a reward for his service and loyalty to Cleveland.
For someone who seemed like the odd man out of “The Big Three,” he’s the last one left.
While Love is an all-time favorite of mine, he’s no player to build a franchise around, especially since he’ll turn 30 before the next season starts. They could’ve coaxed some contenders into giving up a combination of young talent and future draft selections (both desperate needs for Cleveland right now).
I know some fans wouldn’t care for me to recommend tanking, a hugely popular system of play, which is utilized frequently with teams like the Sacramento Kings and the Philadelphia 76ers, among others. What other choice do some of these teams have? Heck, the Cavs tanked the 2002-2003 season to draft James himself. While the actual basketball looks horrendous to watch, high draft picks are the reward.
According to “Basketball Insiders,” the Cavaliers have $110.7 million in guaranteed salary, and as it stands right now, they’re a No. 7 or No. 8 seed at best in the East. In Major League Baseball, anyone can beat anyone in the postseason. Same with the NHL (the No. 6-seeded Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014). The NFL playoffs can be a bit unpredictable at times as well, but hardly ever in the NBA are low-seeded teams even considered contenders and are usually bounced out in the first round.
On ESPN’s 2019 NBA draft preview, the Cavaliers only have a top-10 protected first-round pick. If they perform better than the 10 worst teams in the NBA, the pick goes to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the Kyle Korver trade a few years back.
Essentially, in all this rambling, I’m suggesting the Cavaliers gut the majority of their entire roster (George Hill, J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, and sadly Kevin Love) to shed salary, but more importantly to acquire much younger players and draft picks.
In the 2018 NBA Draft, the Cavaliers selected University of Alabama point guard Collin Sexton, which could be a great player to build around. While a roster filled with Sexton, Sam Dekker, Billy Preston, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman (the G.O.A.T.), David Nwaba, Rodney Hood (if he re-signs), Larry Nance Jr., won’t excite the fanbase, it doesn’t need to. The franchise needs a fresh start, but it currently doesn’t look they’ll go that route.
No matter what, the Cavaliers will always be my team. Another season without James should be interesting, especially with Channing Frye returning to Cleveland.