Why The Cleveland Cavaliers Players Think They’ll Be Just Fine Without LeBron James

Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson For The Cleveland Cavaliers

Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson For The Cleveland Cavaliers  (By Keith Allison, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, image link: flicker, cropped derivative)

In 2010, when LeBron James first left the Cleveland Cavaliers in pursuit of his next great career accomplishment, the Cavaliers went from a 61-win team that had the best record in the NBA, to a 19-win team the following season, finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA.

Much like the Cavaliers of the 2017-2018 season, Cleveland’s team eight years ago was built around high-priced veterans and overpaid role players who were somewhat hand-picked as “guys who could play with LeBron.” But once James left, they really had no purpose being on the Cavaliers roster. The same franchise that won 61 games in 2009-2010 would go on to win 64 combined games over the following three seasons.

So with James once again departing Cleveland this offseason, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert seemingly was at a crossroads. Would he instruct his relatively inexperienced front office to “strip the team for parts,” and join the rest of the league in the idea that it’s better to lose as many games as possible in order to secure the best talent available in the NBA Draft? Or would he try and prove James wrong – yet again – and attempt to put out a team that could still compete for a playoff spot in a very watered-down Eastern Conference?

Despite the fact that the former approach yielded two #1 overall selections in the NBA Draft, one of whom would go on to become a true superstar in Kyrie Irving, Gilbert and the Cavaliers appear to once again be operating from the perspective of “we don’t need LeBron James around here to win games.”

As far as the Cleveland Cavaliers players who are returning, Cleveland likely believes that a lineup of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, George Hill, and Kyle Korver as the starting five, with Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and Cedi Osman as the first three guys off the bench, could be good enough to flirt with 40 wins, which would put them in contention for the last playoff spot.

That’s not even mentioning the fact that they’ve added Collin Sexton, one of the top point guards in the 2018 NBA Draft, thanks to the 8th overall pick in said draft, acquired when they traded away Irving.

Though they’d never say this publicly, maybe there’s a sense among the front office and the guys still on the roster that there’s a level of “addition by subtraction” in losing James. The guys on the floor no longer have to exclusively operate as a second-tier supporting cast to one dominating force. Maybe the removal of the vortex that was James will allow these guys to play more freely and to their strength.

There’s some evidence to believe that, considering the Cavaliers just took what could have been their most valuable asset in a “teardown effort” in Love, and handed him a four-year extension worth $120 million. Whether it’s irony or poetic justice after everything he’s been through in Cleveland, the Cavaliers are now banking on Love’s all-around skillset instead of James’ all-around brilliance.

Then again, we’ve already seen what happened when the Cavaliers tried to strap together a team that they thought could win, in the aftermath of James’ departure.

As the saying goes: those who don’t learn from history are likely doomed to repeat it.

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