By Thomas Jeffrey
The writing on the wall is very clear: LeBron has played his last game as a Cavalier. It was almost like a movie. King James leaving game four with four minutes left to a standing ovation from the crowd and shows of respect from both his teammates and his opponents. However, that moment did not only signal for LeBron’s exit. It also signaled for the Cavs’ exit from the top of the NBA. No more conference titles or four straight Finals. Now starts the rebuilding process for Cleveland. And it’s not going to be pretty.
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that Cleveland has been here before. LeBron left them once in 2010, and they had to deal with it. The bad news is that they did not deal with it well. They were a team with no identity and no leader. In their first year without the King, the Cavs went an abysmal 19-63. They even suffered 26 consecutive losses at one point. Because of this travesty, the Cavs landed the rights to the number one overall pick in the draft. They decided to draft a Duke point guard, who only played 11 games, by the name of Kyrie Irving. This actually turned out to be a good pick. Irving, despite only playing 51 games, averaged 19 points per game in his debut season. And as we all know he turned out to be an elite point guard who was a vital piece in delivering Cleveland a championship. But with that we are drifting back into the LeBron era. Let’s continue to focus on the first post-LeBron era. In Kyrie’s first season the Cavs improved, but not by much. Cleveland went 21-45 and once again earned the first pick in the draft. And what they did with that pick is embarrassing. It was appalling. It was horrific. The Cavaliers drafted a power forward from the University of Nevada Las Vegas named Anthony Bennett. Bennett had a good college career. He averaged 16 points per game but he was nothing special, and he was certainly not worthy of the number one pick. We all know how Bennett’s career turned out. If you are one of the few who does not, Bennett now plays in the G league. With all that being said, it is pretty clear that the Cavs need LeBron to succeed.
When LeBron left Cleveland for the first time, the Cavs could not recover. Not only the Cavs, but also the entire city. LeBron was Cleveland. He was responsible for the economy and the overall mood of the city. If LeBron succeeded, Cleveland succeeded, but if LeBron failed, Cleveland failed too. It is hard to imagine what the city will be like when LeBron leaves again. Yes, Cleveland has the Indians, but they lost their chance to win a World Series when they choked against the Cubs in 2016. As for the Browns, it’s probably best to not even mention them. But hey, who knows, Baker Mayfield could continue to be the stud that he was at Oklahoma, but he won’t have the same effect on the city that LeBron had. Cleveland needs to brace itself, because 2010 is about to happen all over again.
The Cavs are done. Without LeBron they have no chance of winning the East, especially with teams like the Celtics and the Sixers looking as scary as they do. It will be a struggle for them to even make the playoffs, much less do well in them. They couldn’t do it without LeBron the first time, so why would they be able to now? Hopefully Cleveland did not take for LeBron granted. Because now both he and his winning ways are gone.