With seemingly superior talent up and down the Cleveland Cavaliers roster this season compared to eight years ago (the first season after LeBron’s South Beach departure) the Cavaliers still find themselves struggling to string wins together.
After LeBron took his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, the Cavaliers were faced with a long & challenging rebuild. Despite attempts to assure fans that the team would win a title before LeBron James team went just 97-215 in the four seasons in between LeBron’s stints in Cleveland.
We were led to believe the likes of Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao and Jamario Moon would somehow put the Cavaliers in the race for an Eastern Conference playoff seed.
Although the Cavaliers that season got out to a 7-10 start, their downfall began the night of December 2nd. That night James made his infamous return to Cleveland and his Miami Heat squad put a hurting on the Cavaliers that night.
Including that night’s loss, the 2010-11 Cavaliers team finished the season 12-53 including a 26-game losing streak that spanned two months of the season.
The team’s leading scorer that season was Antwan Jamison (18 points per game) and the roster was full of odds and ends that could not gain much consistency together on the floor.
The lone highlight of that season was the Cavaliers miraculous victory over James’ Heat.
Now fast-forward to this season, James departed for the West Coast, but unlike the first go-around, there were more talented pieces left in place. Cleveland extended All-Star Kevin Love, who was set to be the cornerstone of the franchise.
Also on the roster were the likes of Rodney Hood, Tristan Thomspon, and the rookie lottery pick Collin Sexton were here to soften the blow of losing the franchise’s best player (again).
However, the franchises plan to hopefully make any sort of playoff run would be dashed just a couple weeks into the season when Love would suffer an injury. The foot injury for Love has kept him out of action since late October, leaving the Cavaliers down their best player.
Cleveland also fired their head coach Tyronn Lue & traded away Kyle Korver as well as George Hill in order to shed salary. Also, J.R. Smith (who is still technically on the team) has not played in a game since Nov. 19 and will eventually be traded or released.
In recent weeks the Cavaliers showed some fight, going 4-8 in their last 12 games and ended the Indiana Pacers win streak last Tuesday.
Players such as Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, and Sexton have all stepped up in the absence of Love and Tristan Thompson.
Clarkson is averaging a career-best 16.9 points per game on 44 percent shooting. he has adapted to the sixth-man role very well, and over the last month has put up nearly 19 points per game including four 20-point outings in the past five games.
Nance, who is stepping in for the injured Cavaliers big men, really has taken advantage of his increased minutes. Nance is averaging nearly 9 points per game & a career-high 7.5 rebounds. In the month of December is averaging 10.7 points & is developing a more versatile arsenal. This month alone Nance is connecting on 47 percent of his three-point attempts.
The rookie Sexton, which the Cavaliers took with the Brooklyn Nets draft pick, is a player this franchise is counting on for the future. Sexton has taken to his starting role well, proving he can score & defend all over the floor. While Sexton is improving his game throughout the season, he still is only a rookie and has a long way to go to be the franchise’s next marquee player.
The point is, despite the talented players’ lists above, who are superiorly talented to the roster eight seasons ago, Cleveland still is in the same situation. They have no hope of making the playoffs and face another challenging rebuild.
Without a doubt, I, as well as others, would heavily favor this Cavaliers team over the one that took the floor in the 2010-11 season.
Marquee free agents do not exactly want to sign here, and the only way to acquire talent is via a trade or the draft. With another high lottery pick expected, Cleveland will likely add another top-flight rookie to this inexperienced team.
This just goes to show how vital LeBron is to any team he is on. James took the majority of this roster to the NBA Finals last season, now they may not even have ten wins by the new year.
Without digressing too much, LeBron left this team and now it is one of the worst in the league. When Michael Jordan left the Bulls the first time they went from 57 wins down to…55 wins.
Nonetheless, Learning from a player such as James is one thing, but not having him to rely on is a big adjustment. They need to figure out who takes the last shot as well as who is comfortable with the ball in their hands late. These are problems that an all-time great like James would cover up.
Cleveland however still is out there, battling hard each game, which is a good sign to see from any team. But at some point, you get tired of moral victories and want to see results.
But just like the first time James left, we could be in for many rough games and even seasons before the Wine & Gold are back competing for a title.