After July 8th, everybody knew that, for obvious reasons, the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers campaign was going to be a strange one. Could the Cavaliers remain competitive without LeBron James? Could they possibly slip into the playoffs and knock the Heat out of the first round of the playoffs? Would the team fold and barely make it to double-digit wins, as Yahoo! Sports’ Kelly Dwyer predicted? Even a day after the Cavs’ season came to an end with a win over the Washington Wizards, it’s hard to make sense of a team that won 19 games, because at times it felt like they had won so much more, and at times it felt like they had won so much less. So what does it all mean?
The 2010 Cavaliers started the season off with a bang by beating the defending-Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics in the season-opener. Sure the Celtics were playing in the second night of a back-to-back (with the first night being a win over the Miami Heat), and yeah, the crowd was electric with a “Oh yeah, we still have a team” and a “Fuck you, LeBron” attitude, but still, it was a win over a team that just beat the Heat, so by transitive property, we were better off without LeBron James.
For the next month, the Cavs were more exciting to watch than they had been in the past seven years. You never knew who was going to go off and be the leading scorer on any given night. J.J. Hickson was emerging as a legitimate franchise building block. The gain of Byron Scott and his system was off-setting the loss of a 2-time MVP in his prime.
And then December 2nd happened.
What happened doesn’t need to be rehashed, but it sent the Cavs into a tailspin, as they went 1-35 in games immediately after their first match-up with the Heat, a stretch that included 26-straight losses, and not one win in the month on January. As injuries to Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Boobie Gibson piled up, the Cavs found themselves playing the likes of Manny Harris and Alonzo Gee- players who just as well have could’ve been playing in the D-League this season- for 40 minutes a game. Unexplainably, the Cavs picked up a win over the Lakers right before the All Star break, but even with a win over the twice defending NBA champions, positives in the Cavaliers franchise were far and few between.
It was clear the Cavs were in need of a change, a big one, and a week later, they made one, sending Williams and Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis and the Clippers first round pick.
The trade worked out better than anyone could have imagined. Despite his reputation for being cancerous to his teams, Baron came in with a positive attitude, assumed the role of the team’s veteran leader, and was by far the most talented player in a Cavaliers jersey over the past year (not that the bar was set all that high). And on top of that, the Cavs also have the Clipper’s first round pick, which is projected to be the No. 8 (or higher) pick in the draft.
Baron also helped the Cavs pick up a a revenge win over their former self-proclaimed King and the Miami Heat on March 29.
If there’s one negative about the presence that Davis brought to the Cavs, it’s that he helped the team a bit too much. To the point where they didn’t finish with the worst record in the league, and no longer have the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft in the NBA Draft Lottery.
So can a season where you didn’t win that much, but won just enough to potentially screw yourself out of the No. 1 overall pick (in what could be a two player draft) be viewed as a positive? I say yes.
A re-build for the post-decision Cavs was inevitable. Might as well make it sooner than later. The Cavs now come out of this season with young players like Hickson, Christian Eyenga, and Samardo Samuels having gained invaluable experience, and evaluations of players like Ryan Hollins and Ramon Sessions.
The Cavs will also now have two top eight picks in this year’s draft, the trade-exception from LeBron’s departure, and although Baron Davis isn’t a franchise player anymore (if he ever was one), he gives a damn about the city and makes the team watchable.
Two things that over the past year, Cavs fans may have taken for granted.