There are very few times when an athlete can transcend sports. The athletes who are able to do this are considered special and are often the most respected of their peers. When LeBron James left Cleveland in the summer of 2010, fans were hurt because they had lost something so special; it’s hard to let go of anything that you consider special. This reaches beyond sports, and LeBron pointed to that in his letter penned on Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen to — and in — the city of Cleveland very often. Cleveland was very lucky to enjoy seven years of LeBron; he provided us with many great times, despite how he left. The city’s sports teams weren’t successful in the years leading up to the Cavs selecting first overall in the 2003 NBA Draft, and the Cavs may have been the most futile of the three major sports. With LeBron James returning to Cleveland, calling “(his) relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” there is no way that fans will disappoint in showing how much they have forgiven and care about LeBron. Although opinions on this particular situation can vary amongst Cavs fans and bloggers alike, there seems to be one common thing: Hope. There were/are many parts playing a significant role in the recruitment and return of LeBron James. Eight Cavalier editors shared their thoughts over the Internet regarding a story that has reached millions.
1. The days leading up to LeBron James making his second impactful free agency decision, there was a feeling of hope in the Cleveland air surrounding Quicken Loans Arena for the first time in a while. Days and nights went by last week without LeBron coming to a decision. Hope never really faded, but it wavered. What are your thoughts on what transpired over the past week regarding the speculation of LeBron’s return?
Zak Kolesar, Right Down Euclid Editor: It was frustrating to keep an extremely watchful eye over social media from early Monday to mid Friday. But it comes with the territory of being a blogger. Social media has become one of the most powerful tools ever to affect journalism, especially when covering sports. I found out over the past week that this tool can become very dangerous in the sports world when reporting on a story that is much bigger than sports. From #GilbertGate to cupcake owners and sports trainers claiming to have more reporting sense than Adrian Wojnarowksi and Marc Stein to the color codes of websites, we were all bogged down with information that pointed to the King’s return. Although some outside “sources” ended up cashing in with their gamble on proclaiming LeBron James was coming back before hearing it officially, I tried not to believe/report on most of the speculation. As journalists and bloggers, we need to build trust within our audience; after all, that should be the most important reason why readers come back to our respective sites. I don’t know if a story will ever be reported like this one was because of the importance of the person involved and the background that came with it, but I’m glad that Sports Illustrated — a publication that remained relatively quiet in the weeks and days leading up to LeBron’s decision — was able to break the story. Kudos to Lee Jenkins and kudos to one of the staple publications of sports journalism.
Jared Mueller, FactoryOfSadness.co Editor: The week or so before was some combination of exciting and frustrating. At the beginning of the season I noted to friends a belief that James could return. A combination of youth and talent, plus the home storyline, gave me a lot of belief in that happening. So the week prior, with the plane tracking, muscle and cupcake-full “sources” and journalists whom I have respected being turned into gossip columnists was very unique. I never faulted James for taking his time. As the process went on I had two worries: 1) that he might return to Miami and 2) that he would make an even bigger spectacle of his decision than he had the last time. The World Cup trip hovered over my thinking; could he try to upstage the event with his decision? The Chris Sheridan report and dynamic was also interesting. Nationally he hasn’t been given the credit he deserves for having a source and sticking his neck out professionally. I had prepared two stories, one for if he came and one if he left. I was on Twitter waiting for a co-worker to come in for a meeting when the SI link popped up. WHAT? Is that how it was decided? A quick perusal of the story to check authenticity, adding a bit of text and boom, my story was up less than two minutes after I saw the tweet. I was a weird combination of numb and tingling.
Kevin Fay, FanAttitude.com Editor: Wow. What a week. Going into the week, I was skeptical as to whether LBJ would come home. Rumors flung every which way, from moving vans and cupcake conspiracies to fake Wojs and flight-stalking Dan Gilbert’s jet. As hope grew in the community, I found it building in myself as well. But Pat Riley had the last meeting. Then the wait came. And continued. By Friday morning, when Hawes, Miles, Hayward and Parsons had all agreed to terms, I thought Griff and Co. were playing with fire. But the Cavs never deterred in their faith that they could bring him home and scored a big win. Kudos to our new GM on reeling in the biggest fish in FA on first try.
Mike Mayer, Fear the Sword Editor: As you guys have already said, it was an incredibly unique week. When it started on Sunday, with the tracking of Gilbert’s jet, I was like, Alright, this is fun. I’m not going to get sucked into every little rumor, I’m just going to have fun watching things unfold. But of course, as the week went on, I did get sucked in. It was stressful and exhausting, but it was also a really great time to be writing for a Cavs blog. I was very relieved when it was finally over, and obviously excited about the way that it ended.
Alex Raffalli, StepienRules.com Contributor: I hated that week. I thought everything that happened over the 11 days of LeBron James’ free agency was absolutely terrible. Most of all, I think we learned two things: 1. LeBron James owns the NBA. He is the most important figure in the league and everyone, from the teams pursuing him, the media following the story and the fans, were taken hostage and in a very uncomfortable situation. 2. People read WAY too much into every single rumor and report they could find. Just over the last three days, Cavs fans on Twitter changed their mind at the very mention of LeBron’s whereabouts as if they meant anything at all. I also completely forgot how awful that week was once the decision was announced and only realized when I read the question asked above.
PS: One last thing that was confirmed over that period; ESPN is really bad at covering sports, which is their one and only business…Sad.
Cleveland Jackson, Cavs Zine Editor-in-Chief: Let’s put this up front: It seems that Lebron James as a person and sports public figure is one of the most unlikable people alive. I think what happened in 2010 with the Decision was the culmination of seven years of ridiculous behavior by a guy who left without really accomplishing what Cleveland needed most and making promises that his ass couldn’t cash. I know the popular narrative coming in was that James was this super-mature 18 year old that knew how to handle himself, and that turned out to be the biggest fabrication of them all.
The year that followed, the Twitter taunting of Cleveland and The Heatles and then the passing up open lanes to the basket in the Finals, that was the LeBron James that I felt like I knew. The guy that almost got kicked off the 2008 Olympic “Redeem Team” because of maturity issues.
I understand that the media really took a step back from reporting any criticism of James’ maturity issues after the 2012 Heat Championship, but the rumors are out there that the LeBrontourage, who are now approaching or over 30 years old, are pretty much the same old group of immature goofballs. I’m sure it was quite a thrill for them to spread ridiculous rumors about anything related to Decision II, such as telling the police in Bath, Ohio that James needed security at his house because a decision was going to be made at a specific time, and then having nothing happen. So there was all this information floating around that people were freaking out about, but they put it out there. In retrospect, I think the omission of Andrew Wiggins from the SI piece might be an indicator that it was written prior to the draft, even before the meeting with Dan Gilbert, and that the whole thing about still deciding or whatever was being floated out was a scam.
Up until about the last two days, when the field was clearly narrowed to just the Cavs and Heat, I was intensely skeptical that LeBron James would come back to Cleveland and play for the Cavaliers. This is with a number of sources telling us at Stepien Rules and through the Zine that it was going to happen. I just didn’t think it would happen and I couldn’t put it past James and his group to hose over Cleveland again.
There’s no doubt in my mind that everything that happened with Decision I and Decision II were calculated, and I felt like, even though I got the outcome I wanted in the second one, and I’ll be happy to be writing about and covering a much improved team with higher aspirations, it would be naive for anyone to not think that, other than the SI piece, that anything about this circus was actually done “the right way” even though that’s the narrative that’s been put out there. I’m just going to say “maturity issues” one more time, in conclusion. Maturity issues. There.
Scott Sargent, WaitingForNextYear Editor: My feelings ranged, but they were all largely rooted in the fact that I was glad I was on vacation that week. I checked my email every few hours and would flick through Twitter, but I was largely able to avoid the minute-by-minute chaos that took place through much of the week.
I had given the very little thought to LeBron James coming back to Cleveland this season. Even when he opted out, I assumed it was to work something out with the Heat. In the end, this allowed me to be pleasantly surprised. The Essay itself was Next Level. I bet I read it four times straight, catching myself smiling as I would scroll down the page.
Ben Jackson, Real Cavs Fans Editor: What an incredible few weeks in NBA free agency; there hasn’t been one like it in recent memory. For fans in Cleveland, the past few offseasons have been the opposite of exciting. Trying to get excited about Mike Brown 2.0, Jarrett Jack and the recent draft picks has been essentially an exercise in futility. Trying to get excited about recent Cavs acquisitions has been a hard and trying experience.
Enter LeBron James following a dominant Spurs victory over the Heat in the Finals. Had Miami somehow found a way to win that series, LeBron likely opts in and things don’t change much, at least for the upcoming season. And yet, in a fateful twist, LeBron’s team fell apart, and was dismantled by a more experienced and better team in the Spurs.
Honestly, I didn’t lose much sleep during those few weeks. All along, I felt that LeBron was stringing the media along and already had his mind made up. I didn’t care much for the waiting game, but I didn’t put too much stock into it. I did have concern that LeBron was trying to play Bosh’s hand and let him walk to Houston, thus making way for Carmelo to Miami. It was hard to follow at times, and when various members of ESPN had different takes on the situation, there wasn’t much clarity. That’s why I didn’t put a lot of stock into it. Of course, I’ve always wanted LeBron back in Cleveland. Do you want to win 33 games and fight for the 8th seed? Or do you want to be in the national spotlight, and become an instant title contender again? I choose the latter. All’s well that ends well. And the end result – LeBron James somehow, back in a Cavaliers uniform, just feels right. Those who were opposed to his return are quickly singing a different tune now.
2. LeBron’s decision to return home without a doubt transcends sports; it’s a decision that will make for one of the greatest stories in the last decade or so, especially if James can deliver a championship to the city of Cleveland. Outside of on-the-court play, what transpiring story have you looked forward to/are looking forward to following LeBron’s return home?
ZK: As LeBron James noted in his “Letter” that he wrote to Sports Illustrated, the decision for him to come home went way beyond the realms of basketball. It became about wanting to keep a promise that many Cavs fans thought would stay broken for some time without the King’s return. It became about family and choosing the best place to raise his two sons and an expected baby girl. It became about returning to a city and area that had cheered him on and loved him for 11 basketball seasons — including his high school years at St. Vincent-St. Mary. It became about possibly ending the drought and bringing hope to a city deprived of it for so long. It also became about money, as LeBron signed his fourth max contract of his 12-season career. But that’s not to say basketball didn’t play a role; it sure as hell did. LeBron wants to be “the old head” on the team, so he teamed up with a rookie coach and a roster chock-full of young and developing talent. Obviously nothing has transpired on the court yet and there will be a lot of hard work that the Cavs will have to put in to even make the playoffs this season. (As LeBron said, nothing will be handed to Cleveland).
But I think the story that I’m most looking forward to reading into will be about how Cleveland’s economy may be the biggest winner when things are all wrapped up down the road. County Executive Ed FitzGerald expects LeBron’s return to bring in around $500 million annually, with the bulk of the money coming from ticket sales. On Friday when LeBron James announced that he would be returning, season tickets sold out in less than eight hours following the posting of his Letter to SI around noon. Businesses — restaurants and bars for the most part — will flourish. Those who don’t have a lick of basketball sense will be affected in a positive light, and I think that’s the most beautiful part of this all. LeBron, as the second-most influential celebrity in the world, has the power to figuratively and literally put a whole city on his back. Not many can say they have/can do that.
JM: The biggest story I look forward to off the court is simply to watch him as a person develop. (I am a counselor full-time professionally, which probably influences it.) In Cleveland the first time, he always seemed like he was trying too hard, like he was trying to win a game every possession, every press conference and every move he made. In Miami he embraced the villain role, which didn’t fit him, and then he seemed unsure of how to live in his own life. It was as if something was very off for him. Demeanor, non-verbals and even his words always seemed measured. Returning home to Cleveland should change all of that. He knows he is home for good. He can now recruit players — ala Mike Miller on Tuesday — and get a strong supporting cast around. He no longer has to prove how good he is; he did that in Miami. Yet he also gets to just be himself and interact with fans, the community and the media in a very comfortable way. I am intrigued to see what side of James we see when the Ohio in him comes out.
KF: I expect LeBron James to be himself. Fun and goofy in practice and intense and demanding on the court. What I look forward to most is seeing the Cavs youth try and rise to that same level of expectation on the court. The kid games ended when LBJ declared his return. Kyrie, Dion, Tristan and the gang need to bring it in night in and night out, something we did not see much of the first half of last season. Between LeBron’s return and the experience gained in the Cavs failed late-season playoff chase, I expect to see a whole new gear from our current players. We can feel the electricity for this season building already. They will too. We could be at the beginning of something beautiful.
MM: Like Zak, I’m most interested to see what LeBron’s return will do for the city economically. It’s probably not good that one basketball player can have so much influence over the financial well-being of so many people, but in this case, it’s an undeniable fact. Downtown Cleveland will be buzzing for 41 regular season home games every year, plus (hopefully) a bunch of playoff games. That can have a positive impact on people across the city, and across the region.
AR: LeBron James coming back is a very powerful story, and I was really touched that he chose to come back here because I felt personally that it somehow confirmed the own decision I made in my life to move to Cleveland. Knowing that other people get it when most of what I hear is, “You moved where?” or “Why would you want to live in Cleveland?” is something that makes me very happy. I know there are plenty of people who know that there are plenty of opportunities here, but it felt special to have such a big public figure acknowledge it in front of the world. I can only hope that more people follow our example!
CJ: I felt like this story is being presented in a way that really misrepresents the Cleveland Cavaliers fan base. This is not Miami. The fans in Cleveland have never seen a basketball championship ever, and over the last four seasons, they’ve seen some of the worst sports played in the history of the city of Cleveland. Although they didn’t win 17 games like they did in 02-03, they pretty much set every other franchise record for losses, including setting some NBA records for losing streaks and margin of loss in consecutive games.
However, and this is a big but, Cavs fans continued coming to the games. There were snowy nights in Cleveland this season, with below zero windchills on weeknights, and the Cavs were still drawing 15,000 to 19,000 fans to the games. Cleveland may be called a football town, but it supported this team and the rebuild effort that’s been in place over the past four years. And if it hadn’t, I’m pretty sure that would be a huge part of the story. LeBron James isn’t coming back to save Cleveland basketball; Cleveland basketball and the city of Cleveland deserves this.
That’s the primary off-the-court story, because it’s truly about Cleveland. And I include Akron in the broader “Cleveland” or “Northeast Ohio” or whatever we want to call it. This free agent is going to play for the Cavaliers next season BECAUSE they are located in Cleveland. My mind is so blown right now just reading that last sentence again. Screw it, I’m just going to type it again. The best free agent in basketball is coming to play for the Cavaliers next season BECAUSE OF the fact that they are located in Cleveland. Thus, the Cavaliers will be a better team next season, a playoff team in fact, BECAUSE they are located in Cleveland.
Had Ted Stepien moved the team to Toronto to become the Toronto Towers like he wanted in 1982, they would not have had this opportunity. If they had moved to New York, LA or some other exotic far-off city, they would not have this opportunity. There is nowhere else like this in the world. This is a Cleveland story.
Second, and this is also huge, is Lebron James off the court. We’ve seen 18-25 year old James, and it was as ugly off the court as it was amazing off the court. Can James take this opportunity, and the goodwill earned from SI putting out that piece, to be the kind of star athlete that can not only win games, but make the city proud to call him one of their own? That’s what I want to see.
SS: From a story standpoint, if we aren’t counting anything that has to do with on-court winning (including a potential championship), I’m looking forward to the feeling and energy that will be in place during Opening Night. Several individuals whom I’ve spoken with have told me that demand for Opening Night tickets has surpassed that of Game 3 in the 2007 NBA Finals. That’s incredible.
I don’t know what the team has planned, but they never disappoint when it comes to in-game entertainment. I don’t know if they’ll go all out like they did for Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ retirement, but it’ll be pretty damn close.
BJ: For me, I try not to read too much into what this does off the court. Sure, Cleveland’s economy gets a massive boost. And yes, the Cavaliers are right back in the national conversation on a daily basis. Those are both good things.
LeBron returning is a great story, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Winning a championship in Cleveland though, that’s what would mean the most. Forget the LeBron narrative, although admittedly that’s near impossible to do. If the Cavaliers can bring a championship to this town, and end the drought, that’s what changes things. Until then, everything else is just theater.
3. It’s very unlikely that the roster stays the same way it does before the 2014-15 season starts. Which players are most likely on their way out and who can you see the Cavaliers bringing in?
ZK: Not Andrew Wiggins. I think the Cavs have made it clear late last week and earlier this week that they aren’t willing to let go of this year’s No. 1 pick. I also don’t see a scenario where the Cavaliers can work out a trade for Love without including Wiggins without a third team involved. It was reported that the Golden State Warriors were a supposed third team in a deal that would send Tristan Thompson and Klay Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love to the Cavs and multiple first-round picks to the Warriors. I think Minny is smarter than that. If they’re going to be giving up an All-Star in his prime, they’re going to want a piece more formidable than Tristan Thompson. I don’t think that the Timberwolves are that desperate just yet to let go of Love that easily just to get value out of him before he becomes a free agent and leaves Minnesota. I do, however, see Dion Waiters as the odd man out in the Cavaliers roster equation. He’s been at the head of trade rumors even dating back to last season and has even expressed on Twitter that he wouldn’t be OK with taking a sixth man role. I don’t think the Cavs will be able to find a reserve backup at this point in free agency that will be able to allow David Blatt to portion out a healthy amount of minutes for Varejao, and they desperately need one. I think the leverage that the Cavs would use if they were to work out a trade for a backup big and other pieces would be Dion.
JM: I recently wrote about the Cavs reasons for not trading Wiggins on FoS. Those reasons are some of the same reasons for this answer. I don’t expect any major changes to the Cavs roster unless they get blown away. James’ letter took the pressure off the team to win right away. James plans to be here for a long time, so keeping Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson makes a ton of sense. They don’t have cap space to absorb any “bad” contracts. Irving, Waiters and hopefully Bennett take some of the scoring/playmaking pressure off of James, something that burdened him in Miami. Wiggins and Thompson take a lot of the defensive pressure off of James as well. Adding Mike Miller as well as make good deal for Emeka Okafor could really shore up some of the Cavs’ weaknesses. Next season is the time I think a major deal goes down. Right now Waiters and Bennett have little trade value, while next year I expect their values to go up after playing next to James. Yet if they improve as I expect them to, the Cavs have four major trade chips to use to improve their team: Brendan Haywood’s $10-million expiring contract (take on a big contract from a team ready to rebuild) as well as all three picks they own in next year’s first round (Heat, Grizzlies and their own). I expect those to be used next year to supplement the team greatly. Worst case the Cavs take on a contract with Haywood’s deal then draft three first rounders to keep young blood on the roster, something neither the Cavs or Heat have done with James on the team.
KF: Carrick Felix would be the first name on my list. The Cavs have an abundance of youth in the Cavs backcourt; he has little chance of seeing the court ever. I like his energy and work ethic, but he is a second-tier player. Or third. Dion is always a name to consider as well, as his Twitter account already bears his want to be the starting 2 guard, though his skill set could be better utilized on the second squad, where he would have the ball in his hands more. Dion to Philly, who drafted Joel Embiid last month, for Nerlens Noel makes a lot of sense for both clubs. I’d love to make a move for KLove, but Wiggins is too special to give up. The Wolves have marginal leverage here, as few teams will pay high without KLove’s word to resign. Wait until the trade deadline and get him for half the price. And if we miss, we still have four guys drafted first overall to fall back on.
MM: First off, I think that Mike Miller was a great addition. He’s a perfect fit for Blatt’s system, he’s versatile and he’s played in big games before. I think they will still look to add a cheap big man (preferably a rim protector, if possible) and a few guys for the veteran’s minimum to give them some depth (I’m not sure how useful Ray Allen would be at this point in his career, but his leadership could be valuable I suppose). But I like the roster as it is right now, I don’t think it needs major changes. Ultimately, I think Dion will embrace his role as a sixth man, because he won’t have any other choice.
AR: I would say that anyone not named LeBron James, Kyrie and to a lesser degree Andy could be dealt by the start of the season. I would not put it past David Griffin to find a couple of deals that would make the team more competitive in the short term without sacrificing all their flexibility and upside. Terry Pluto wrote a story for cleveland.com today where he interviewed Dan Gilbert about the last couple of weeks and he ended the piece by saying the Cavaliers are in “win-now mode.”… I think the much talked about Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade will happen at some point in the next few weeks once the free agency frenzy settles down and all parties can explore other options. If Wiggins stays on the team, of the “relevant” players, I would say Dion Waiters is the odd man out. I love Dion, and David Griffin has said he wishes to try to make Waiters and Irving work as a backcourt, but I have a hard time seeing it happening, even more so with the additions of Wiggins and LeBron James.
CJ: I’m with Alex on this. I think pretty much everyone could be turned over other than James and Irving. When I saw that James had only signed for two years and has an opt-out after the first year, I just assumed that he was maintaining the kind of vice grip he had on the balls of the organization from 2008-10 when they were frantically trying to please him by bringing in veterans who they thought would compliment him. Win-now mode doesn’t have to be stupid-mode, though, and I would think that if James’ intentions are real, and the reports that he wants to remain in Cleveland to finish his career are genuine, then he understands that even he will want to sustain a winning situation over the next five to eight years of Cavs, and not just for one swing at a title. The Miami Heat plan — to bring three stars on near max deals — ended up hamstringing the organization from making other moves, which became and will become even more necessary as the near max guys age or show deficiencies.
SS: Well, the Kevin Love rumors are tough to ignore. He wants out. Minnesota doesn’t want to just lose him. LeBron James is recruiting. The discussion, I hope, comes down to what the Wolves want. I really hope that the Cavs don’t gut the roster just to get a guy who LeBron wants. (I want Anthony Davis, but that doesn’t mean you trade your other 14 guys plus picks for him.)
It sounds like either Andrew Wiggins or Dion Waiters will be moved. I’d be pleasantly surprised if both are still on the roster come Opening Night. Also sounds like Anthony Bennett could be dealt. I’m a big Bennett supporter, and will root for him wherever he’s playing, but you have to give up quality to get it.
The other guy I think could be a Cavalier within the next few weeks is Ray Allen.
BJ: At this point, the Cavs have landed Mike Miller and James Jones. Wiggins for Love is an ongoing discussion, and one that I have mixed feelings about. Considering how impressive Wiggins has been in Summer League, it makes sense that the Cavs have tried to avoid including him if at all possible. Now, it would appear Kevin Love to Cleveland isn’t going to happen without Wiggins included in the package. It’s hard to feel good about giving up such a talented prospect in AW, but I’m of the mindset that Love helps you win in the playoffs, today. And with LeBron only signing a two-year deal (throwing out the TV contract consideration), don’t you want to win a title next year? And the year after? Wiggins is a futures play. Kevin Love is a machine, and one that fits well with LeBron’s style of play.
Underrated, in my opinion, is the Mike Miller addition. Denver was willing to sign him to three years, $12 million, and he took significantly less to join LeBron. I’m remembering Miller in Memphis, who was at that point an extremely underrated player. Tall, and an excellent outside shooter. Adding Ray Allen off the bench? That’s just icing on the cake.
Oh, and I think Dion Waiters gets dealt before the season starts. I know Dion has won over many fans and media alike, but I think he’s too headstrong to come off the bench. Whether exaggerated or not, he and Kyrie didn’t get along last season. They both need the ball to be effective. I think you deal Waiters, and you deal away the drama. Having the most popular player in the league comes with enough of that, and I don’t think Dion is mature enough as a player to handle the spotlight.
4. After finding out about the news of LeBron James coming home, what was the first LBJ Cavaliers clip that you looked up and watched in amazement?
This is the obvious answer, but it was his 48-point outpouring against the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. I didn’t even get to watch this game live. I was in eighth grade on my way back from a three-day field trip to Washington, D.C., and one of our chaperones, who had graduated from the same high school as then Pistons coach Flip Saunders, was relaying the game to a bus full of middle schoolers waiting to hear the final call on what had been a legendary game in the career of LeBron James. We heard about the fourth quarter heroics, and the overtime heroics and the double overtime heroics; it all seemed so surreal at the time, but after hearing that LeBron finished at the rim with under 10 seconds to go to put his team ahead by two, I could feel Finals on the horizon. It was a sports moment that I will never forget, even though I didn’t even get to see it on live television.
JM: I am strange, but there were two that I went to first. Both of them were made after the Decision. The first was Cleveland’s Response to The Decision:
The other was a less PG version of the same thing. I wanted to remember what it felt like to be rejected, to be torn down and to lose hope in the team. I have actually watched both of those videos a number of times in the last four years. After that it was the highlights of his first game with the Cavs:
To see where he was and how far he has come was just exciting. To think that the Cavs just added that player after he developed for 11 years, has a good three-point range as well as a post game, that’s really exciting.
KF: Highlights from that Pistons game. Since high school, the world talked about James’ potential. We saw glimpses every step of the way. But that was the day he put it all together. That was the day he learned he could take a championship team and destroy it. He transcended the game that day. Rose above any sane or logical expectation of a player and did something that should have been impossible. And the momentum carried the team to their first Finals performance. He has won four MVPs, a couple of gold medals and a pair of titles since that day, but that game may go down as my all-Time LeBron James Moment until the Cavs bring a title to Northeast Ohio.
MM: You know, I’ve actually never watched the highlights of that Pistons game on YouTube. I vividly remember exactly where I was — and everything I felt — when I watched it live. Over the years, I’ve occasionally seen portions of the highlights replayed on ESPN, but I’ve never gone back and actually watched the full highlights online. It’s like I’m afraid that watching it again will somehow diminish how amazing the memory of seeing for the first time was. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense.
Anyway, the one video I did watch were the highlights from a random game in Milwaukee in 2009:
I don’t remember watching this game at the time, but I discovered it a couple of years ago, and I love it. LeBron starts knocking down heat checks, and you can hear the Milwaukee crowd just losing their minds. You know a player is special when he completely wins over a crowd on the road.
AR: I have rediscovered LeBron James Cavaliers highlights over the last few days, and I have to say, it was a pleasant surprise. Much like people put their No. 23 jerseys in the attic for a while, I had not watched much of them over the last four years. There are so many incredible plays that I think we will never see again. James’ physical peak was something I don’t think we will ever witness again (no pun intended). I have watched and rewatched all of the marvelous dunks he had, but one thing I enjoy most and really reflect that physical prowess LeBron had were his blocks:
One stands out to me (3:02). A block on Yao Ming that is incredible by the power and rage displayed. Also a super call by Fred McLeod!
Don’t get me wrong, James is still a tremendous athlete. I just don’t think he can still be as dominant as he was at 25 or 26 when it comes to that particular trait.
CJ: I haven’t watched any. So the next one will be the first. I remember the games you guys are talking about pretty well, though. It’s scary to think that James is coming back as an even better basketball player than he was before 2010, a guy willing to play in the post who can also hit 3s and who understands how to make his game more efficient by limiting his mid-range game, which he has clearly done over the past four seasons. It’s dunks, post moves and 3s — and that’s fine with me.
SS: This will always be my go-to:
One of the best calls ever.
BJ: There were two. The first was LeBron’s top 10 moments in Cleveland, per an NBA.com video. That was enough to build some excitement and anticipation. Seeing The King in Wine and Gold was refreshing, and some of the dunks we were treated to were outrageous. It’s hard to appreciate that level of talent when you have it. And when he’s not on your team, it’s even harder.
I also stumbled onto an NBATV replay of Game 5 vs. the Pistons. I’m not ashamed to admit I DVR’d and fast-forwarded to the fourth quarter, to watch LeBron take over. That game was something out of this world. Noticing the Cavs roster around him was pretty eye-opening though – he really didn’t have a whole lot of anything to work with. There were lineups with Pavlovic, Eric Snow, Donyell Marshall and Z. Z is an all-time great, but he’s not the second-best offensive option on a championship team. There’s a reason why LeBron had to become the Cavs offense in that game. His outside shooting game was pretty unbelieveable, an underappreciated aspect of LeBron’s game. The ability to get to the rim though, that’s what separates him from every other player in the league. 6-8, 265 pounds barreling toward the rim. That’s what I enjoy watching the most.
5. Even though the full roster isn’t set in stone and the team hasn’t even seen the court together with James, what are your thoughts on the Cavaliers’ contention for a title this season?
ZK: I like what LeBron James had to say in his Letter, that he knows “how hard [a championship] is to deliver” this time around. But LeBron definitely elevates this team to playoff status in the Eastern Conference. Although some of the power has been shifted to the East and teams have become a little more spaced out in a way that multiple squads can compete for the No. 1 seed this upcoming season, I think that Cavs will be right there with the best of them: the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. I think a fourth-place finish in the East isn’t too hard to imagine, but I could see them reaching a zenith at the two spot before the 2014-15 season wraps up.
JM: I think anything is possible. The Cavs will have problems with teams with a lot of low post presence; I’m looking at the Bulls with Gasol, Noah and Gibson, the Wizards with Gortat and Nene and the Pacers with Hibbert and West. David Blatt and shooting will be the key to the season. Only James has any ability to score with his back to the basket. Because of that, the Cavs will need to have at least three or possibly even four shooters on the floor as much as possible. Varejao’s ability to hit the midrange jumper from the key will greatly help some of the spacing. With shooters, the Cavs can open up space for the multiple slashers on the team, as well as give Thompson, Varejao and Bennett more room to work near the post. I expect the Cavs to play a very fast pace with all of their young players. Getting Irving and Waiters to get the ball out of their hands quick on fast breaks will be key. I expect 55 wins or so. I expect the Cavs to be in a ton of trade rumors, especially as Waiters, Bennett and Wiggins look good with James. I expect them to be in the fight for the No. 1 seed. With who will depend on which team gets hit by their biggest problem the most. For the Pacers it’s consistency and some lack of shooting, while the Bulls struggle offensively and with some aging/injury-prone players. Whoever survives their vice the best will hold the No. 1 seed. The fan in me expects the Cavs in the Finals with a better showing than they had against the Spurs. This time it will be a growing experience leading to a ring the following year.
KF: Not to argue with Vegas odds, but a title is highly unlikely next season. We have a lot of pieces. We have a lot of potential. But aside from LeBron, these guys have yet to step on the playoff stage; yet, to play a top tier team every other night for two weeks straight. Then do it again against a better team. The Cavs are in the East, so we definitely have a puncher’s chance at a Finals appearance, but I’d be happy with simply winning a singular series and giving our youth seasoning. Realistically, a Conference Finals appearance could happen, but I’m betting Chicago or Indy comes out of the East. And if we do get to the finals, the Spurs (or Thunder or Clippers or Rockets or Blazers, etc.) will be there waiting. Any playoff experience is good experience this year. LBJ said it will take time. Let’s be sure to give them that.
MM: Maybe the euphoria from last week just hasn’t worn off yet, but I really think the Cavs are the favorites to win the East. Maybe not the prohibitive favorites, as I could see them losing to any number of teams. But I think they have a very good shot to get to the Finals right away. LeBron once carried a team much worse than this one that far. I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to beat whichever team comes out of the West, but, as Jared said: Anything is possible.
AR: I think the Cavaliers are in the “conversation.” The mix this year will be larger than it was this year I think. In 2014, only five teams were considered contenders: the Spurs, Heat, Pacers, Thunder and Clippers. LeBron James leaving Miami kind of throws everything around and opens a few doors for teams that did not have a chance (starting with Cleveland, but a team like Chicago must be very happy with his departure from Miami for instance). Of course, it’s too early to tell, and such a young team winning with a rookie coach seems ridiculous, but I really believe the league will look very different next season. There are still free agents who have to sign contracts. We will know more in a couple of weeks.
CJ: It’s easy for me to say right now that there is no way in hell that the Cavs are winning a championship this season. They won 33 games after winning 24, and most of these guBs have never smelled a playoff game or really any game of importance. Sure, there’s Lebron James and Mike Miller, but I mean, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins are what, 20 and 19, and Irving himself is only 22 and has never played defense in the NBA. Are you expecting these guys to contribute? Do you think Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are championship-caliber players at 23 years old? Is Brendan Haywood going to play 1,500 minutes backing up Anderson Varejao after taking a whole season off and not playing that many minutes in three years? Matthew Dellavedova is the team’s third guard?
Once the games actually start and things are going well and LeBron James is fitting seamlessly with Irving and everyone is playing stout team defense and not getting the coach fired, I’ll probably flip on this and start believing they’ll win every game. Hard to believe I’ll be watching Cavaliers basketball in the playoffs this season, really, but I’m sure I will.
Actually, you know what? That’s all going to happen, isn’t it? Screw it, Cavs are going all the way. This year. Parade, baby.
SS: I’m in the minority who thinks they could do it this year without Kevin Love. I’m a big Andrew Wiggins fan and think that he and LeBron James could be lethal on the wings on both ends of the floor. The defense is a given; the lobs and transition offense would be appointment television.
If they get Love, they would immediately have to be favorites to win the East. If they get Love without having to give up Wiggins? Game over.
BJ: I’ve been amused by many in the media saying as constructed, that the Cavaliers are not a championship-caliber team. Right, let’s just forget that LeBron carried Cleveland to the Finals in 2007. Was that team ready to win a title? Absolutely not. But did that team have Kyrie Irving, Wiggins and/or Kevin Love, and a coach who knows how an offense should run? Nope.
Even if Kevin Love doesn’t come, I still think the Cavs are a title contender. They’re certainly in contention for best team in the Eastern Conference, and that’s good enough to get you into the Finals. Are the Bulls a more complete roster with the addition of Pau Gasol? Sure, maybe. But you’re betting on Derrick Rose returning to form, and that’s a massive question mark. Are the Cavs better than the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers at this point? I’m not sure.. But I’m also not going to say they’re not in the title hunt, even without Love. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Is there a better duo in the league? Westbrook and Durant are pretty good, I guess. All I’m saying is, if you can say the 14-15 Cavs are at least in contention for best team in the East, why can’t they win it all? (They can, and they just might).