Even the exciting times of the LeBron James era in Cleveland were laced with the underlying inevitable fear of betrayal. Or maybe more appropriately the underlying fear of departure. In any case, there is a calming nature to the whole win or he'll leave thing being over. Even if that means it is actually all over, and there's currently no winning.
If you asked me last August I'd have called LeBron's decision to depart all kinds of betrayal. A betrayal against his hometown, his family, his friends, and most importantly a betrayal against himself. In making the decision he did, however it turns out a decade from now, he chose to not be the "Chosen One" anymore. While he had those words inked across his back, he didn't want that responsibility on his shoulders. He couldn't carry that, didn't have the heart to try, so he bounced.
But almost a year removed from the day LeBron sat behind that postgame podium talking about how he's spoiled Cleveland with his brilliance throughout his time as a Cavalier, it doesn't really feel like betrayal anymore. Just a departure. I suppose time is the biggest ingredient in this healing process, but coming to a realization of truths have also been paramount for Cavs fans this season.
The main truth being that Dennis Green was wrong when it came to LeBron James. He wasn't who we thought he was. A supreme all-world talent to be sure, but he doesn't want it like those guys did. He doesn't believe in himself like those guys did, and he doesn't have the heart to be the key cog in a championship wheel. Which is fine. A player like that should try to hitch his wagon to a guy like Dwayne Wade's star. He can now studio gangster his way to a title, and maybe some people will never realize all of what I just said is completely true.
His finest hour is in the rearview, that playoff game against the Pistons almost five seasons ago, when he was brilliant. He did that with his hometown behind him, and he was magnificent that night. He'll never do something like that again though, and seeing the truth of that play out down in South Beach this season has also helped the healing process.
The rebuilding process has helped too though. Cleveland truly has moved on. The Cavaliers have new life, a new vision, and it can only get better from here. Rock bottom has been hit, it's been laid on for a while, and now it's time to get up. All eyes on the lottery. The Cavs control their own destiny now for the foreseeable future, and that's an exciting and new position.
For full disclosure there was a big part of me that wanted this year's Cavaliers to ride for some imaginary cause of togetherness and civic pride and challenge for the eighth seed in the playoffs way back in the summertime. I was a mess emotionally in thinking this, obviously. As a Cavs fan myself, I can't be happier with where the organization stands today. History will tell us that Denver handled this superstar wanting out of the small market thing much better than Cleveland did, but what are you gonna do. No way Cleveland could've traded him.
So instead of sitting with a collection of good players as a 5-seed out West, Cleveland is sitting at home hoping for the ping pong balls to bounce their way. The trade exception is still in hand because I guess the Cavaliers kinda did trade LeBron in the end, so who knows what Chris Grant may be able to manufacture there. I'm not sure who the piece will be, but I expect a move to be made with Golden State on draft night with regards to that trade exception. More on that later, but remember where you heard that first.
Beyond that the Cavaliers are sitting on the pick they earned for losing the second most games in the league, as well as what will become of the Clippers pick they received in return for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon in the Baron Davis deal. It's hard to project next season without at least knowing where those picks will be, let alone who they'll be, but you gotta think those picks represent two players who can be inserted into the top-8 or 9 next season. Or you gotta hope they will I guess.
Alongside who remains to be seen, but in the end you had to be pleased with the progress of JJ Hickson as the season went on in particular. He seems like he found a consistent stride, and his NBA IQ seemed to improve some from a guy who had trouble locating the court in years past to one who now knows the importance of rebounding every night, and can even pass out of a double team on occasion. He looks like a legit piece, and pairing his improvement alongside a healthy Anderson Varejeo and you could have a pretty active frontline in Cleveland next season. Baron Davis just might be better than people think next year too, he seems to like leading these young guys from what I've observed of him so far, and that's been a pleasant surprise as well.
This summer will go a long way towards shaping this team for years to come though, along with both shaping expectations, and moving from the past into a new era of Cavs basketball. I think today's spot is a much better one than any Cavs fans would have ever imagined 6 or 10 months ago, so hopefully the ping pong balls bounce the right way and the Cavaliers take advantage of that.
They should have time to focus on these off-season moves too, because there's about a month and a half of basketball they've been involved with over the last half a dozen years that they don't need to worry about this time around.
Cheers to the future, Cleveland. New day.