On July 8, 2010, LeBron James told the nation, on national television mind you, that he would be taking his “talents” to South Beach. The rest is history: LeBron went on to reach the NBA Finals three straight years, winning both of the last two seasons, and has a strong chance of three-peating this season. Cleveland went into depression; the Cavs tied the longest losing streak in professional sports (26 games, the longest in NBA history), and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert went crazy ex-girlfriend on us, publicly scorning LeBron for leaving a city that he has no actual connection to (LeBron is from Akron, not Cleveland… something many forget through all this).
Whether or not you agree with his decision, or the way he went about announcing it, one thing we all can agree on is it’s now solidly in the past.
Flash-forward to June 27, 2013. Cleveland has won the lottery for the second time in three seasons. They choose Anthony Bennett, who stood with a look of real surprise on his face. Not the “Wow, I’m the No. 1 pick in the draft” look. No, this was the “Wait… they just called my name? I’m the first pick??” look.
His career started out as only a Clevelander’s could: Bennett struggled coming into the season after offseason shoulder surgery, started the season 0-for-15 from the field, and didn’t score in double-figures until January 28, 2014. Today Bennett turns 21, and after some improved play, his career doesn’t seem as dim as it once did. Since his first double-figures scoring game, Bennett is averaging 7.7 PPG and 4.5 RPG–definitely not first-pick-in-the-draft numbers, but not quite Darko-esque either. I’m probably in the minority here, but I still have faith in the Big Fella.
Outsiders might ask, how bad is it to actually be a Cleveland fan? A friend of mine, Mark, a diehard Cavs fan, described his fandom simply as “We are forever cursed”. This is the mindset of a 21-year-old man whose whole life is in front of him. Where is the youthful optimism? Has Dan Gilbert sucked it out of him? Is he storing it and using it to fuel his Quicken Loans offices during the harsh winter?
I could write a 10,000-word thesis on the Cavs mistakes but instead have picked the very worst. In honor of Bennett’s birthday, I recap Cleveland’s five biggest blunders made since LeBron left.
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5. Letting Danny Ferry Go
Want to know how bad LeBron’s departure really was? GM Danny Ferry resigned from his position. Nobody wanted to stay. Yes, Ferry made some mistakes as GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but look how quickly he turned things around in just a season and a half in Atlanta. Ferry was able to get rid of the toxic contract of Joe Johnson (somehow managing to receive picks for Joe Johnson) and refused to overpay Josh Smith.
In his second year as GM of the Hawks, Ferry has wiped the payroll clean of any sticky long-term contracts: only Horford, point guard Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and the two recent first-round picks are under contract in 2015-2016. Ferry never made the “big move” while he was at the helm in Cleveland, instead trading for mostly role-playing veterans to tool around LeBron. Mo Williams made an All-Star appearance while playing in Cleveland, but every other player he traded for was past their prime (Shaq, Jamison, Hughes, etc.). The question is, did he actually learn from his time in Cleveland, or was he following someone else’s orders? We may never know.
His replacement, former GM Chris Grant, wasn’t all bad (he was able to swing the deal that landed the Cavaliers the pick that turned into Kyrie Irving by taking on Baron Davis‘ expanding waistline for a half a season), but the team didn’t have a plan. Were they rebuilding, or were they pushing for the playoffs? Were they buyers or sellers at the deadline? It changed every year.
No matter how you look at it, Atlanta looks to be the big winner, as Ferry has installed a Spurs-East approach in the ATL (keep only good contracts, develop your players, and most of all have flexibility and continuity).