The city of Cleveland, Ohio, has always had a history of cruel moments in sport, so much so that it’s put down to a curse. “The Catch” (video here), “The Drive” (video here), “The Fumble” (video here) and of course Michael Jordan's "The Shot" (video here) – Four famous phrases that you may want to avoid when you visit the Cleveland area. On July 8, 2010, another body blow was delivered - “The Decision”. He was the Messiah who was supposed to deliver this cursed city a championship. He was the King, a hero of the masses, the son of the state. He turned his back on his people. LeBron James left.
To put the effect LeBron had on Cleveland with his departure in words, is not something that is entirely feasible. The effect on the Cavaliers was evident. The owner, Dan Gilbert, came out with an ill-advised rant (famously using the “Comic Sans” font). The Cavaliers broke to pieces. Suddenly, the support cast of a championship contending team, showed exactly what they were - a support cast without a star to support.
It’s been two hard losing seasons since, and the Cavaliers are well on their way to a third. But, as they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. In the years since LeBron left the city, the Cavaliers management (thankfully) did not look for temporary fixes. They did not try to create a playoff team capable of staying relevant. Instead, they chose to break it all up.
Kyrie Irving, the star point guard from Duke University’s, Mike Krzyzewski coached, assembly line of a team and the talented Canadian Power Forward Tristan Thompson, were picked up in the 2011 NBA Draft, before the lockout. Joining them in the 2012 draft, were Dion Waiters, a talented sophomore shooting guard from Syracuse and the seasoned college center Tyler Zeller of North Carolina. The Cavs have found their core.
The Oklahoma City Thunder built a championship contender around three big draft picks – Durant, Westbrook and Harden. Portland nearly built a similarly strong team around Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden and Nicolas Batum. However, injuries would go on to deflate the Trailblazers. The fact of the matter is, every great team needs a solid core. Occasionally, you will get a team like the current Denver Nuggets side, with a deep roster and no real identifiable core. But rarely, will such a team win a championship. When you think back to all the great sides over history, there has always been a key set of players who hold the key to the franchise’s fortunes.
In Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Zeller, the Cavaliers have assembled the talent they need to contend in the future. In Byron Scott, they have a coach who started for the “Showtime” Lakers side of the 80s, alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. He will also be able to draw upon the experience of coaching Chris Paul, and help Irving develop into a potent force. A strict disciplinarian, and a demanding coach, there could hardly be a better choice of coach, to mentor a group of young budding stars.
Additionally, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson are lucky to be lining up alongside Anderson Varejao. Varejao may not be among the biggest names in the NBA, but you would have to really strain your grey cells, to think of a better big man defender of the pick and roll, than the Brazilian big man nicknamed “Wild Thing”. Varejao came to the league limited as an offensive player. But over time, using his ability to pull down offensive rebounds, and by developing his mid range jumper, Varejao has shown the work ethic and professionalism needed to survive in this league. The 2 young big men could hardly do worse than look to Big Andy as a mentor.
For Cavaliers fans, the past undoubtedly still hurts. The present probably makes things worse. But hope is on the horizon. Another losing season could mean the Cavs landing a lottery pick in the 2013 draft and in the process another talented youngster. Add that to a core of Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Varejao and Zeller, and the future is bright. As a fan of the Cavaliers, I will be waiting in patience along with the other Cavs fans around, with a large dose of hope and optimism, for the Cavaliers re-emergence at the top of the NBA. It's almost time to add to "The Drive", "The Catch", "The Fumble", "The Shot" and "The Decision" with something a lot more positive - "The Return".