Cleveland Cavaliers: Model For Success


The modern National Basketball Association is vastly different from 20 or 30 years ago. Trading and free agency, once unheard of, now rule the NBA. There is no greater example than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In an age where the Spurs, with their tenured team, are a rarity; the Cavs are the model for 21st century success in the NBA.

When LeBron James made his decision to return home. That was the first domino to fall.  A team that then had Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, now had their King. But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wasn’t done yet.

“What’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”-LeBron James

After waiting the time limit out to trade Wiggins, he pulled the trigger. And thus, the new ‘Big Three’ was born, or so we thought.

Wiggins, not even a Cavalier long enough to put it on a resumé, is now a Minnesota Timberwolf. The Cavs managed to ship Wiggins North and land their second prize of the offseason, Kevin Love.

A team that hadn’t broke 34 wins since the city’s crown jewel left, suddenly jumped to becoming the favorites to win the NBA championship this season.

When James brought in his crew, he had the keys to bring Cleveland a championship. That’s the goal. Cue Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion. Three signings to shore up the team, round things out.

But in reality you cannot simply ‘build’ a championship team. They have to be forged. Placed in the fire. And James knew that coming in. He didn’t set expectations at “Not one, not two, not three…” championships, not this time. Young guys like Dion Waiters and Irving had bad habits. He had to break them.

The transition wasn’t smooth, not at all. ESPN had the Cavs ranked as number two in their preseason power rankings. They fell to a low of 17 just two weeks ago and they were .500. People were really concerned.

So how do you fix a team that was manufactured? Well, you have to fix the broken pieces and interchange some of the pieces.

The Cavaliers traded for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov. Away went Waiters and his 10.5 points per game (ppg) to Oklahoma City. In return they upgraded to J.R. Smith and his 15.2 ppg. Mozgov gave the Cavs a force down low that had been missing since Anderson Varejao was injured, and maybe even an upgrade over Varejao. Before the Thunder game Sunday, Mozgov had four consecutive double-doubles.

And Iman Shumpert has only played in the last two games, in reserve minutes, but he will continue to grow into a role on this team. He had eight points in 10 minutes last Friday.

More from NBA

The team has won six consecutive games and hasn’t scored under 100 points in that stretch. James has eclipsed 25 points in each game since returning to the court. He looks better now than at any point during the season. 

And thus, it is all coming together. That same ESPN power ranking that had them at 17 now has them at 10. And even though power rankings are pointless, it’s indicative of the team and the direction they are heading.

And that is where we are in the modern NBA.

You have to build your team through the modern avenues of trading and free agency. Building through the draft is much more difficult: just ask the Philadelphia 76ers. Once the Cavs get everything completely figured out, they will be heading into the playoffs. They’ll be hot and they’ll be playing as a team.

That means they will be dangerous.

Hate James or love him. It really doesn’t matter. He knew what the NBA was when he first left for Miami. And he has played the game perfectly.

The last phase of the plan is bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to his hometown.

That is what this whole return is about. When he announced he was coming back, he published a piece in Sports Illustrated. In it he said, “Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time,” James wrote. “My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”

He just wants that one trophy. And with the way things are going, he may get it. There are still countless hours of work, long games and losses to go through. The Cavaliers will face adversity. But for the first time all season, they finally are starting to look like the team everyone expected. A team that will compete for titles.

The Cleveland iteration of ‘the big three’ was supposed to be Love, Irving and James But now we know the big three cannot win by themselves. It takes a whole team. A group effort.

James broke the Cavs down. Fans elation soon turned to frustration. And now, the anticipation builds.

Gilbert surgically fixed a superstar-rich team and somehow made them even better. Building a modern NBA team can only be done by quick reactionary moves. And that is just what we are watching unfold in Cleveland. Gilbert is playing fantasy basketball in the real NBA.

Will Cleveland Actually Reap The Rewards, and bring home a title?

The old way of drafting a team and seeing the players play long, illustrious careers there? Those days are long-gone. What’s to blame?

The max contracts. It has a good side, it allows all teams a level playing field. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox can dominate baseball with big markets and big money. But, the Celtics and Knicks haven’t had that success. Teams like the Thunder and Houston Rockets are able to allure big players there; even with a city that may not be as sexy as New York, Boston or Los Angeles.

The downside though, if you have one superstar, or can bring one in, you can bring more in. The Rockets can nab an up-and-comer like James Harden. Allowing them to get Dwight Howard. The same way that the Cavaliers will be able to convince Love to resign, because of King James.

A rule set in place to encourage parity has actually negated parity. It’s created a league of a few giants. Who can actually contend this season? Just a handful of teams. And they all have stars, maybe the Atlanta Hawks being the outlier.

Cleveland has perfected this modern, video game style of NBA moves. Fake it until you make it, or in Cleveland’s case, trade it until you make it.

The biggest question after the abundant moves.

Will Cleveland actually reap the rewards and bring home a title?

Dec 15, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) and forward LeBron James (23) celebrate the Cleveland Cavaliers win over the Charlotte Hornets at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs beat the Hornets 97-88. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports