This time the Cavaliers revival has nothing to do with LeBron James

For most of the past two decades, the Cleveland Cavaliers could be defined by two things: LeBron James or irrelevance. James, a local h...


For most of the past two decades, the Cleveland Cavaliers could be defined by two things: LeBron James or irrelevance.

James, a local hero, breathed new life into the town after being drafted in 2003 and made the Cavaliers a must-see attraction. And then he devastated the fan base by leaving for Miami in 2010, before returning like Ulysses in 2014 and delivering one of the most legendary championships in NBA history in 2016. Two years later, he walked away, leaving the franchise without a clear path forward. .

“Everyone felt a little weird after this year,” said Cedi Osman, a fifth year guard for Cleveland.

The Cavaliers were starting from scratch and staring into the abyss. They had outdated veterans and no track record for attracting top free agents. But a funny thing happened. Fast forward through quality draft picks, savvy trading, and the unexpected resurgence of a key player, and there’s a basketball renaissance in Cleveland.

Four seasons after James left for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers defied expectations to become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference with one of the best defenses in the NBA For the first time since James left in 2018, the Cavaliers will be represented at the All-Star Game, which takes place this weekend in Cleveland. Rajon Rondo, the veteran point guard traded to Cleveland from the Lakers last month, said the Cavaliers this season have “a chance to do something special.”

Their status as a contender was cemented last week when they acquired Caris LeVert, a 27-year-old swingman and Ohio native, from the Indiana Pacers. LeVert told reporters the team seemed to have “such positive energy everywhere.”

Positive energy has been lacking in recent years. Over the past three seasons, the Cavaliers went 60-159. The rebuilding process after James, led by general manager Koby Altman, has been a bumpy one.

Cleveland is on its fourth head coach in four years. One of them, John Beilein, apologized to his team of mostly black players in 2020 for calling them “thugs” during a movie session. He quit later that year mid-season with a sad record of 14-40.

There was also the trade of AndrĂ© Drummond, a slow and expensive center who rebounded well but didn’t match the team’s fast perimeter guards, and the extension for another center, Larry Nance Jr., who never quite honored a contract. worth over $40 million.

“We took time and had to be very patient in difficult times to get where we are,” coach JB Bickerstaff, who replaced Beilein, said at a press conference last week. “And when you talk about legacy, I think those are discussions you have after the season or, you know, two years from now when you can look back on a body of work and see what you’ve really done.”

The heart of the Cavaliers’ resurgence came from the draft. Point guard Darius Garland, selected with the fifth pick in 2019, was a highly touted but risky pick considering he only played five games at Vanderbilt due to a knee injury. The Cavaliers had only signed point guard Collin Sexton the previous year, which raised eyebrows for Garland’s selection.

The team instead started Garland and Sexton as one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA Now, in only his third year, the 22-year-old Garland is averaging 20.1 points and 8 assists per game as a as a skilled ground general and won an All-Star Berth. (Sexton suffered a season-ending knee injury in early November.)

With his passing skills and ability to create space in the paint, Garland dominated at least two players. written in front of him (RJ Barrett and De’Andre Hunter), while the first pick of this draft, Zion Williamson, has not spoken this season due to a foot injury.

Brandon Knight, who was Garland’s teammate briefly during Garland’s rookie year at Cleveland, described him as “super, super, super selfless.”

“He scores a lot, but he also involves a lot of guys,” Knight, 30, said. “When you get guys involved and you feel good about yourself and you feel good about touching the basketball, I think that reflects.”

When a team is traditionally unattractive to free agents, picking high draft picks is crucial. Cleveland drafted Isaac Okoro fifth in 2020, and he became a reliable defender and open floor paver. The conscript with the highest cap might be Evan Mobley, who was picked at #3 in last year’s draft. Mobley, 20, is averaging 14.7 points and 8 rebounds per game and is a rookie of the year contender.

One of Cleveland’s best moves was the Jarrett Allen trade last season, on a four-team deal that saw James Harden join Allen’s former team, the Nets. The 23-year-old Allen – a solid rebounder and finisher on the perimeter – is now one of the best centers in the NBA and was selected as an injured replacement for Harden in this year’s All-Star Game. The Nets have a worse record than the Cavaliers and traded Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers Last week. They looked a lot like a team that could use Allen.

But Cleveland’s success this year isn’t just down to young players. Kevin Love, a five-time All-Star and the only remnant of the James era besides Osman, struggled with injuries for most of Cleveland’s rebuilding process. Love, a power forward, signed a four-year, $120 million deal extension to stay in Cleveland entering the 2018-19 season, after James left for the second time. Prior to this season, it felt like a mistake for Altman. When Love performed, his body language was sour. At many occasions, he openly showed dissatisfaction of teammates.

Deng Adel, who played 19 games for the Cavaliers in the year since James left for the Lakers, said the early stages of rebuilding were “a bit difficult” for Love.

“For the most part, he was still definitely a good teammate,” said Adel, who now plays for G League affiliate Boston Celtics. He added: “It’s getting a bit frustrating, especially for where he is in his career. You know, you could kind of tell he kind of wants to win.

After Allen’s trade and Mobley’s draft, it seemed there would be no more room for Love. But in the summer, his agent put a stop chatting that Love would try to negotiate a buyout. Instead, Love returned to training and told reporters he would be a “positive force.” Now, this year is among the best of his eight seasons in Cleveland. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game off the bench and shooting 39.2 percent on 3. Love fits in instead of adapting, just like James once did. publicly preached to do.

“He’s a great mentor for us – for young players and especially the way he’s been playing this year,” Osman said. “I mean, we really admire him. Offensively. Defensively. He is clever. He tries to help us. You know, everyone does something.

Mentorship also came from other sources. Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio came to Cleveland in an offseason trade from Minnesota and helped the team get off to a quick start with his steady hand in setting up the offense. But, in December, a knee injury ended his season and he was traded for LeVert. Rondo filled the role of Rubio.

If the Cavaliers make a deep run this playoff, perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. They have dynamic scorers (Garland, Allen), quality veterans with championship experience (Love, Rondo) and complementary shot-makers (Okoro, Osman). Especially this year, where there is no clear favorite for the title, the Cavaliers have a real shot at making the NBA Finals. And they seem to enjoy playing with each other.

“A lot of times you can’t predict this stuff, man,” Knight said. “So the ingredients are working and there’s really no answer.”

He added: “When you get a bunch of guys who are just selfless and don’t care which guy gets the points, all that stuff, I think it works.”

Of course, the Cavaliers still have a lot of work to do. The Eastern Conference is tight, and a losing streak could mean exile to the play-in tournament — and, possibly, out of the playoffs. But this year has been an undeniable step forward. If nothing else, Cleveland is aiming for something bigger, to be defined by more than a past association with LeBron James.

“We’re trying to build something,” Osman said. “It’s all about these Cavs right now.”



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Newsrust - US Top News: This time the Cavaliers revival has nothing to do with LeBron James
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