The time is nearly upon us Cleveland Cavaliers fans. In just two short days, two NBA teams will open their season at Quicken Loans Arena—and one of them will look completely different from last season.
Wait, completely different is an understatement. The 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers roster, franchise and organization has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts since the team last played a regular season game last April. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets, Tyler Zeller led all scorers with 22 points while Jarrett Jack dished out nine assists.
Gone are the days where 33 wins are considered an upgrade and a “step in the right direction.” Last season, we discussed whether being the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference was too much to ask of a young roster attempting to grow up and learn from their mistakes. Now, it feels like anything short of making the NBA Finals would be a disappointment.
Boy have things changed in a major way in just a year.
After defying the draft odds yet again and winning the lottery with a 1.7 percent chance, the Cavaliers set in motion one of the greatest offseasons on paper in NBA history. With Andrew Wiggins as one of the best trade chips on the market, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin was poised to make a big splash if the best player in the NBA—LeBron James—was ready to make a return of epic proportions.
Return—this is a word that carried a probability lower than that of the Cavaliers winning the NBA lottery three times in four seasons, just four long years ago. It is also a word James and his family likely never thought was going to happen after images of No. 23 jerseys burned in downtown Cleveland streets. Following a moment and ESPN Special forever dubbed “The Decision,” it seemed as if the once savior of the city of Cleveland in the 2003 NBA Draft was forever gone to win championships in South Beach.
Win those championships James did, as he brought two in four NBA Finals appearances to the city of Miami. But something was missing in all of this winning for James—he wasn’t doing it for the area he grew up in, he wanted to bring a championship to his home.
In an exclusive essay released by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, James poured out his heart and emotions in a way he never would have four years ago. In one breath he thanked Miami and his good friends for the times they had and the championships they won, but in another he stated, “But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeastern Ohio.”
James’ acknowledgment of mistakes made by all parties in his essay followed this statement. Unlike many seemingly entitled athletes in this day, the former “Chosen One” of the city of Cleveland accepted these mistakes and was able to move past them. “Everybody makes mistakes,” James stated. “I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”
For those who have followed James since high school, the difference is easy to be seen. He has grown into the man many expected him to be during his time in Cleveland, and has openly accepted the challenge and his role on this team.
Getting James to sign in free agency would have been a major coup for every single franchise in the NBA. However, Griffin and the Cavaliers were not done there—as they still had their Wiggins chip locked and loaded to be used. And this, Cavaliers fans, is where the summer got fun.
After months of rumors, Griffin pulled off the move nobody thought was possible a year ago—he landed Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. It took Wiggins, last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and ironically enough, a 2015 first-round pick acquired from the Miami Heat for James back in 2010 to get him—but the Cavaliers acquired one of the top players in the entire NBA.
Take a moment to soak all of this in.
Yes, the Cavaliers were bad the last four seasons—and usually that is something that is par for the course for a Cleveland franchise. But instead of continuing the misery, the Cavaliers were able to take the assets from those years and turn them into an attraction worthy of luring the man who publically denounced his relationship from them on national television back to their team. On top of that, they used those assets to go out and form one of the best three-man tandems in the league today—and possibly in the history of the game depending on the outcome.
With James, Love and youngster Kyrie Irving leading the way, things were bound to be exciting. Mix in up and comers like Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, and the Cavaliers were already looking like more of a championship caliber roster than the one James left the city for in South Beach.
But Griffin wasn’t done there. He went out and signed Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion. He strategically made a trade for veteran Brendan Haywood—who may or may not actually make an impact this season, but worst case scenario will be an excellent trading chip next season. Overall, he took a bench that once resembled a D-League roster and turned it into one that can go toe-to-toe with the depth found in San Antonio.
If you need to take a second to pinch yourself again to make sure you aren’t dreaming, feel free to. Because at this point, metamorphosis might not even be the proper word to describe what occurred to the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason. There truly may not be any way to really express the complete makeover that has taken place to the Cavaliers.
So here we are, once again sitting just two days before one of the biggest parties known to fans will take place in downtown Cleveland. For those of you who will be in attendance—either inside the arena or outside at the mega-tailgate—make sure you do not keep these emotions bottled up inside. After months of gloating and celebrating on Facebook and Twitter, the whole world will finally have the chance to see just how you feel, so let it out.
The city of Cleveland is back on the map in a way nobody else can possibly imagine or thought was possible. So no matter the outcome of the opening night game against the Knicks, or whether or not the Cavaliers are hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season, just take it all in and enjoy the moment. Because an offseason like this may never occur again in Cleveland history.