With the first and fourth overall picks in the 2011 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are closer to fulfilling Dan Gilbert’s prophecy.
The Cavs’ owner predicted that the “Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled (former) king wins one.”
OK, that’s still insane.
They aren’t the Miami Heat, but they are on the right track as they attempt to escape LeBron James’ shadow.
In a small market like Cleveland, no rebuilding process is quick and simple. It may not take very long to get back to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, considering it is the Eastern Conference. The time it will take to get back to a championship level, though, is unpredictable.
It always will take a bold move or two — such as the Mavs trading for Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler — to build a championship-caliber team, but at the core of almost every title team is a superstar it drafted and developed.
The Cavaliers were there at one point. Led by James and, uh, Sasha Pavlovic, they reached the NBA Finals in 2007. That was not a championship-level team — and the San Antonio Spurs proved that to them.
To get back to the Finals, a series of bold moves ended up creating a team that didn’t have the mental toughness to win a title. That mindset was very reflective of its team leader — ironic, in a sense, considering he embraced the title “chosen one.”
Regardless, the upcoming NBA draft signals that it’s time to move on from the past. By the pure luck of ping-pong balls bouncing their way — partially thanks to the Los Angeles Clippers’ eternal incompetence — the Cavaliers have a way to change the direction of the franchise.
Despite James’ spoiled and arrogant attitude, he did create a positive culture around the team. The level of success the team reached during his seven years with it — though title-less — is unparalleled in franchise history.
Not only did he help build a more passionate fan base, but his departure ended up galvanizing Cleveland fans and establishing a deeper connection to the team.
That was most evident at the Cavs-Heat game Dec. 2, when the venomous crowd created a raucous atmosphere eclipsing that of the city’s first NBA Finals game.
Gilbert paraded himself and a slew of other Cleveland “celebrities” out in front of the Quicken Loans Arena crowd in James’ return to Cleveland. Apparently, this was supposed to symbolize just how ingrained the Cavaliers are in the fabric of the city — and it’s true.
The Cavs have done a better job identifying themselves with the city than the Browns or Indians. Of course, without consistent success, fans will start to lose interest in the team.
That’s why striking gold in this year’s NBA lottery is key for the Cavaliers. It offers an opportunity to turn the team around quickly and establish another star to rally around.
This time, hopefully, he won’t be thrust onto an undeserved throne.