Thank You LeBron: The End of an Unforgettable Era

Workers begin to take down the iconic LeBron James banner from the Sherwin Williams building on July 3. Photo Credit-Jeff Lansky

Four years ago, when LeBron James announced his return to the Cavaliers in an essay in Sports Illustrated, he made his goal clear: to bring the city of Cleveland their first championship since 1964. Two years later, he delivered on that promise with arguably the greatest comeback in NBA history. Now, almost four years later LeBron James has left the Cavs for the second time in his career, this time to join the Los Angeles Lakers. No, there is not the level of vitriol that was present when James “took his talents to South Beach” in 2010, but there is a wide sense of disappointment amongst Cavs fans. In his essay he wrote “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when.” And a few weeks later he would say “I don’t plan on going nowhere. I don’t have the energy to do it again.” As emotional as the essay was, it now looks like a brilliant PR move than a love letter to Cleveland. But even though LeBron has departed for a second time, Cavalier fans should still feel great appreciation for a man who came home and kept his promise of bringing us a title.

This past season was perhaps the most tumultuous in Cavaliers history. It started with Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert and general manager, David Griffin mutually parting ways, followed by star point guard, Kyrie Irving’s trade request. The two decisions proved to hang over the team for the entire season and may continue to do so for years to come. The arrivals of Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and injured point guard Isaiah Thomas culminated in an explosive team meeting in January. Then there was the total roster reshaping done by first year GM, Koby Altman on trade deadline day swapping out six players and adding George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson. The moves reinvigorated LeBron after he slowed his effort down on the court for the good part of a month in protest to the team’s disfunction. The Cavaliers would finish as the four seed in the Eastern Conference and what followed would end up being a magical farewell tour to Cavalier fans from King James.

LeBron had the best statistical regular season of his career this past season averaging 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and a career-high 9.1 assists. He finished as the runner-up to James Harden in the MVP voting. His postseason performance was the most dominant and arguably the most memorable of his 15 year career. He averaged 34 points, 9.1 boards, 9 assists per game. James scored over 40 points eight times in the playoffs including a 51 point master piece in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He had two iconic buzzer beaters: a game winning three pointer over Thaddeus Young in Game 5 of the first round against the Indiana Pacers and a running one-handed bank shot against the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. LeBron celebrated both buzzer beaters by standing on the scorers table at half-court and pounding his chest. These displays of emotion were the first time that James had ever shown this kind of acknowledgement and passion towards his hometown fans. Looking back on it now it was poetic and a way to say goodbye to the Cavalier faithful.

Yes, LeBron has left Cleveland for the second time and it is extremely bittersweet. As I look back and reflect on having the privilege to watch him over his 11 seasons in a Cavaliers uniform, I feel a sense of pride and gratitude to have witnessed the brilliance of the greatest basketball player of my generation. I was fortunate enough to be present for 3 of his 5 buzzer beaters with the Cavs and to experience a number of NBA Finals games. Because of LeBron returning home, I was able to experience a championship with my dad, a lifelong and die-hard Cleveland sports fan, before he passed away. The 11 seasons LeBron James spent in Cleveland are filled with memories I will never forget and will share with my children one day. So as “The Kid from Akron” heads to Hollywood, all I can say is Thank You LeBron for making good on your promise and giving me the best sports years of my young life.

Cavs-Pistons Round 1 Preview

cavs-pistons

Season Series: Detroit won 3-1
Game 1: Detroit at Cleveland, Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m.
Game 2: Detroit at Cleveland, Wednesday, April 20 at 8 p.m.
Game 3: Cleveland at Detroit, Friday, April 22 at 7 p.m.
Game 4: Cleveland at Detroit, Sunday, April 24 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Detroit at Cleveland, Tuesday, April 26 (if necessary)
Game 6: Cleveland at Detroit, Thursday, April 28 (if necessary)
Game 7: Detroit at Cleveland, Saturday, April 30 (if necessary)

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James. Photo Credit: Erik Drost http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James. Photo Credit: Erik Drost

For the second year in a row, the Cavaliers will open up the playoffs against an old foe. Last year it was the Boston Celtics and this year it is the Detroit Pistons. The Cavs and Pistons had some epic playoff matchups in 2006 and 2007 and now they will renew their rivalry once again. Pistons point guard, Reggie Jackson has already given the Cavaliers some motivation when he was asked about the series. He said “I don’t want to fight Goliath’s homeboy or little brother. I want to fight Goliath.” The Cavs struggled against the Pistons this season dropping 3 out of the four meetings. Despite that fact, Cleveland has playoff experience and this young Detroit team does not. The Pistons are making their first playoff appearance since 2009 when they were swept by LeBron James and the Cavs in the first round. The Cavaliers have gotten into a groove over the last month and are finally looking poised to make a deep postseason run. Cleveland is the better team in this series, but there is one area where Detroit has an advantage, which is rebounding. Andre Drummond is a monster on the boards for the Pistons and he will give Tristan Thompson a tough time. However, Drummond can’t do it all on his own and his teammates must step up if they want to make this series interesting

Key Matchup

Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson dribbles during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015 in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The matchup to look for in this series is between point guards Kyrie Irving and Reggie Jackson. Irving has had an up and down season after returning from a knee injury in last year’s NBA Finals. Kyrie has struggled to find his form, but I think that will change now that the playoffs have arrived. He looked great in Monday’s win against the Atlanta Hawks scoring 35 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Kyrie was so encouraged by his performance that he told management that he wanted to play in Wednesday’s finale against the Pistons, but coach Tyronn Lue ultimately opted to rest him. Detroit point guard, Reggie Jackson, is the Pistons only starter that has playoff experience, appearing in 30 postseason games with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jackson missed Detroit’s final two games with an abdominal strain, but he will be ready for game one on Sunday. Jackson averaged 18,8 points and 6.2 assists per game this season. If Jackson stays healthy during the series, this matchup between the two young point guards will be a fun one.

Lansky’s Crazy Stat

LeBron James has never lost a first round playoff series in his career. The King has won 40 of 47 first round games as a member of the Cavaliers and the Miami Heat.

Prediction

The Cavs will win this series in 5 games. You could make the case that the Cavaliers sweep the Pistons, but Detroit is a scrappy team and I think they will win game 3 at home at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Cleveland’s playoff experience led by the Big 3 will guide them to victory over their division rivals.

Cavs All-Time All-Star Starting Five

The NBA All-Star game is tonight and in honor of the annual showcase of the league’s top talent, I present to you my Cleveland Cavaliers All-Time All-Star Starting Five. The selections for this roster were made based off of every Cavaliers player in franchise history to be selected to the All-Star team.

Point Guard-Kyrie Irving

3 All-Star Selections

Kyrie Irving soars for a layup in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans.

Kyrie Irving soars for a layup in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans.

Kyrie Irving’s first five NBA seasons have already seen many memories made at All-Star weekend. In his rookie season, Irving took home MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge. He put on a show scoring 34 points, including going 8-8 from three point range. The following season Kyrie was selected to play his first All-Star game where he scored 15 points. However, it was the night before that All-Star game that stood out for Irving. He competed in the Three-Point Shootout, scoring 23 points in the final round to win the contest. Irving’s third season featured arguably his best All-Star performance to date. He was voted by the fans to be the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference. Irving  took over scoring 31 points with 14 assists, capturing the All-Star game MVP. Last season, Kyrie joined LeBron James at Madison Square Garden for his third All-Star game. He scored 11 points in a losing effort for the Eastern Conference. Irving did not make the All-Star team this season due to missing the first two months of the season with a knee injury, but I think it is safe to say that Uncle Drew will be making more All-Star memories for years to come.

 

Shooting Guard-Mark Price

4 All-Star Selections

Mark Price celebrates winning the 1993 Three-Point Shootout in Salt Lake City.

Mark Price celebrates winning the 1993 Three-Point Shootout in Salt Lake City.

Cleveland’s original three-point specialist, Mark Price is the other guard on this list. Price made his first All-Star appearance in 1989, scoring 9 points off the bench. The 1992 game marked the first of three consecutive All-Star appearances for Price. In 1993, he took over scoring a record of 6 three pointers in the first half. His final All-Star appearance featured another strong performance with 20 points and 5 assists. Despite his success in the All-Star game itself, Price’s performances in the Three-Point Shootout are arguably his most memorable. In 1993, he became the first player in Cavs franchise history to win the contest dethroning reigning 3-time champion, Craig Hodges. Price followed this up with a repeat win in 1994, setting the record for most points in the final round with 24. One of basketball’s purest shooters is an easy decision for this list.

 

Small Forward-LeBron James

12 All-Star Selections

February 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Eastern Conference forward LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers (23) shoots during the second half of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

February 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Eastern Conference forward LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers (23) shoots during the second half of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest no brainer on this list is Northeast Ohio’s own, LeBron James. Eight of LeBron’s twelve All-Star appearances came as a member of the Cavaliers, a franchise record. He has also been voted to the starting lineup in each of his twelve apperances. The King’s first two years in the league saw appearances in the Rookie-Sophomore Game. He shined in both games scoring 33 points and 20 points respectively. LeBron followed up his second Rookie-Sophomore Game with his first All-Star Game appearance in 2005. The following year was perhaps his best All-Star game performance to date. The 21-year-old helped the Eastern Conference overcome a 21 point deficit, scoring 29 points with 6 rebounds. The stellar performance made him the youngest MVP in All-Star game history. LeBron won his second All-Star game MVP in three years in 2008. King James led the East to a 134-128 win with 27 points, 9 assists, and 8 boards. LeBron has partaken in many All-Star Weekend events including two Skills Challenge competitions failing to win either. He has many great All-Star moments, but the one thing that fans have been deprived of is seeing one of the game’s best dunkers participate in the Slam Dunk Contest. At last year’s All-Star Game he told the media that he is “over the hill now” to compete in the contest. Basketball fans around the world can only hope that the future Hall of Famer will change his mind before he ends his legendary career.

Power Forward-Larry Nance

 3 All-Star Selections

Former Cavaliers forward, Larry Nance.

Former Cavaliers forward, Larry Nance.

Larry Nance is a Cavaliers legend, but his most well known All-Star moment is when he won the first Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 as a member of the Phoenix Suns. He also made his first All-Star appearance with the Suns the following season. Nance was traded to the Cavs in 1988 and he made his first All-Star appearance with Cleveland the next year. He joined teammates Mark Price and Brad Daugherty in the 1989 game, scoring 10 points. This trio of Cavs players made a second appearance together in the 1993 All-Star Game. Nance scored 7 points off the bench in his final All-Star Appearance. This high flier is a fitting choice to be the power forward on this list.

 

Center-Zydrunas Ilgauskas

2 All-Star Selections

DENVER - FEBRUARY 20: Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars drives against Kevin Garnett #21 the Western Conference All-Stars during the 2005 All-Star Game on February 20, 2005 at The Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DENVER – FEBRUARY 20: Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars drives against Kevin Garnett #21 the Western Conference All-Stars during the 2005 All-Star Game on February 20, 2005 at The Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Choosing a center was the toughest decision I had to make for this list. The decision came down to Brad Daugherty and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Daugherty made 5 All-Star appearances to Ilgauskas’ 2 appearances. In the end, I went with Big Z because even though he made less appearances than Daugherty I thought he was more impressive. Ilgauskas’ first taste of All-Star Weekend came at the 1998 Rookie Challenge at Madison Square Garden. He was one of three Cavs players selected for the game, but it was his night. Big Z won MVP honors scoring 18 points, adding 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. It is rare that big men take over in All-Star games and Ilgauskas is the only true center to win the MVP at the Rookie-Sophomore Game. His first All-Star appearance would come in 2003, where he failed to score in 4 minutes of action. Ilgauskas’ second appearance was much better as he joined his teammate LeBron James for the game in Denver. He scored 12 points off the bench with 2 blocks. The Cavs all-time leader in total rebounds and blocked shots is a great addition to this roster.

 

Coach-Mike Brown

Former Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown.

Former Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown.

The Cavaliers have had three head coaches in franchise history named the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Lenny Wilkens coached the team in 1989 in a losing effort. Mike Brown coached the 2009 squad that featured Cleveland’s own LeBron James and Mo Williams. Brown also returned to Cleveland with an All-Star loss. Current Cavaliers head coach, Tyronn Lue is coaching this year’s team after former coach, David Blatt was fired last month. I chose Mike Brown because 2009 was a career year for him. In addition to earning All-Star head coaching honors, he guided the Cavs to a franchise-best 66-16 record. He also coached the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference Finals and was named Coach of the Year for the 2008-2009 season. Only time will tell if Lue can replicate the success that Brown had during his time in Cleveland, but if I had to guess I would say a NBA Championship this season would be a pretty great start.

 

March Madness: Cavs Rolling Towards Playoffs

Since returning from the All-Star break, the Cavaliers have lived up to the expectations that were put on them at the beginning of the season. The Cavs have been dominate since January 15, posting a league best 24-5 record. Cleveland’s success has largely been due to the trades for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. The brilliant play of Kyrie Irving and LeBron James has also been key during the Cavaliers run.

The Cavs have been hard to beat at home, winning 13 straight at The Q. However, Cleveland’s toughest challenge of the second half of the season has been it’s grueling road schedule. The Cavs have had to play of 10 out of the 13 games since the All-Star break on the road. They have proven to be road warriors by notching huge wins in Washington, Toronto, Dallas, and San Antonio. The Cavaliers wrap up a four game road trip tonight in Miami. After the game, they will return home for a quick two game homestand, before heading back on the road for three more games.

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James, in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 25, 2015. Creative Commons

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James, in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 25, 2015. Creative Commons

The Cavaliers big three are finally starting to come together. The three stars connected for a big play during the Cavs 89-79 victory over the Suns on March 7. Irving chased down a loose ball and kicked it out to Love, who then passed it behind his back to James for the layup. The hustle play was a thing of beauty and it showed what this group is capable of. LeBron is having a great season and is still in the discussion for MVP. Since ditching his trademark headband against the Suns, James has been all business. He has scored over 20 points in each of the Cavs last 3 games, including a 31 point performance in San Antonio. Kyrie has been spectacular during the Cavs current four game win streak. Irving put on a show in Thursday’s 128-125 overtime win against the Spurs. He set a franchise record with 57 points and was 7 for 7 from 3 point range. Irving drained a three pointer as time expired to force overtime. He went to hit another tough 3 pointer in overtime to lift the Cavs over the Spurs.

In order for the Cavs to make a long postseason run, they must stay healthy. The Cavs have managed to avoid major injuries since the All-Star break. Shawn Marion suited up on Sunday night in Orlando after missing 12 games with a hip injury. Kevin Love was given the night off in Orlando to rest. He has suffered from back spasms since November and experienced a flare up during the game in San Antonio. James suffered a minor injury in Sunday’s win as he tweaked his knee. He finished the game and will receive treatment before tonight’s game against the Heat. Cavalier fans should not be too worried about the injuries as there are only 14 games remaining in the regular season. The Cavs starters will soon get some much needed rest as the team prepares to make a deep run into the playoffs.