By Matthew Ajaj
On July 11, 2014, LeBron James wrote a lovely homecoming letter to the city of Cleveland to announce his re-signing with his old Cavalier team. In this letter, he blatantly stated that he could not promise a championship for the city. He recognized the team’s youth and inexperience by stating, “My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach.”
This Cavs squad was nothing like his Miami Heat team, where he had reached four NBA Finals in four years and won two championships with the help of fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Nonetheless, James affirmed that he was up for the challenge in Cleveland, seeing himself as a “mentor” and “excited to lead some these talented young guys.” He would work his hardest to try to bring a championship to the city by building upon the team’s youth. There was a plan in place.
A year and a half later, James’s love letter is showing a significant amount of wear. After drafting Andrew Wiggins as the number one overall pick in the 2014 draft just two weeks prior to James’s signing, on Aug. 23, he was traded — along with former number one pick Anthony Bennett and a Cleveland 2015 first-round draft pick — for three-time All-Star Kevin Love.
Wiggins would later be named 2015’s NBA Rookie of the Year. During the 2014-2015 season, the Cavs would send off Dion Waiters — who James specifically mentioned in his letter as a young player he looked forward to helping improve — in a trade, acquiring J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in return. Two days later, Cleveland would send two first-round draft picks to the Denver Nuggets for 28-year-old center Timofey Mozgov.
On Friday, Jan. 22, after just a season and a half, head coach David Blatt was fired, despite his team reaching the NBA Finals in his first year and leading the Eastern Conference halfway through this year. The news came just four days after the Cavs received a 34-point deficit drubbing from the re-signing champion Warriors. Blatt was replaced by assistant Tyronn Lue.
In November of 2015, Ric Bucher, a NBA senior writer for BleacherReport.com, wrote an article detailing LeBron’s ultimate “power play” as the team’s superstar player, coach and general manager. Bucher relays Cavs General Manager (GM) David Griffin’s concession that James “is the most powerful person in the organization aside from owner Dan Gilbert.” Bucher, who has covered the NBA since 1992, also cites James’s influence in acquiring Smith, Shumpert and Mozgov, along with forcing the organization’s hand in signing Thompson to such a ludicrous contract.
Although James and the Cavs organization have publicly denied the superstar’s excessive influence, it’s clear that the team has made crucial management mistakes regardless of who is making them.
As a unit, this team does not gel. James is still the best player in the league and Kyrie Irving is a superstar point guard — the two work well together. However, Love, Smith and Mozgov are offense-oriented players who need the ball in their hands to do well and Thompson is just a rebounder. The Cavs do not have an inside defensive stalwart or a role-player who can shoot from the outside or (besides James) a guy who can move the ball around effectively to set up his teammates for the score. To put it bluntly, the Cavs are an incomplete team with too many parts that fill the same function.
Owner Dan Gilbert and GM Griffin have to share some of the blame as well, as they have been too quick to concede their power to their superstar, allowing James to essentially become the team’s manager/coach/player a la Jackie Moon in Will Ferrell’s basketball comedy, “Semi-Pro.”
In his 2014 homecoming letter, James declared, “We’re not ready right now. No way.” He promised to improve and build upon a young Cavs team with much patience. However, it’s clear that he has tried to assemble a team that is built to win immediately while sacrificing its future success. The ink is fading fast on James’s letter from just a year and a half ago and with the Cleveland Cavaliers not showing the progress and poise of a championship contender, it appears that GM James might just be mismanaging his team out of a title.