OTG's All-Decade Team: Cleveland Cavaliers Edition
With the past decade coming to a close, what better way to ring in the new decade by reflecting on the past. Off The Glass is taking a look at each NBA team and selecting their All-Decade squad, which is defined by one guard, one forward, one center, a role player (someone not selected as an All-Star, or to an All-NBA team), and one wildcard.
Forward of the Decade: LeBron James
Who else could it be? It may surprise you to discover that the King spent only four of the past ten years in Cleveland, but those four years represent the undisputed apex of the Cleveland Cavs as a franchise. He led them to the NBA Finals in all four of those seasons, facing the Golden State Warriors each time. Though Cavs fans would have liked better than the 1-3 record they came away with, that ‘1’ was the one that mattered. James led the Cavs to their first ever title as a franchise, and the first in Cleveland major sports in 52 years, averaging 26.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, and 7.6 apg in a Finals MVP-winning tour de force. Factor in his seven years in Cleveland in the aughts, and James owns just about every franchise record the Cavs have. His jersey will someday hang in the rafters, and a statue will someday commemorate his greatness.
Guard of the Decade: Kyrie Irving
Drafted with a surprise #1 overall pick -- courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers -- Irving bore the heavy burden of being the post-LeBron face of the Cavs for three years before bearing the lesser burden of being Pippen to LeBron’s Jordan. His broken kneecap in the 2015 finals probably kept the Cavs from splitting their epic multi-year battle with the Warriors, but before forcing his way out of town, Irving did manage to crack the Cavs franchise Top-10 standings in points, assists, steals, and more. Despite leaving Clevelanders with a slightly bitter taste in their collective mouths, Kyrie did hit the three that ultimately provided the final margin in their Game 7 victory in Oakland, one of the biggest shots in NBA history; he shouldn’t ever pay for a meal in Cleveland as long as he lives.
Center of the Decade: Kevin Love
The third of the Cavs ‘Big 3’ that finally landed Cleveland its elusive championship, Love had to sacrifice far more than James or Irving to integrate his game into the Cavs winning formula -- a sacrifice he gladly made. After putting up big (huge, really) stats for a bad Minnesota franchise, Love sought out a winning situation, whatever the cost to his personal box scores. He didn’t rock the boat in the slightest when he went from a 26.1-12.5-4.4 in his final year in Minnesota to a 16.4-9.7-2.2 because his team made the playoffs for the first time -- though his season was cruelly cut short by the dirty play (I saw it, it was dirty, no one can convince me otherwise) of Kelly Olynyk in the first round of the playoffs. Back with a vengeance in 2016, Love made the key defensive stop on Steph Curry at the end of Game 7, silencing critics of his defensive play, and earning him All-Time status in Cleveland. ‘The One Who Stayed’ re-upped with the Cavs even as James and Irving departed. His ‘0’ is a strong candidate for the rafters as well.
Role-Player of the Decade: Tristan Thompson
Double T played the most games of any Cav in the Wine and Goldin the ‘10s. Drafted in the same class as Irving, Thompson gained a great reputation in the league for his effort, energy, and reliability, at one point playing in 447 straight games over parts of six seasons. Though he would never reach the heights of his draft-mate Irving, Thompson made himself into an integral part of the Cavs’ team successes, and as the team rebuilds, finds himself in a new role as a much higher-usage offensive player and team veteran as Cleveland heads into a new decade.
Wildcard of the Decade: Shirtless J.R. Smith
What won’t Shirtless J.R. do? Asking for a friend. Honestly, though, fully-clothed J.R. Smith has entered Bill Simmons’ legendary Tyson Zone where he could do literally anything and I wouldn’t be surprised. Untie an opponent’s shoelaces mid-game? Sure. Throw a bowl of soup at a coach? Ok. Dribble out the clock at the end of regulation in a tied Finals game? A lot of readers just had a visceral, physical reaction, but yes. Now take his shirt off.
Decade Low Point: 2010-11 Twenty-Six Game Losing Streak
What do you do when you build an entire franchise around one player and he leaves? Replace him with Jamario Moon! Oh, that was a rhetorical question. I guess the answer is ‘suck on an epic scale.’ Lost somewhat to the annals of history is the fact that the Cavs got off to a 7-9 start, and looked like they might be mildly okay after the gut punch of LeBron’s departure. But then the losing started. 10 straight. An OT win over the Knicks proved only a brief reprieve, however, as they proceeded to lose 26 in a row from between wins on December 18th and February 11th. Imagine if they hadn’t pulled it out in that Knicks game? We’d be talking about a THIRTY-SEVEN GAME LOSING STREAK. They lost by one. They lost by fifty-five. They lost.
Decade High Point: 2016 NBA Championship
I mean obviously. If we were going to distill it to a single moment, though, it’s LeBron’s chasedown block of Andre Iguodala with 1:51 to go in Game 7. Though Kyrie’s 3 and Love’s Stop were still to come, The Chasedown was the moment I first let myself believe the Cavs might win. It was a tie game, a rock fight; any basket was so important -- that’s why there were so few. Irving missed a layup, the Warriors raced back the other way, and I can still hear it in my sweetest dreams…
‘Iguodala to Curry…
Back to Iguodala…
Up for the lay-up-
OHHHH! BLOCKED BY JAMES!’
Next Decade Prediction: A Return to the Postseason
Unlike the first time LeBron left, the Cavs had an inkling it was coming, and having a ‘Larry O’ in the trophy case, no one held it against him. Having picked up a lottery pick in the trade that sent Irving to the Celtics, and with Kevin Love still on board, the Cavs have the start of something; three first round picks a year ago, and a deep-pocketed owner in Dan Gilbert who’ll buy draft picks, more or less, means that the Cavs are willing to take the time to build a foundation of success. With a five-year contract for coach John Beilein and GM Koby Altman newly resigned to an extension, the leadership team in Cleveland is theoretically stable for a few years, which bodes well. Whether or not any of their present youngsters -- or upcoming draftees -- turn into a franchise-level talent remains to be seen; the Cavs just need to sneak into the 8th seed once before 2030 for me to hit on this.