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Where Cleveland Cavaliers Would Be If They Still Had LeBron James

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in action against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on November 7, 2012 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Patrick ForteCorrespondent IJune 22, 2013


LeBron James and the Miami Heat just won their second consecutive NBA championship.  With James' successes with the Heat, it leaves Cavaliers fans to wonder where the team would be if James still wore a wine and gold uniform.  

While it's impossible to say with any certainty, LeBron James could very well be ring-less if he was still a Cavalier.  This isn't to say the team wouldn't be better off with the world's best basketball player, but instead of wondering what could have been, Cavaliers fans should be optimistic about the bright future ahead of the team.

Throughout his stint in Cleveland, the Cavaliers front office was in win-now mode, which often backfired.  The team made questionable free-agent signings and traded away draft picks in hopes of taking shortcuts to an NBA championship.  

Guys like Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall were signed to inflated deals, believing the team was much closer to winning than they really were early in James' Cleveland career, destroying their cap space chances to raise a championship banner.

With no cap space from lack of vision in managing the roster, the Cavaliers resorted to trading for overpaid veterans such as Ben Wallace, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O'Neal.  While these players contributed to the team, none were the piece needed to lift the team to the top.  

Sometimes this strategy of taking a shortcut works, such as when the Boston Celtics went from 24 wins to NBA champions by trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but more often than not a team needs to be built over time.  

The Cavaliers had only four first round picks in the seven seasons James was in town, Luke Jackson 10th overall in 2004, Shannon Brown 25th overall in 2005, J.J. Hickson 19th overall in 2008 and Christian Eyenga 30th overall in 2009.  

None of these guys had a prominent impact in Cleveland or remained on the team for more than three seasons.  Developing young talent was not a part of the Cavaliers winning plan, leaving James as a one-man show.  With no cap space and no young talent, LeBron James would still likely have no championships on his resume if he were still a Cleveland Cavalier.

The Cavaliers weren't very patient with the building of their LeBron-led roster.  Had they handled the roster such as the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Kevin Durant, by losing early and drafting well, they may have won some titles, and frankly James may have stayed in Cleveland because there would be enough talent around him.  

His best Cleveland teammate was probably Mo Williams, certainly not a good enough second fiddle to be an NBA champion.

The Cavaliers learned from their mistakes and are building the roster the right way.  It all starts with the NBA draft.  The Cavaliers have been fortunate in the NBA Draft Lottery, picking first and fourth in 2011, fourth in 2012 and first again this year.  And while luck does play into it, the team still has to make good picks.  

In 2011 they picked Kyrie Irving first overall, and he appears to be nothing short of a potential superstar in the league.  At number four the team raised eyebrows by drafting Tristan Thompson, but he has proven naysayers wrong with the developments he's made in two seasons on both sides of the ball. 

The fourth pick in 2012, Dion Waiters, was another surprise, but his rookie season showed he has All-Star potential.

The Cavaliers have the No. 1 pick again this year and plenty of cap space.  However, don't expect them to waste it away on the Donyell Marshall's and Damon Jones' of the free agent crop.  The team will carefully select guys who won't break the bank, saving it for true difference makers (maybe a guy in Miami who can become a free agent in 2014). 

Whether the team is able to attract a big name free agent or not remains to be seen, but the Cavaliers are finally building a roster the right way without taking shortcuts.  

Their time will come to compete for championships, as their young core matures and develops with experience.  When the right time comes, whether through free agency or a trade, the Cavaliers will pick up the piece or pieces needed to make a true championship run.  You can't rush these things, and the Cavaliers shouldn't this time around.  

While it may look gloomy now in light of LeBron James' successes in Miami, the future looks bright in Cleveland. 

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