Fast forward to the present, and the story is the first real push for the playoffs Cleveland is making during the Kyrie Irving era. While the team certainly still has room—and need—for improvement, it's safe to say the rebuilding stage is over.
So, then, have the Cavaliers been rebuilt the right way?
The assembly of the current Miami Heat core changed the landscape of the NBA, which was then formally changed with the new CBA after the 2011 lockout. Smaller-market teams like Cleveland had to look for examples of how to put together a winning team without the amenities a big-market franchise can offer.
Of course, that example was the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Just a few months before James announced he was taking his talents to South Beach, the young Thunder, led by third-year forward Kevin Durant and second-year guard Russell Westbrook, secured a playoff berth and took the eventual-champions Los Angeles Lakers to six games. The team only improved from there, making it all the way to the NBA Finals in 2012.
From 2007 (as the Seattle SuperSonics) to 2009, the Thunder used the draft to assemble a core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
It remains to be seen whether Cleveland can rival the success of Oklahoma City, but the process is eerily similar. The idea behind it being that small-market teams need to find their stars through the draft, as free agency tends to favor the larger cities.
The Thunder method was considered the gold standard of rebuilding until the controversial James Harden trade. Since that surprising move, the team has been criticized repeatedly for breaking up a championship-caliber squad. As a result, rebuilding franchises have looked for other methods.
The New Orleans Pelicans secured a franchise big man in Anthony Davis with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Then, this offseason, they decided to fast-track their rebuild by trading away their 2013 and 2014 first-round picks for Jrue Holiday, and they acquired Tyreke Evans trough a sign-and-trade with Sacramento.
It's an interesting gambit, but according to ESPN Summer Forecast, it isn't putting them in the playoff picture.
Milwaukee presents a curious case. The Bucks lost four of their top five scorers this offseason, which, given the strength of the upcoming draft class, seems like it could be Andrew Wiggins in gift wrap. But instead, Milwaukee signed a slew of role players who will make the team regress, but not enough to get a high draft pick.
There are always going to be different things at stake for different teams. The Bucks want the public to help pay for a new arena, or a relocation could occur in the future. Of course, to get the public to help pay for a new arena, they need to be interested in attending games.
For Oklahoma City, it's money. They didn't want to pay James Harden—or Kevin Martin for that matter—so they had to take a step back.
Now where does that leave Cleveland?
The next two seasons are really going to be the defining moments for what has been built the past few years. The addition of Anthony Bennett creates a draft-centric core that is surrounded by Jarrett Jack, Anderson Varejao and—hopefully—Andrew Bynum.
The team is now receiving more praise than degradation, and many different people are predicting the Cavs to make the playoffs. It's still too early to tell if the Cavs' approach on a whole has been right or wrong, but the moment of truth is fast approaching.
And if you're wondering if a Harden-like fiasco is in store, just ask yourself this: Has Dan Gilbert ever been shy about spending money?
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