For years now people have tried their very hardest to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan. They want a new MJ, they need a new MJ and they want to see a new MJ in every next big superstar that comes through.
Well folks. LeBron is not Jordan, but there is one area where they are quite similar: they both left their teams dealing with a monstrous rebuilding project after their departure.
After Jordan retired in 1999, the Bulls, as would be expected, became one of the worst teams in the NBA.
The biggest reason for that, however, is the fact that Jordan retired, Dennis Rodman was not re-signed, Steve Kerr was traded to the Spurs, Scottie Pippen was traded to the Rockets and Luc Longley was traded to the Suns.
Along with losing most of their starting lineup and five of their best players, Phil Jackson also left, leaving the Chicago Bulls without a coach and without five players who started a combined 250 the previous season. The 1998-99 Bulls were in dire straits.
The six people that started the majority of their games for them in 1998 were Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Longley, Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper. In 1999 those six people were Kukoc, Harper (only played 35 games), Brent Barry, Dickey Simpkins, Mark Bryant and Randy Brown.
Now, as you would expect, this team didn't fare too well in the lockout shortened season, only winning 13 games out of 50 under new head coach Tim Floyd.
You would think that trading Kerr, Pippen and Longley away would have seriously helped this team get a jump on rebuilding, but it didn't give them much for the future.
The Kerr trade landed them Chuck Person (who was waived) and a 2000 first round draft pick (Dalibor Bagaric).
For Pippen they got Roy Rogers (also waived) and a 2000 second round draft pick (Jake Voskuhl).
They got the most for Longley, nabbing Mark Bryant who started 79 games over two seasons for Chicago, Martin Muursepp (also waived) and Bubba Wells (ditto) along with a 1999 first round pick (Ron Artest)
So for three players who would still go on to produce quality minutes they ended up with one guy who played more than two seasons with the team. Hardly a steal.
The biggest problem with the Bulls rebuilding efforts was that they were just plain unlucky.
They ended up drafting Elton Brand in the same draft as Ron Artest and Brand was highly touted as a future star. He was good, but just never panned out.
In 2001 they put too much stock in signing a big name free agent, which failed, and then traded to get Jamal Crawford from the Cavs on draft day along with drafting Marcus Fizer.
When will the Cavs be back in the playoffs?
Crawford was good for the Bulls but they ended up trading him for what was essentially Dikembe Mutumbo in 2004.
Brand was shipped off in 2001 for Tyson Chandler and Chicago then drafted Eddy Curry, who may be a big joke now but was pretty good when he was a thinner, younger man.
Along the way good drafts got them on their feet, as they ended up drafting Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon and signing undrafted Andres Nocioni in 2004, LaMarcus Aldridge (traded for table scraps) in 2006 and Joakim Noah in 2007.
Luck is what happened to put them over the top, as they landed the number one pick in 2008 despite having slightly over a one percent chance of landing Derrick Rose.
I would say right now the Cavs are pretty much in the same boat as the Bulls were back in their lockout-shortened season.
They have a similar winning percentage (21 percent, the '99 Bulls were at 26 percent) and have a fan base that is dying for another winning team (both teams ranked in the top three in home attendance).
Cleveland's roster exploded in quite a similar fashion as the Bulls, as they lost Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas along with LeBron James. They also lost Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao to injury, so like the Bulls they were without many key pieces that were there the prior season. The Cavaliers have lost six, and eventually seven (with the Mo Williams trade) of their best players from 2010 at this point.
They are in a similar position as they have two draft picks that will end up being very high picks at the end of their first rebuilding season (Chicago had numbers one and 16, Cleveland will end up with two lottery picks).
Unfortunately for the Cavs, the 1999 draft class in retrospect looks a lot better than the 2011 draft class is shaping up to be.
In all, it took the Bulls nearly a decade to get back close to the level that they were at before Jordan left and it took them 12 years to do it altogether.
The one thing they had that Cleveland will never have was the most important ingredient in their rebuilding process. Luck.
Chicago absolutely lucked out when they landed Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft, and without that happening who knows where they would be today.
With the history that Cleveland sports holds, the odds that Cleveland ends up with a number one pick that is A) from their city and seems to want to play there forever and that they B) had nearly no chance of getting is about the same as the odds of me dunking on Dwight Howard (those odds are pretty slim in case you were curious).
With the luck that Cleveland has, they will have the best odds of nabbing the number one pick this season, only to end up with the 14th pick in the draft, trading that guy for someone they deem to be better only to see him go on to become the most amazing thing in the NBA since Michael Jordan himself.
And then they would go on to do it again in 2012.