Cleveland Cavaliers: On the Road to a Post-LeBron James Identity

D BContributor IIIJune 20, 2011

LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers are synonymous no more.
LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers are synonymous no more.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

We're only days away from the 2011 NBA Draft. This should be a very exciting time for Cleveland Cavaliers' fans. Fans of the Cavaliers saw their team, which reached the finals a few short years ago, end the season with a 19-63 record.

I think that I had a unique vantage point to the free-agency debacle of the last offseason. LeBron James officially became a free agent on July 1st, 2010. He announced almost a week later on July 8th that he would take his talents to South Beach.

I spent three of those days visiting a relative in Cleveland and the rest in my hometown of Chicago. Each city was of a very different mindset. The similarity was that they both wanted LeBron to be wearing their uniform next season.

Chicagoans speculated about James coming to Chicago. It seemed like a done deal a few times in the lead-up to "The Decision." Looking back now, it seems like it was anything but. LeBron James had no intention of playing for the Bulls and he had no intention of being a Cavalier for the 2010-2011 season either.

Everyone in Cleveland had an opinion on the LeBron subject. It was on the tip of every tongue. It was on the news every night. LeBron was such a big piece of what Cleveland was.

He was a hometown hero. A kid from the neighborhood who happened to have otherworldly basketball abilities. It devastated the city to see him go.

The recession rocked Cleveland hard and now they were losing LeBron too. It wasn't fair. LeBron's return to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat in a December game against the Cavaliers didn't help either. James exploded for 38 points and trounced the Cavaliers.

There was more than a little solace for Cleveland when they bounced back in the next regular season game against the Heat and won a 102-90 victory.

Cleveland has enjoyed more victories since. After the Draft Lottery, they went home with the first and fourth draft picks in the bag.

Then Cleveland got to watch LeBron James and the Miami Heat fall to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. LeBron James left Cleveland to win championships and he hadn't even accomplished that.

He played as bad as it gets for a player of his stature. He disappeared during the all-important fourth quarters. Fans in Cleveland are used to LeBron's disappearing act and I imagine got a pretty good kick out of watching him do it on the NBA's biggest stage. Even Ohio's new governor praised the Mavericks on their win.

LeBron James proved to Cleveland that he wasn't the man they thought he was when he bailed on them. Even his most ardent fans finally realized that when he was nowhere to be found in these finals.

Now Cleveland is sitting on valuable draft picks which will surely go a long way in the rebuilding process.

We'll have to wait and see whether Cleveland Cavaliers' owner, Dan Gilbert, was correct in predicting that Cleveland would win a title before LeBron.

Sleep easy, Cleveland. This summer is certainly a major step forward.