Last night, it was announced the Golden State Warriors – an NBA cheat code at this point – signed All-Star center Demarcus Cousins. My immediate reaction was simply “well, I guess I don’t have to care too much about that.”
It wasn’t “well how are the Cleveland Cavaliers supposed to compete now?!” I didn’t stomp around, complaining about the league being unfair.
I simply saw the news, then went about my day.
In a weird way, this can be seen as one last gift from LeBron James as he heads to the Los Angeles Lakers. With the Warriors once again able to start planning their championship parade now, combined with the Cavs no longer feeling the pressure to contend while James is in town, they find themselves needing to rebuild at the perfect time to do so.
Though James likely didn’t intend to do the team this favor, it’s certainly playing out that way.
Think about it. The Cavs, as currently constructed, would get annihilated by the Warriors. That said, the result wouldn’t have been much better if James stuck around. The team would’ve still been miles above the salary cap, unable to make the kind of impact moves to contend with a team which starts five All-Stars.
Fans undoubtedly would’ve been frustrated by this, hardly looking forward to another opportunity to get swept in the Finals. Despite this, there’d be even more anxiety about the team’s ill-fated attempts to find James enough help to beat Golden State.
None of this sounds appealing.
However, I personally find the upcoming season far less stressful knowing Cleveland doesn’t have to worry about this. The team doesn’t have to spend hours on end trying to devise ways to improve the roster despite no cap space and minimal trade-worthy assets. The front office doesn’t have to make panic moves knowing the refusal to do so could result in James leaving.
Don’t get me wrong. Come next June, when the Cavs aren’t celebrating their fifth straight Eastern Conference Finals, it’s going to be one hell of a bummer. At the same time, attempting to win the arms race against Golden State now would be an exercise in futility. There’d be literally nothing the team could do to match the Warriors’ firepower, even with James in tow.
With him gone, the team doesn’t even need to worry about such a thing. Time can be put towards developing young talent and building the roster back up, slowly but surely. The Cavs can now let the Warriors run of dominance play itself out while they attempt to manage the influx of youth within their roster.
Will it result in wins? God no. The drop-off in success from last year to this year will be steep, and most likely be difficult to watch at times.
Still, when picking between desperately trying to compete with an unbeatable team in a losing effort or sitting back and kicking off a sizable rebuild, the latter sounds much more appealing to me.
This shouldn’t be seen as a loser mentality. Just a realistic one. This Warriors team won’t be around forever, so the Cavs might as well focus on the long-term as opposed to continuously making ill-fated moves which, at best, will only help them get spanked out of the Finals again.
I’m certainly not seeing this as reason to cheer James’ departure. It would’ve been nice if he had committed to Cleveland for as long as he did with the Lakers. Equally appreciated would’ve been his opting in to the final year of his contract so Cleveland could set up a sign and trade to avoid losing him for nothing.
Still, when trying to find positives in the wake of James’ exit, knowing the Cavs can now get started on developing their young players without the pressure of going punch-for-punch with Golden State is at the top of my list.
James leaving obviously brings an end to Cleveland’s time as a contender, there’s little joy to be found in that regard. Still, there’s an odd sense of calm I’m feeling as the dust settles on his departure. Part of it, I think, is the fact the timing for the Cavs’ restructure couldn’t be better.
Knowing James and how calculated his every move is, I’ll always wonder if he had this in mind when making his decision to part ways with Cleveland.