It’s a new era in Cleveland basketball. LeBron James left town to the bright lights of Los Angeles, and the city of Cleveland is left with a gaping hole both on the hardwood and in their hearts. LeBron is not just the best basketball player in the world. He did so much for the city and the community, that he is irreplaceable in so many ways.
But with all due respect to the king, the Cavs must move forward toward the future. They need to prove that they can remain competitive even in the absence of such a great player. Granted, the task at hand will not be easy. They will definitely be facing an uphill battle. But they seem to be better prepared this time around to handle the departure of such a monumental player and sports figure, than they were when LeBron took his talents to South Beach in 2010.
Nobody would blame the Cavs if they caved in the first years of the post-LeBron era. Just look at the way the Chicago Bulls struggled when Michael Jordan retired to go play baseball. And again when he retired following the team’s second three-peat in 1998. Losing a legendary player has an impact beyond just the on-court contributions. There is a certain level of confidence and swagger that dissipates as well. And LeBron was such a great leader for this team, elevating everyone’s game around him.
Regardless of all the understandable obstacles in their way, this time feels different for the Cavaliers. They were unwilling to dismantle the entire roster, in favor of a long and tenuous rebuild. They did whatever they needed to ensure that All-Star Kevin Love remains with the team. In all likelihood, Love will now be the main centerpiece of this roster. But there are other very promising players, who can help get this team back to the postseason.
The most exciting player on the Cavs not named Love, is actually a rookie who has never played in an official NBA game. The Cavs selected point guard Collin Sexton with the eighth overall pick in the recent NBA Draft. Many teams had overlooked Sexton, but Cleveland recognized his sheer talent, tenacity, and his level of intensity.
Sexton was the perfect piece to help bridge the team in the post-LeBron era. He has the ability to run the offense, a skill that should not be overlooked. For Cleveland, having someone who can set up his teammates and handle the ball on a consistent basis is critical to their success. After all, LeBron handled those duties last season, and Kyrie Irving helped a lot in this area the year before. With both of those stars now out of town, Cleveland believes they have found the right player to step in and make things happen.
With Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance, Jr. on the inside, Sexton will have two capable big men to feed the ball to in the low post. Meanwhile, George Hill and Jordan Clarkson are also able to offer solid contributions, while J. R. Smith just needs to play team basketball and not play erratically.
Ultimately, LeBron’s departure from the Eastern Conference paves the way for other teams to take control of the conference. The initial front-runners to achieve the feat are the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and the Philadelphia 76ers. But there are still five other playoff spots up for grabs.
Cleveland has a chance to claim one of these playoff spots if they reshape their identity and play with a team concept. With LeBron on the team, it almost seemed like these players simply accepted their secondary roles. And who could blame them? LeBron was the top dog, as he would be on any team he played for. But now they are tasked with taking on a greater load of the burden. They need to be sharp on both ends of the court. The room for error on any given night will be much smaller. LeBron won’t be there to bail them out.
But if you have watched Sexton play this summer, you saw a young stud with a fearless attitude. This guy seems like the real deal, and if that translates when the real games begin, you can expect the Cavs to make some noise this season. If they remain healthy, they should be able to make a run at a playoff spot. Even without the world’s greatest basketball player on their team.