It’s a testament to how much a player truly means to a team’s culture when his mere presence causes a front office to scramble around and generally do whatever it takes in order to satisfy said player’s needs. For all the talks about change and title-chasing, it’s actually pretty rare for all that effort to pay off in the end: Carmelo Anthony barely managed to get his long-suffering Knicks to the second round of the playoffs for one season before tumbling back into mediocrity, to name just one recent example.
However, when said player is LeBron James, a four time league MVP and proud owner of two rings out of four consecutive trips to the NBA finals, one naturally tends to throw caution to the wind and just roll with it. After years of futility despite exceptional draft luck, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert finally took the keys to the franchise from Chris Grant and passed them on to David Griffin. Despite the savvy marketing ploy it seemed like at the time, there’s no doubt that bringing back LeBron required quite a little bit of finagling behind the scenes.
First off, there was the promise of coupling him with the Cavs star point guard, Kyrie Irving, while also bringing an All-Star power forward by the name of Kevin Love on board. These players would form the nucleus of what would hopefully become a new Big Three that would dominate the weaker Eastern conference, much like Miami had done before. Of course it took giving away two former number one picks plus a host of other assets to assemble such a roster (which included LeBron stalwarts Mike Miller and James Jones, as well as the artist formerly known as The Matrix, Shawn Marion), and even then both Love and LeBron signed contracts with opt-out clauses that would allow them to become free agents after this season’s conclusion.
So when the Cavs stumbled out of the gate, with a porous defense and non-existent rim protection, both of which became exponentially worse after Anderson Varejao went down with a season-ending injury, it became clear that the team’s weaknesses needed to be addressed. Enter Timofey Mozgov. Having been coached to great results by Cavs head coach David Blatt in the Olympics, Mozgov had to be pried away from the Denver Nuggets, who wanted two first round picks for him, while the Cavs only had one to offer. But by shipping off Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City (thus getting their first round pick in exchange) and taking on both Iman Shumpert and J.R Smith from the Knicks, the Cavs managed to engineer a complex three team trade that allowed them to mortgage most of their assets in exchange for the Russian big man. They also acquired a wing player known for his defensive tenacity (Shumpert) and a talented if mercurial shooter (J.R. Smith). Considering all the smaller bits and pieces that had to be moved around, that amounts to 9 Cavs trades in 11 months for GM David Griffin, who still has Cleveland’s first round pick in 2015 and has otherwise done pretty much everything possible to ensure that this LeBron-led team will be ready for title contention as soon as possible.
Of course, big splashy trades don’t necessarily guarantee titles. In the NBA, as in life, hindsight is always 20/20, but that doesn’t help anybody without access to a fully-functioning crystal ball.