Since LeBron James entered the league in 2003 the Cleveland Cavaliers have never made the playoffs without him on their roster. His first exit was in 2010 after helping them reach the playoffs for four straight years (2006-10), including one NBA Finals trip (2007). After his departure the Cavaliers missed the playoffs for four seasons despite the efforts of then-rising star Kyrie Irving.
Irving was drafted in 2011, and he excelled in a team that was in a rebuilding phase. Yet, his impressive exploits were still not enough to book a playoffs berth and his supporting cast was also not at championship level yet.
As LeBron led the Miami Heat to four straight NBA Finals, the Cavaliers could only watch in envy as their new-look team failed to reach the playoffs with each passing year. James returned in 2014 and led the Cavs to four straight NBA Finals in the last four years, including an NBA title in 2016.
He has since left the Cavs again to start a new adventure in Los Angeles with the Lakers. He has handed the baton to a player who had previously been a third and second option for the team in recent years, Kevin Love. The difference this time around is that James has left the Cavs in the hands of a multiple All-Star who has a decade of NBA experience. Committing him to a four-year, $120-million extension was a statement from the Cavs front office, signifying the start of a new era.
Love, the Cavs’ new franchise player, has a chance to write his name in Cleveland folklore by becoming the first post-LeBron star to lead the team to the playoffs. Love will now be the undisputed leader in Cleveland, which translates into more shooting opportunities, the focal point of the offense and the most vocal presence in the locker room.
Over the years, especially in his Minnesota Timberwolves days, Love has proved that he is an efficient player who plays at an All-Star level, averaging numerous double-doubles in the league. His best statistical season came in 2013-14 in Minnesota, when he led them in scoring with an average of 26 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He was also the league’s rebounding leader in the 2010-11 season.
If he replicates his Minnesota form, Quicken Loans Arena could find a new fan favorite. Arguably, he is surrounded by better talent than in his Minnesota days with the likes of Tristan Thompson and JR Smith still around—they have also contributed to the Cavs’ success in the last four years. Young players such as Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr could also get more playing minutes; this would add fresh energy and help the team compete in the East. Then there is the addition of exciting rookie Colin Sexton, who plays with his heart on his sleeve: he could be a solid piece for the Cavs as he adapts to NBA life. Last season Love averaged 17.6 points per game for the Cavs; an improvement on those numbers could have the team contending for the playoffs. With all of these pieces around him, you can’t count Cleveland out of the playoff places.
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