Author: Brad Monastiere
LeBron James made a celebrated return to Cleveland as his Cavs hosted the New York Knicks in a game ESPN has hyped to the extent that it has ignored a Major League Baseball team’s third World Series title in five years in order to lap up the maroon-and-gold flavored milk.
I have heard and read very few items that offer my point of view on LeBron’s return to Cleveland. My point of view is one as a Pistons fan since my family first got PASS before the 1986-87 season, right when those Bad Boy teams were coming together. Those teams were not built by finishing last in the league, enduring 20-game losing streaks and lucking into lottery wins year after year and begging a hometown guy to come home. They were pieced together, bit by bit, such that the strength of the team was the team. Average draft position for Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, John Salley Mark Aguirre and James Edwards? 26th overall. Isiah Thomas was the one outlier, drafted by a bad Pistons team #2 overall in 1981.
Those Bad Boy teams were an inspiration to teenage me. They taught me the value of self-sacrifice, that the team is more important than any individual. In 1989, the Pistons were 63-19, won the championship, and didn’t have a single player named to the First, Second or Third-Team All-NBA. That was the ultimate example of a team overcoming superstar individuals. No other franchise ever beat Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the playoffs. Those Pistons did it a total of seven times.
Then, a dozen years later, the Pistons managed to do it again. The 2004 Pistons were born by losing a superstar player, not by 60-lossing their way into one. Grant Hill left for Orlando in the summer of 2000, but instead of act like a bitter scored lover, the Pistons made moves. They acquired Ben Wallace in a sign-and-trade and he ended up becoming the cornerstone of those awesome teams we all remember and love.
Players like Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace were high draft picks, but were guys the Pistons picked up by developing and acquiring assets, then moving them for the biggest return. The 2004 Pistons were just like the Bad Boys in that the team concept trumped other teams’ singular superstar players.
I could feel good morally about the 1989-1990-2004 Pistons teams, because they were built and played the game the right way. Teamwork, unselfishness, work ethic and character defined those teams.
Contrast all this with how Cleveland became relevant, how it reacted to becoming irrelevant, and how it became relevant again.
The 2003 Cavs won 19 games, and lucked into the #1 pick in the best draft in 15 years before, and 10 years since. In LeBron’s seven seasons on that team, the Cavs didn’t acquire one player that had any discernible talent (sorry Mo Williams, your All-Star selection was a farce). The Cavs didn’t bother trying to build a championship team. They just said “hey, we have LeBron, we’re important!” The Cavs didn’t matter because it had a successful, sophisticated and balanced organization. It put all its eggs in the LeBron basket, and it blew up in their face in July 2010.
When LeBron came back to Cleveland on Dec. 2, 2010, Cavs fans told him how much Akron hated him and how much better off the Cavs would be without him. How did that work out? The Cavs lost 27 games in a row and returned to their rightful place in the NBA sewer.
Yet somehow, fate kept smiling upon this bumbling, deserted and bottom-feeding organization, who gave Comic Sans its moment in the sun. The Cavs received three #1 overall picks in four years by the absolute luck of the draw, and by a winning percentage hovering around Prince Fielder’s weight. Yet, they still managed to screw up those #1 picks. Anthony Bennett is the worst #1 pick in 20 years. Kyrie Irving is made of glass, and Andrew Wiggins scored 4 points in his last college game. Were the Cavs stuck dealing with their awful decisions? Nope. In fact, they were rewarded for them. Wiggins and Bennett were what was necessary to get Kevin Love. On the shrewd scale, it comes nowhere close to the Pistons parlaying Aaron McKie and Theo Ratiff into a guy who averaged 19 points per game in 120 career playoff games in the D. Miss ya, Rip!
So in effect, the Cavs were rewarded with the exact kind of super-team people have rebelled against, and their method to building this super-team was sucking for four straight years. The Cavs teams of 2003-10 and 2014-beyond were built with luck, organizational incompetence, and the proximity of a young, pregnant woman to an Akron hospital in December 1984.
I respect LeBron James, and recognize he’s the finest player in the world today by a wide margin. I also appreciate how he has grown into his role of being a worldwide ambassador for the game of basketball, and the way he’s taken responsibility for his fellow players. Unlike everyone in the state of Ohio (some of whom are dear friends of mine), I can look past the color jersey he’s wearing. What I do not respect is the Cleveland Cavs organization. An organization that did everything wrong – seemingly intentionally at times – and was somehow rewarded with a team that is sure to win 60 or more games this year and will be a strong contender for the NBA championship. This is to say nothing of an owner who did everything in his power to criticize and kill super teams, until he lucked his way into putting one together himself.