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The Cleveland Cavaliers only have themselves to blame for LeBron James leaving for Miami in 2010.
While owner Dan Gilbert called it a "cowardly betrayal" and fans ripped LeBron for his disloyalty, the truth is that the Cavs horribly mismanaged the LeBron era through a series of impatient trades for aging players, expensive free agent signings, and bad draft picks.
They had the best player in the world, and they put a terrible supporting cast around him.
The best player LeBron ever played with in Cleveland was Carlos Boozer — who the Cavs lost in the worst free agency debacle in recent NBA history after LeBron's rookie year. The other "stars" Cleveland put next to LeBron were Larry Hughes, Mo Williams, Wally Szczerbiak, 37-year-old Shaquille O'Neal, 33-year-old Antawn Jamison, and 33-year-old Ben Wallace.
LeBron never had a teammate who averaged 18 points per game in Cleveland. Only two of his teammates ever made the All-Star team — Mo Williams in 2008-09 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 2004-05.
Here's the full list of significant Cavaliers trades and free-agent signing during the LeBron era (2003-10). It's a brutal list:
- Acquired Tony Battie and Kendrick Brown from the Celtics for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Michael Stewart (December 2003)
- Acquired Sasha Pavlovic from the Celtics for a 1st-round pick (June 2004)
- Lost Carlos Boozer to free agency after the Cavs didn't pick up his team option because they thought they had a "handshake" deal to sign him for six years, $41 million. Instead he signed with Utah for six years, $68 million (July 2004)
- Acquired Eric Snow from the Sixers for Kendrick Brown and Kevin Ollie (July 2004)
- Acquired Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao from the Magic for Tony Battie and two 2nd-round picks (July 2004)
- Signed Larry Hughes to a five-year, $70-million contract (July 2005)
- Signed Donyell Marshall to a four-year, $25-million contract (July 2005)
- Re-signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a five-years, $60-million contract (September 2005)
- Re-signed Damon Jones to a four-year, $16-million contract (September 2005)
- Acquired Flip Murray from the Sonics for Mike Wilks (February 2006)
- Re-signed Drew Gooden to a three-year, $23-million contract (July 2006)
- Signed Scot Pollard to a one-year, $2-million contract (July 2006)
- Signed David Wesley to a one-year, $1.75 million contract (July 2006)
- Acquired Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and Joe Smith in a three-team trade for Shannon Brown, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Ira Newble, and Cedric Simmons (February 2008)
- Acquired Mo Williams from the Bucks for Damon Jones and Joe Smith (August 2008)
- Acquired Shaquille O'Neal from the Suns for Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace and a 2nd-round pick (June 2009)
- Signed Anthony Parker to a two-year, $6-million contract (July 2009)
- Acquired Antawn Jamison and Sebastian Telfair for Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Ilgauskas was later waived and re-signed with the Cavaliers in March (February 2010)
The Cavaliers were acquiring veterans who were pass their prime (Wallace, Szczerbiak, Shaq, Jamison) instead of building through the draft or conserving cap space to give LeBron a proper second option.
To make matters worse, the Cavaliers traded away a bunch of draft picks in that time. When they did have a pick, they didn't put it to good use. Here are all the players they drafted during the LeBron era:
- Jason Kapono (No. 31 overall, 2003)
- Luke Jackson (No. 10 overall, 2004)
- Shannon Brown (No. 25 overall, 2006)
- Daniel Gibson (No. 42 overall, 2006)
- Ejike Ugboaja (No. 55, 2006)
- J.J. Hickson (No. 19, 2008)
- Christian Eyenga (No. 30, 2009)
- Danny Green (No. 46, 2009)
Most of these guys didn't pan out. None of them were stars.
LeBron left Cleveland in 2010 because he wanted to win a championship. Given the rosters the Cavaliers had assembled over his seven years there, he was right to think Miami gave him a better chance.
The Cavaliers are typically painted in a sympathetic light when it comes to anything LeBron. That's absurd. It's really their own fault that he left.
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