With LeBron James going home, the Cleveland Cavaliers' odds for a title are up to 9/2. It's an ambitious goal for next season, but they do have a stunning amount of talent. They could start a No. 1 overall pick at four positions - Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, LeBron and Anthony Bennett. Kyrie is 22, Bennett is 21 and Wiggins is 19. If they allow those three to grow next to LeBron, all they have to do is find a C. There's no rush - this could be the start of something special.
LeBron is not headed for a steep decline. At 6'9 260, he's one of the biggest and most skilled players in the league and he turns 30 in December. He can be a starter on an elite team for another decade - Karl Malone started on a team that went to the NBA Finals at 40. As long as LeBron stays healthy, the window is open. Instead of doing everything to maximize winning a championship over the next 2-3 seasons, they could try to win titles for the next decade.
If you were trying to win right away, the move would be to trade for Kevin Love. They could start with an offer of Bennett and Dion Waiters, but they would probably need to include Wiggins. The problem is that it would be hard to give up on a guy like Wiggins so early in his career. In 7-8 years, Wiggins will be the same age as Love as is now. When LeBron starts to enter his late 30's, Wiggins could conceivably be the guy he hands the reigns of the franchise too.
That’s what the end game could be for LeBron - not to bring one title to Cleveland, but to bring a franchise that could compete for titles well into the future. When LeBron watched the San Antonio Spurs dismantle the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, he saw what to strive for. He grabbed the best players of his generation four years ago - this time around, he's trying to get the best players of the next generation. This is his chance to be on a franchise like the Spurs.
If he stayed in Miami, he would have constantly been in a race against time. He's already watched Wade decline in front of his eyes and Bosh is beginning the downswing of his career. The Heat didn't have a lot of young talent and not much cap space to add more. They would have been getting worse every year and LeBron couldn’t stem the tide alone. In Cleveland, the tide is reversed. As he gets older, all the young guys around him will be getting better.
There are questions about the other No. 1 overall picks, but they would all be so much better next to LeBron. The same can be said for Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson - LeBron could get all these guys careers on the right track. To me, the idea should be as much size, athleticism and shooting ability around LeBron as possible, which means Wiggins, at 6'8 200 with a 7'0 wingspan, and Bennett, at 6'8 240 with a 7'1 wingspan, as the two guys next to him.
After the draft, Cavs GM David Griffin said he saw Wiggins as a big SG, where he has a dramatic size and athletic advantage over everyone he would face. The problem was that unless he was playing with a wing who was even bigger and more athletic than him, he would always get the opposing team's longest and most athletic perimeter defender anyway. Next to LeBron, that problem is solved. The potential of LeBron and Wiggins on the wings is absurd.
Waiters has the chance to be a very good player in this league, but he's a smaller SG who takes the ball out of Wiggins hands and push him down a spot in the line-up. Thompson, meanwhile, doesn't fit the way the NBA is going - he's an undersized power forward who can't protect the rim or shoot 3's. Waiters and Thompson would both be best suited for reserve roles, which means Cleveland could have a team with two No. 4 picks coming off the bench.
Bennett is another guy whose career could be transformed next to LeBron. As a combo forward, he was trapped between positions a bit, but that’s no big deal when you are playing with one of the most versatile defenders of all-time. He has lost a lot of weight, which was one of the main things holding him back in his disastrous rookie season. If he can shoot like he did at UNLV, he would be very overqualified in the role of Shane Battier or Rashard Lewis.
The main questions about Kyrie are his defense and distribution, but that’s no longer an issue. He can play the Mario Chalmers role, spotting up off the ball and living off the attention LeBron draws. To give a scorer that gifted so many open shots is almost unfair. One thing that made LeBron so deadly in Miami was his ability to get guys like Mike Miller rhythm 3's - an elite shooter is not going to miss often when can set his feet and get a good look at the basket.
The biggest concern is at center, the one position where they don't have a No. 1 overall pick. Anderson Varejao is a good player, but he doesn't give them a lot of size or rim protection, which could end up being their Achilles heel in the playoffs. With so many young guys next to LeBron, they will need a guy who can clean up mistakes. Whether it's dealing some combination of Waiters and Thompson or it's cap space in the next few years, they need to find a two-way center.
There are an awful lot of ifs between the Cavs and being a perennial title contender, but that's why LeBron is there. As he said in his open letter, he can make their young guys better. There wasn't anything he could teach Wade and Bosh - they were his peers. Kyrie, Wiggins, Bennett, Waiters, Thompson - these are guys who were in middle school and high school when he entered the NBA. LeBron could pay it forward in Cleveland and reap a tremendous reward.
In essence, he could run the best finishing school in the NBA, sacrificing the front end of his second stint with the Cavs to extend out the back. Tim Duncan is winning titles at 38 because he is playing with guys in their early 30's and 20's - you stay young by surrounding yourself with younger players. And if the Cavs become the Spurs, it's because LeBron was Duncan and Gregg Popovich in one person. That's what’s on the table for him in Cleveland.