— Often when a dictator is removed from power, the society he presided over erases all memory of his existence there. That includes murals, statues, bobblehead dolls, images on currency, billboards and lots more. Sometimes it even happens to kings.
The best part about the Cavaliers’ draft on Thursday is that it scrubbed the remaining residue of the LeBron Era from Cleveland and set the ship in a new direction. By taking Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson with the Nos. 1 and 4 selections, respectively, the Cavs got two anti-LeBrons. And that’s a pro-Cleveland development.
As King James recuperates in Miami, muttering to himself over and over, “What happened?” the Cavs picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and welcomed two kids who will make their dreadful basketball team a lot better. Chances are they won’t attract klieg lights, Phil Knight’s motorcade or Jay-Z and Beyonce, but Cleveland has been there/done that and isn’t eager for a repeat.
Irving is from Duke. He left after his freshman year, having played in only 11 games because of an injury to his right big toe. Although he doesn’t have a load of college game experience, or practice for that matter, Irving spent a year at a university, with at least some exposure to one of the best coaches in basketball in Mike Krzyzewski.
He comes to Cleveland confident, but not arrogant. He lands there with high praise for his skills, but without being brainwashed into thinking he’s Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson rolled into one package, as a certain Akron product had been. And I’m sure Irving has friends. But to my knowledge he doesn’t travel with a coterie of sycophantic high school buddies angling to become his management team.
Thompson only played a year at Texas, too. But again, coach Rick Barnes, college atmosphere, strong Big 12 competition, no early anointing as a savior — these are all plusses for a franchise only recently relieved from hero worship duty.
Both players come to Cleveland knowing that the team is lousy, but determined to help turn it around. That might just be youthful idealism — cynics will say just wait until two thirds of the way through the season, when postseason hope is lost and they’re enduring yet another frigid trip through the East and Midwest.
But presumably this is the beginning of a movement away from a monarchy and toward a democracy that will someday thrive and prosper.
The real victory came when the Cavs won the first pick overall in the lottery. It’s a year without a franchise player, or even a major difference-maker. Yet after the toxic disaster that was “The Decision,” it provided a much-needed boost. It was a little like buying a scratcher lottery ticket that has a top prize of $100,000 and winning $10,000. It’s still nice.
On Thursday, the Cavs probably had some fleeting “What if …” thoughts about Derrick Williams, or even Enes Kanter, with the top overall pick. Irving was projected all along by most to be the best of the lot in this field, and by taking him the Cavs got a speedy, talented point guard with a great attitude who will only improve.
Thompson was a mild surprise at No. 4, but he’s considered a hard worker and a quality individual who was projected to be a top-10 talent. He’ll snag a lot of offensive rebounds and finish many plays created by Irving.
In fairness to LeBron, Cleveland is not the pre-eminent free-agent destination in the NBA. If he could have convinced Chris Bosh to come there, perhaps he’d still be there. But he couldn’t. And apparently he and the Cavs were unable to coax any other major stars there, either.
So when the Cavs set out to revamp their team, they had to make a sobering assessment of who they are: a team that will have to build primarily through the draft, while augmenting with lesser free agents. A “Big Three” arrangement like the ones created in Boston and Miami is not in Cleveland's horoscope.
Yet the Cavs still have a few watts of star power. Irving and Thompson will be stars in Cleveland, at least, because they represent a move toward a new day. And there is also Baron Davis, who when he is in shape and healthy — and granted, he was the only player who, while with the Clippers, was heckled by his club’s owner for being overweight — he is still one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Meanwhile, LeBron chills in Miami. His team recently lost the NBA finals to the Dallas Mavericks, and in the fourth quarters he looked as lost as a car full of tourists in Rome with a faulty GPS. LeBron bashers reacted with glee, even though after the series they still had to go back to their own lives with their same old personal problems.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert angrily declared after LeBron bolted that his team would win a championship before James’ Heat. That seems like as much of a stretch now as it did then. LeBron and the Heat will surely hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy someday. Maybe even on several occasions, as LeBron predicted, if they crunch the right salary numbers under a new collective bargaining agreement.
Given the situation, though, these two NBA draft prizes of Irving and Thompson are the best the Cavs and their fans could have hoped for. They represent regime change. The people are probably a lot happier already.