Being a fan of a small market team is difficult. The moment you draft a superstar player, the clock immediately begins to tick down. Seven years. While a lot can happen in your personal life in seven years, seven years is next to nothing in basketball terms. That’s only six meager drafts in which to flesh out the rest of your team and likely only two to three of those will be lottery picks. That’s six trade deadlines to swap your assets for picks, assuming there are other teams in the league that have a need for them. Six off-seasons to unload salary and attract whatever marginally talented free agents are available that are willing to take a risk and play in a smaller market or, God forbid, play in a city where it snows. Ugh.
Building a Championship team is difficult enough to begin with, but once you factor in the unique problems that a small market faces, it can be damn near impossible. History would support this thought. In the past 20 years, only eight teams have built a champion, and of them, only three would qualify as a small market. Despite the odds being extremely stacked against them, fans of small market teams have embraced the so-called “Oklahoma City way” of building a contender. Personally, I’m highly skeptical of this plan, and will refer you to friend of the blog Amin Vafa’s excellent reasoning over at Hardwood Paroxysm for a fantastic writeup of exactly why I’m so skeptical.
One of the primary arguments for the “Oklahoma City way” is the failure of the Cleveland Cavaliers under LeBron James. Despite having one of the greatest players of all-time, the Cavaliers were never able to clinch that Championship that the city wanted so badly. The closest they got was in 2007 when they reached the Finals only to be swept by the Spurs in embarrassing fashion. From there, every move the Cavaliers made was later spun into a reason why they failed. Mo Williams was a terrible second option to LeBron and would have been better replaced by a younger player taken from the draft. Speaking of which, the Cavaliers got too good, too soon and should have remained a lottery team longer, picking up more young talent. The few first rounders they had shouldn’t have been wasted on guys like Luke Jackson or Christian Eyenga (this hurts me to write). And of course, that blockbuster trade they made which brought in Delonte West, Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak, would have been better if it was for lottery picks instead of veterans.
As a Cavs fan, I struggle with this logic. I mean, I totally understand it and, in a way, agree with it. I’m also totally happy that the Cavaliers are currently taking a drastically different approach in building around Kyrie Irving. What I struggle with is the conclusion that must be reached if you follow this line of logic; that the LeBron James era Cavaliers were a failure.
Does anyone look at the Patrick Ewing era Knicks as a failure because they never won a title? Does playing in the league at the same time as Jordan’s Bulls and Hakeem’s Rockets give them an excuse to never getting that chip? If Oklahoma City manages to make it the Finals but constantly falls short to the Miami Heat, will they be a failure? Hell, if the Miami Heat become a dynasty, will the “Miami way” become a thing? If it does, what does that say about the current era New York Knicks that are following the same blueprint but struggling to make the playoffs over the Milwaukee Bucks? Does that mean Drew Gooden should be named the MVP?
More importantly, to me at least, should I let that water down the feelings I have for moments such as this?
Putting my personal feelings about LeBron post-Decision aside, I can’t label a team that was so fun to watch and provided me with so many strong, lasting moments such as that a failure simply because they never won a Championship. It’s the same reason why I can’t write off the mid-90′s Cleveland Indians teams as a failure. I can’t go back and revisit those moments without feeling that initial rush of elation I felt at the time. I just can’t label these teams failures.
That brings us to today. My team once again finds itself with a budding young superstar and, once again, talk has turned towards building a Championship contending team. Only this time, there’s a debate about whether the Cavaliers should be following the “Oklahoma City way” and losing more games to build through the draft. Again, I understand the argument. As constructed, the Cavaliers will be destroyed in the first round and sent promptly packing by either Chicago or Miami, and I have no illusions that anything other than that will occur. That said, I just can’t be angry that this team is winning.
Why let the potentially false promise of a Championship in the future cloud your enjoyment of games occurring today? While the “Oklahoma City way” sounds good on paper, it factors out the circumstantial situations that arise on the way to a championship. You could build a contender and then have it all fall apart because of freak knees injuries like in Portland. Or you could build a great team that looks to be far and away the favorites to win it all, but then face off against a team of veterans in the Finals that play like it’s their last shot at greatness like what what happened to Miami last year. You could even build a team that has the best record in the league yet has glaring matchup problems like the 2009 Cavaliers against the Magic or like this current generation of the Chicago Bulls against the Miami Heat. Or hell, what if you build a contender but then everything goes ass-up because your superstar wants to play with his buddies on the beach and just straight up gives up? What if you stockpile a ton of draft picks, but they’re all busts?
There’s just too many ‘if’s’ involved for me to let the potential of winning a Championship affect my enjoyment of the present day. Even more fundamentally, as competitive a person as I am, it’s not my Championship. I’m not Chris Grant. I don’t work for the Cavaliers and the only time I’ll ever step on that court is if I have courtside seats. While I’m sure watching a Cleveland franchise finally win a championship will be pretty awesome, honestly how satisfying can it really be? Would it be more satisfying than every win or Kyrie Irving highlight not only this season, but for the next three? In a strange way, LeBron was right when he discussed after last year’s Finals how the next day I’ll wake up in my bed with all my problems. Sports shouldn’t be a fill-in for other parts of your life. Watching your team win a championship shouldn’t be a therapeutic or a life-changing event. It should be fun. Hell, sports should be fun. The moment it’s not fun is the moment I want out. (Note: before you accuse me of being a fair-weather fan, let me point out that I started my old Cavaliers blog during the midst of the losing streak last year, my definition of fun is pretty warped). And I’m sorry, holding back from enjoying the present for the potential that something might happen in the future just isn’t fun.
That said, LeBron’s still an asshole. He was wrong about that.
And that’s why, I’m taking the most I GO HARD NOW stance possible and adopting “fuck it” as my new motto for the Cavaliers. If they win, awesome, it was a fun game. If they lose, awesome, potentially better chance of getting a better player in the draft. Much like my opinion towards religion, I’m taking the agnostic approach and just going with the flow. There’s just enough chance and luck on either side of this argument for me to avoid it completely. Plus, I really don’t want to let the false promise of a Championship ruin moments like this:
Come on. How can you not enjoy that?