The Cleveland Cavaliers Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years

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Mistakes happen. We sleep in a little too late or we forget to do a project. But for us, mistakes are simply, just that – mistakes. For the thirty NBA teams, mistakes cost them, potentially, tens of millions of dollars, a playoff appearance, or even a championship. They have been riddled throughout history. It can be draft picks (Blazers fans know what this is like), it can be free agency (can I get an amen from Knicks fans?), or it can be virtually anything else (in the case of the Kings, EVERYTHING ELSE). Thus, we present the worst mistakes from each NBA team over the past ten years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years

When LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland in 2014 via Sports Illustrated, he mentioned that he wouldn’t have changed his decision to go to the Miami Heat regardless.

Given his supporting cast at the time of his choice, it would be hard to blame him. He was surrounded by complimentary parts; teammates who could shoot, defend, or in the case of undersized two-guard Delonte West, both.

James had rebounding and some of the league’s best rim protection in centers Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal, and power forwards Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson. The Cavs won 61 games that season and cruised to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. James secured his second straight Most Valuable Player Award. But he remained the only player on the team who was dynamic in more than one area on the floor. At times his frustration with his teammates’ limits was evident.

A Big What-If

James’ final game as a Cavalier in 2010 has long overshadowed the season itself, because of the lasting image of him removing his jersey in the TD Garden tunnel in Boston, and the symbolism of it being the end of the road for him. The Cavs lost to the underdog Celtics in six games in the second round of the playoffs, and the team didn’t recover until his unexpected return.

But what if the Cavs had given James at least one elite teammate during the 2009-10 season that could’ve put the team over the top? General manager Danny Ferry certainly had the opportunity, and a deal was in place with the Phoenix Suns to acquire All-Star big man Amar’e Stoudemire. But Ferry decided not to pull the trigger at the February trade deadline, and a win-or-bust season took a bad turn.

Amar’e as the Missing Piece

Also in the middle of a contract year, Stoudemire played great basketball for the Suns. He played all 82 games for the first time since his rookie year, averaging 34 minutes. He scored 23.1 points per game—the second-highest of his career to that point—and 8.9 rebounds. He was shooting 56 percent from the field.

Now fully recovered from micro fracture surgery on his knee, Stoudemire was able to show off his full game, a combination of raw power and finesse that made him a top forward in the league. If Stoudemire wasn’t throwing down a tomahawk dunk over a defender, he was pulling up for jump shots from the elbow and making them consistently.

The Suns finished the season with a 54-28 record and the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Led by point guard Steve Nash and Stoudemire, they boasted the league’s highest-scoring offense with 110.2 points per game. They advanced to the conference finals, before losing to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

Despite the success, Stoudemire was still made available.

A Missed Opportunity

Ferry and the Cavs felt the need to add one more major piece at the trade deadline, and had their eyes on several players. But Stoudemire would’ve been the biggest get, despite the fact that he was in a contract year and could opt out at the end of the season.

Along with Stoudemire, Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison was on the table, as was Indiana Pacers forward Troy Murphy and Golden State Warriors swingman Corey Maggette.

Ferry initially offered Ilgauskas and his expiring contract, and a first round draft pick. But the Suns insisted Hickson, a promising young player drafted in 2008, also be included. The Cavs ultimately came close to pulling off the deal, but both teams decided not to do it. The Suns still wanted maximum value in return for one of their best players, and Ferry was reluctant to part with Hickson.

No trade was made with Phoenix, and it may have been a trade that truly put the Cavs over the top and given James the help he desired in order to win a title.

A Deal Gets Done

Instead of Stoudemire, Ferry completed a three-way trade with the Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers that landed them Jamison, a talented scoring power forward who was averaging 20 points per game at that point. But he was on the downside of his prime and lacked Stoudemire’s game-breaking ability. A major selling point for Ferry was that he could acquire Jamison but still keep Hickson. Both players still had another season left on their contracts.

The Cavs sent their first-rounder and Ilgauskas to Washington and also received point guard Sebastian Telfair from the Clippers. L.A. received Drew Gooden and Al Thornton from Washington. The Suns tried to work out a deal with Miami, but were unable to complete it. Stoudemire stayed in Phoenix.

The Aftermath

Stoudemire opted out after the season, and eventually signed a massive deal with the New York Knicks.

Jamison struggled to fit in with the Cavs offense the rest of the season and wasn’t much of a help defensively, which cost them against the Celtics in their six-game playoff exit. Ilgauskas, nearing the end of his career, was waived by Washington almost immediately and re-signed with the Cavs after 30 days. Hickson continued to show flashes of potential, but was traded to the Sacramento Kings for swingman Omri Casspi in 2011 when the Cavs were under the impression he would be asking for a big-money contract extension.

The biggest prize of them all, James, wound up in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as teammates and went on to win two titles.

Things have worked out for Cleveland recently, with James returning and leading an overhauled roster to a championship this past June. But adding Stoudemire at the height of his skills in 2010 could’ve shortened that timeframe and altered the course of multiple franchises.

 

 

 

Main Photo

Mar 30, 2008 – Cleveland, Ohio, USA – ZYDRUNAS ILGAUSKAS and LEBRON JAMES of the Cavs, posed to be formidable figures at Quicken Loans Arena which had Cleveland hosting Philadelphia. The Cavs defeated the Sixers 91-88 in a hard fought contest. (Credit Image: © Ernie J Aranyosi/Cal Sport Media/ZUMA Press)