History of the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers first began play in the NBA in 1970 as an expansion team under the ownership of Nick Mileti. Jerry Tomko, the father of future Major League Baseball pitcher Brett Tomko, submitted the winning entry to name the team the "Cavaliers" through a competition sponsored by The Plain Dealer; supporters preferred it to "Jays", "Foresters" and "Presidents".[1][2] Playing their home games at Cleveland Arena under the direction of head coach Bill Fitch, they compiled a league-worst 15–67 record in their inaugural season. The team hoped to build around the number one 1971 draft pick Austin Carr, who had set numerous scoring records at Notre Dame, but Carr severely injured his leg shortly into his pro career and never was able to realize his potential.

1970–80: The Austin Carr era

Austin Carr—the first overall pick in the 1971 NBA draft, a 1974 NBA All-Star, and longtime TV color analyst for the Cavaliers.

The following seasons saw the Cavaliers gradually improve their on-court performance, thanks to season-by-season additions of talented players such as Bobby "Bingo" Smith, Jim Chones, Jim Cleamons and Dick Snyder. The Cavaliers improved to 23–59 in their sophomore season, followed by a 32–50 record in 1972–73, and 29–53 in 1973–74.

In 1974, the Cavaliers moved into the brand-new Richfield Coliseum, located in rural Richfield, Ohio20 miles (32 km) south of downtown Cleveland in Summit County (now part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park). The move was done as the Cleveland Arena had fallen into disrepair, and the location was chosen in an effort to draw fans in from nearby Akron and other areas of Northeast Ohio.[3] That season, the Cavaliers finished with a 40–42 record, falling just short of a playoff berth.

"Miracle of Richfield" season

In the 1975–76 season with Carr, Smith, Chones, Snyder, and newly acquired Nate Thurmond, Fitch led the Cavaliers to a 49–33 record and a division title. Fitch received the league's Coach of the Year award as the Cavaliers made their first-ever playoff appearance, and clinched their first Central Division Title.

In the playoffs, the Cavaliers won their series against the Washington Bullets, 4–3. Because of the many heroics and last-second shots, the series became known locally as the "Miracle of Richfield." They won Game 7, 87–85, on a shot by Snyder with four seconds to go. But the team became hampered by injuries—particularly to Jim Chones, who suffered a broken ankle.

The Cavaliers proceeded to lose to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. It is widely believed among both Cavaliers fans and players that the "Miracle" team would have won the 1976 NBA Championship had Chones stayed healthy.[4]

Cleveland won 43 games in both of the 1976–77 and 1977–78 seasons, but both seasons resulted in early playoff exits. After a 30–52 season in 1978–79, Fitch resigned as head coach.

1980–83: Ownership under Ted Stepien

The following season, after going 37–45 under Fitch's successor Stan Albeck, original owner Mileti sold his shares to Louis Mitchell who sold the shares to minority owner Joe Zingale.[5] In 1980, after just a few months, Zingale sold the team to Nationwide Advertising magnate Ted Stepien on April 12, 1980.[6] Early on in his tenure, Stepien proposed to rename the team the "Ohio Cavaliers", part of a plan that included playing their home games not just in the Cleveland area but in Cincinnati and in non-Ohio markets such as Buffalo and Pittsburgh. He also made changes to the game day entertainment, such as introducing a polka-flavored fight song and a dance team known as "The Teddy Bears". Stepien also oversaw the hiring and firing of a succession of coaches and was involved in making a number of poor trade and free agent signing decisions. The result of his questionable trading acumen was the loss of several of the team's first-round draft picks, which led to a rule change in the NBA prohibiting teams from trading away first-round draft picks in consecutive years. This rule is known as the "Ted Stepien Rule".

The ensuing chaos had a major effect on both the Cavaliers' on-court performance and lack of local support, going 28–54 in 1980–81 (Stepien's first year as owner), followed by an abysmal 15–67 mark in 1981–82. The 1981–82 team lost its last 19 games of the season which, when coupled with the five losses at the start of the 1982–83 season, constitute the NBA's second all-time longest losing streak at 24 games. Although the team improved its record to 23–59 the following year, local support for the Cavaliers eroded which eventually bottomed out that year by averaging only 3,900 fans a game at the cavernous Coliseum which seated more than 20,000.

Though Stepien eventually threatened to move the franchise to Toronto and rename it the Toronto Towers, brothers George and Gordon Gund purchased the Cavaliers in the mid-1980s and decided to keep the team in Cleveland. As an incentive to the Gunds, NBA owners awarded the team bonus first-round picks for each year from 1983 to 1986 to help compensate for the ones Stepien traded away.[7]

1983–86: The Gunds take over

Shortly after purchasing the Cavaliers in 1983, the Gunds changed the team colors from wine and gold to burnt orange and navy blue. Furthermore, they officially adopted "Cavs" as a shorter nickname for marketing purposes, as it had been used unofficially by fans and headline writers since the team's inception.

Under the coaching of George Karl, the Cavaliers failed again, and missed the playoffs, with a 28–54 record, in the 1983–84 season. The Cavaliers finally returned to the playoffs in 1985, only to lose to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics in the first round. At that point, the team was in transition, led by dynamic players such as World B. Free, Roy Hinson and John Bagley. But in 1986, Karl was fired after 66 games. Interim head coach Gene Littles guided the team the rest of the way, which saw the Cavaliers finish one game short of the playoffs. During the seven-season period, the Cavaliers had nine head coaches: Stan Albeck, Bill Musselman, Don Delaney, Bob Kloppenburg, Chuck Daly, Bill Musselman (again), Tom Nissalke, George Karl, and Gene Littles. The only playoff appearance earned during this stretch was during the 1984–85 season under Karl, losing to the Boston Celtics in the first round in four games (1–3).

1986–92: The Daugherty/Nance/Price era

Brad Daugherty, the first overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft and a five-time NBA All-Star for the Cavaliers

In 1986, the Cavaliers acquired, either through trades or the draft, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper and Larry Nance. Those four players (until Harper was later traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1989 for the rights to Danny Ferry) formed the core of the team, under the direction of head coach Lenny Wilkens, that led the Cavaliers to eight playoff seasons in the next nine years, including three seasons of 50 or more wins.

In 1989, the Cavaliers were paired against the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. In the fourth game of the best-of-five-series, Cleveland managed to beat the Bulls in overtime 108–105 to level the series at 2–2. Home court advantage went to Cleveland. The game was evenly matched, until Cleveland managed to score on a drive and raise the lead by one, with three seconds left. Chicago called for a time-out. The ball was inbounded to Michael Jordan, who went for a jump shot. Cleveland's Craig Ehlo jumped in front to block it, but Jordan seemed to stay in the air until Ehlo landed. "The Shot" went in as time ran out, with Chicago winning the series 3–2. The pinnacle of the Cavaliers' success came in the 1991–92 season, when they compiled a 57–25 record and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing again to the Chicago Bulls, 4–2.

1993–2003: A decade of struggles

Mike Fratello years

Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, a Cavaliers 1996 first-round draft pick, a two-time NBA All Star for the Cavaliers, and the team's all-time leader in games played, rebounds, and blocked shots. He is currently a Special Advisor for the Cavaliers.

Soon after, the Cavaliers entered into a period of decline. With the retirements and departures of Nance, Daugherty, and Price, the team lost much of its dominance and were no longer able to contest strongly during the playoffs. After the 1992–93 season, in which the Cavaliers had a 54–28 regular-season record but suffered an early exit from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to the Chicago Bulls, Wilkens left to coach the Atlanta Hawks.

Following the hiring of Mike Fratello as head coach starting with the 1993–94 season, the Cavaliers became one of the NBA's best defensive teams under the leadership of point guard Terrell Brandon. But the offense, which was a half-court, "slow-down" tempo installed by Fratello, met with mixed success. Although the Cavaliers made regular playoff appearances, they were unable to advance beyond the first round. In the 1994 NBA Playoffs, the last which Daugherty and Nance played in, the Cavaliers yet again met the Chicago Bulls in the first round, led by Scottie Pippen in the wake of Jordan's first retirement. The Bulls proved that it was not just the "Jordan Curse", and would prevail yet again by sweeping the Cavaliers 3–0 in the first-round encounter.

In 1994, the Cavaliers moved back to downtown Cleveland with the opening of the 20,562-seat Gund Arena. Known by locals as "the Gund", the venue served as the site of the 1997 NBA All-Star Game. The arena and the Cleveland Indians' Jacobs Field were built together as part of the city's Gateway project.

The Cavaliers revamped their starting lineup during the 1997 off-season, sending guard Bobby Phills, and forward Chris Mills to free agency, and trading Terrell Brandon and Tyrone Hill to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team trade. They acquired All-Star forward Shawn Kemp from the Seattle SuperSonics (from the three-team trade involving Cleveland, Seattle and Milwaukee) and guard Wesley Person from the Phoenix Suns. Later on, players like Kemp and Žydrūnas Ilgauskas added quality to the team, but without further post-season success. The Cavaliers did have five All-Stars/All-Rookies in 1998 with Kemp a starting All-Star for the East, Brevin Knight and Ilgauskas on the All-Rookie First Team, and Cedric Henderson and Derek Anderson on the All-Rookie Second Team. No other NBA team has ever been represented by five players at the All-Star celebration or four players as All-Rookies in the same year. Still, in the three seasons that Kemp played for the Cavaliers, they managed only one playoff appearance and one playoff win. Fratello was fired following the shortened 1998–99 season.

Early 2000s struggles

Despite the arrivals of Andre Miller, Brevin Knight, Lamond Murray, Chris Mihm and Carlos Boozer, the Cavaliers were a perennial lottery team for the early part of the 2000s. The 2002–03 team finished with the third-worst record in franchise history (17–65), which earned them a tie for last place in the league and a 22.5% chance at winning the NBA Draft Lottery and the first overall selection.

Ricky Davis received national attention on March 16, 2003, in game against the Utah Jazz. With Cleveland ahead in the game 120–95, Davis was one rebound short of a triple-double with only a few seconds left on the clock. After receiving an inbound pass at the Cavaliers' end of the floor, Davis banged the ball off the rim and caught it in attempt to receive credit for a rebound. Utah's DeShawn Stevenson took offense to this breach of sportsman's etiquette and immediately fouled Davis hard.[8] The play did not count as a rebound since firing at one's own team's basket does not count as a shot attempt, and doing so intentionally is a technical foul under NBA rules. Since the referees had never seen anyone shoot at his own basket before, they were unfamiliar with the rule and play was allowed to continue. This (which led to Davis being nicknamed in Cleveland as "Wrong Rim Ricky") and countless other acts contributed to the Cavaliers' trading of Davis later that year and ushering in a new type of team.[9]

2003–10: The first LeBron James era

Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who was the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. In his first stint with the Cavaliers, he was the 2004 Rookie of the Year, a two-time NBA MVP (2009, 2010), a six-time NBA All Star, led the team to its first NBA Finals in 2007, and became the team's all-time leading scorer.

Several losing seasons followed which saw the Cavaliers drop to the bottom of the league and become a perennial lottery draft team. After another disappointing season in 2002–03, the Cavaliers landed the number one draft pick in the NBA Lottery. With it, the team selected local high school phenomenon and future NBA MVP LeBron James. As if celebrating a new era in Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, the team's colors were changed from orange, black and blue back to wine and gold, with the addition of navy blue and a new primary logo.

Dan Gilbert – who has owned the Cavaliers since 2005. Under Gilbert's watch the team has won one NBA Championship. three Eastern Conference titles, and four Central Division titles.

James' status as both an area star (having played his high school basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in nearby Akron) and as one of the most highly touted prospects in NBA history has led many to view his selection as a turning point in the franchise's history. Embraced by Cleveland as "King James", the 2003–04 season offered great hope for the future, as James rose to become a dominating player, winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Hope was even greater for the 2004–05 season. James increased his production in terms of points, rebounds, and assists per game. Despite the loss of Carlos Boozer in the offseason, James teamed with Žydrūnas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden to form the core of the team. After a promising start, the Cavaliers began a downward spiral that eventually led to the firing of coach Paul Silas and general manager Jim Paxson. The team failed to make the playoffs that year, tied with New Jersey Nets for the final playoff spot with identical 42–40 records; however, the Nets owned the tiebreaker due to having the better head to head record.

Dan Gilbert takes over

The Cavaliers made many changes in the 2005 offseason. Under new owner Dan Gilbert, the team hired a new head coach, Mike Brown, and a new general manager, former Cavaliers forward Danny Ferry. The team experienced success on the court in the following season, clinching their first playoff appearance since 1998. After a first round win over the Washington Wizards, the Cavaliers rebounded from a 0–2 deficit in the second round against the #1 seeded Detroit Pistons, winning three consecutive games to come one game away from the conference finals. They lost a close Game 6 at home, and followed it with a 79–61 loss in Game 7. The playoff rounds were a showcase for the emergence of James, who achieved many "youngest ever to..." records during the run.

2006–07: Eastern Conference champions

The Cavaliers continued their success in the 2006–07 season. The team earned the second seed in the East with a 50–32 record, generating a series of favorable matchups in the playoffs. They battled 7th-seeded Wizards, who struggled with injuries near the end of the season. The Cavaliers swept this series 4–0, and defeated the New Jersey Nets, 4–2, in the second round. The Cavaliers faced the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. After again losing the first two games at Detroit, the Cavaliers won the next three to take a 3–2 series lead. This time, the Cavaliers eliminated Detroit in Game 6. The wins included a 109–107 double-overtime game at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Game 5, in which LeBron James scored the last 25 points for the Cavaliers, and his performance in this game is recognized as one of the best in NBA history. They continued to a dominant 98–82 win at home in Game 6. Rookie Daniel "Boobie" Gibson scored a career-high 31 points in the series clincher, and the franchise won its first ever Eastern Conference Championship. The team's first trip to the NBA Finals was a short one, as they were outmatched and outplayed by the deeper, more experienced San Antonio Spurs, who swept the Cavaliers 4–0.

The Cavaliers took a step back in the 2007–08 season. They battled injuries and had many roster changes, including a three team trade at the trade deadline in which the team acquired F Joe Smith, G-F Wally Szczerbiak, F-C Ben Wallace, and G Delonte West. The Cavaliers finished 45–37 and lost in the second round against eventual champion Boston. The next off-season, the team made a major change to its lineup, trading G Damon Jones and Smith (who later in the season rejoined the Cavaliers after being released by Oklahoma City) for point guard Mo Williams. This trade was made in hopes of bringing another scorer to aid James.

Two-time head coach Mike Brown, who in his first stint with the Cavaliers was NBA Coach of the Year for 2008–09, led the team to the 2007 NBA Finals, and was the head coach of the Eastern Conference for the 2009 All Star Game.

2008–10: High expectations

In the next season, the Cavaliers made progress. They finished with a record of 66–16, the best regular-season record in franchise history. The year marked other notable franchise records, including a 13-game winning streak, and road and home winning records. The Cavaliers entered the playoffs as the #1 seed in the NBA with home court advantage throughout the playoffs. They finished the season 39–2 at home, one win short of the best all-time home record. Head Coach Mike Brown won NBA Coach of the Year honors and LeBron James finished second in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award and won the NBA MVP. The Cavaliers began the 2009 postseason by sweeping the 8th-seeded Detroit Pistons, winning every game by ten or more points. In the conference semifinals, the Cavaliers swept the 4th-seeded Atlanta Hawks, again winning each game by at least ten points, becoming the first team in NBA history to win eight straight playoff games by a double-digit margin. The Cavaliers then met the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers lost Game 1 of the series 107–106 at home despite James' 49-point effort. Despite winning Game 2 by a score of 96–95, with the help of a James buzzer-beating three-pointer, it was not enough as Orlando won the series in six games.

During the 2009 off-season, the Cavaliers acquired four-time NBA Champion and 15-time All Star center Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns.[10] The Cavaliers also signed wingman Anthony Parker, and forwards Leon Powe and Jamario Moon for the following season. On February 17, 2010, the Cavaliers acquired All-Star forward Antawn Jamison from the Washington Wizards and Sebastian Telfair from the Los Angeles Clippers in a three team trade. The Cavaliers originally lost Žydrūnas Ilgauskas in this trade, but after being waived by Washington, he signed back with the Cavaliers on March 23 for the rest of the season. The Cavaliers managed to finish with the NBA's best record for the second straight season, with a 61–21 record. James was named the NBA MVP, for the second consecutive year. The Cavaliers defeated the Chicago Bulls 4–1 in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs but, in a huge upset, lost to the Boston Celtics after leading the series 2–1, with the Celtics proceeding to win 3 consecutive games (afterwards, the Celtics went to the 2010 NBA Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 4–3.) Each team would suffer record-setting playoff defeats on home soil; the Celtics lost by 29, 124–95, in Game 3, the greatest defeat in the history of the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, while the Cavaliers lost by 32, 120–88, in Game 5.

The Decision

With the Cavaliers out of the playoffs, the focus then turned to James' impending free agency. On July 8, 2010, James announced in a nationally televised one-hour special titled The Decision on ESPN that he would be signing with the Miami Heat.[11] The repercussions of this announcement left many in the city of Cleveland infuriated and feeling betrayed. A number of LeBron James jerseys were burned, and the famous Nike "Witness" mural of James in downtown Cleveland was immediately taken down.

Shortly after James made his announcement, Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, announced in an open letter on the Cavaliers website (since dubbed as "The Letter" by some) that James' decision was a "cowardly betrayal" and promised an NBA championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron James wins one,[12] although James would win a championship before the Cavaliers with the Heat's championship in 2012. Despite being ridiculed for the letter by the media, Cleveland fans embraced the owner, even offering to pay the $100,000 fine given by the NBA.

2010–14: Post-Decision struggles

2010–11: Struggles and infamy

Former Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott, under whose watch the team went 64-166 and went through the (then) longest losing streak in major professional sports history at 26

During the 2010 off-season, before LeBron James left the team, the Cavaliers fired head coach Mike Brown, along with most of their coaching staff. General Manager Danny Ferry resigned on June 4, 2010, and Assistant General Manager Chris Grant was promoted to replace Ferry. On July 1, the Cavaliers hired former Los Angeles Lakers guard and former New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets head coach Byron Scott as the 18th head coach in franchise history.

The Cavaliers spent the rest of the 2010 off-season rebuilding their team after James' departure. They signed 2009 first-round pick Christian Eyenga and acquired Ramon Sessions and Ryan Hollins from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade that saw the Cavaliers give away Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair. The Cavaliers also signed free agent Joey Graham and undrafted rookies Samardo Samuels and Manny Harris. The Cavaliers were also active at the trade deadline in February 2011. They acquired former All-Star Baron Davis and a 2011 first round draft pick from the L.A. Clippers in exchange for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon.[13]

Kyrie Irving – the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the 2011–12 Rookie of the Year, a three-time NBA All Star, the 2014 All Star Game MVP, and was the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup MVP after helping lead Team USA to the Gold Medal.

On the court, the 2010–11 season was a stark contrast from the previous season. They went from a league-best 61 wins in 2009–10 to a conference-worst 19, the biggest single-season drop in NBA history. This season also saw the Cavaliers lose 63 games, including a 26-game losing streak, which set an NBA record and tied the 1976–77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the longest losing streak in any American professional team sport.[14]

2011–14: Rebuilding with Kyrie Irving

David Griffin, who became Cavaliers GM in February 2014

Having the second-worst team record in the 2010–11 season as well as the Clippers' first-round pick that they received in the Mo WilliamsBaron Davis trade, the Cavaliers had high odds of winning an early draft pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, with a 22.7% chance of their pick becoming number 1 overall.[15] The selection acquired from the Clippers became the first pick in the lottery, while the Cavaliers original selection ended up as the #4 selection in the draft. The Cavaliers took Duke Blue Devils guard Kyrie Irving with the first pick. With the 4th pick, the Cavaliers selected Texas Longhorns power forward Tristan Thompson. The Cavaliers used the next year to build around the two top-5 picks. They acquired small forward Omri Casspi and a lottery-protected first-round draft pick from the Sacramento Kings for forward J. J. Hickson.

At the next year's trade deadline, the Cavaliers acquired forward Luke Walton and a first-round draft pick from the Los Angeles Lakers. The 2011–12 lockout shortened season was an improvement for the Cavaliers, as they finished 21–45. Irving was named NBA Rookie of the Year and was unanimously voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Thompson was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.

For the second straight year, the Cavaliers had two first-round picks in the NBA draft.[16] With their own #4 pick, they chose guard Dion Waiters from Syracuse, and with pick #17 (which was acquired from Dallas on draft night), they chose center Tyler Zeller from North Carolina.[16] In August 2012, the Cavaliers signed veteran free agent swingman C. J. Miles.[17] The team struggled in 2012–13, which led to them sacking head coach Byron Scott after a 64–166 record in three seasons.[18] The following week, the Cavaliers rehired Mike Brown as head coach, making him the second two-time head coach in team history, after Bill Musselman in the early 1980s.[19][20]

The Cavaliers had several early picks in 2013. They won the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery to receive the first overall pick. They also had the 19th pick (acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers), as well as two out of the top three picks in the second round.[21][22] For the third straight year, the Cavaliers had two picks in the first round of the NBA draft. The Cavaliers made somewhat of a surprise pick when they drafted forward Anthony Bennett of UNLV. This made Bennett the first Canadian born player in history to be the number one pick. With the 19th pick, the Cavaliers selected swingman Sergey Karasev out of Russia.[23] The Cavaliers signed free agent forward Earl Clark to a two-year contract and veteran guard Jarrett Jack to a four-year deal.[24][25] The Cavaliers also signed two-time NBA Champion and former All-Star center Andrew Bynum to a one-year contract.[26][27][28] Bynum was then be traded on January 7, 2014, to the Chicago Bulls (along with draft picks) for two-time All-Star forward Luol Deng.[29]

The Cavaliers on February 6 fired GM Chris Grant. The team then announced that VP of basketball operations David Griffin would serve as acting GM.[30] On May 12, 2014, the Cavaliers announced that Griffin had been named as the full-time GM, while also announcing that Mike Brown had been fired after one season in his second stint with the team following going 33–49. The Cavaliers won the #1 draft pick in the 2014 Draft Lottery, making it the third time in four years they would win the lottery.[31]

2014–present: The return of LeBron James

Three-time NBA All-Star and 2012 Olympic Gold medal winner Kevin Love (left), whose trade to the Cavaliers has led national sports media personalities to dub him, Kyrie Irving (center) and LeBron James (right) as the Cavaliers' "Big Three"

On June 20, 2014, the Cavaliers hired longtime Euroleague coach David Blatt—who had just led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 2014 Euroleague Championship, and named 2014 Euroleague Coach of the Year—to become head coach of the Cavaliers.[32] Three days later, the team hired former two-time NBA Championship-winning player and veteran assistant coach Tyronn Lue as their new associate head coach, making him the NBA's highest-paid assistant coach in the process.[33] On June 26, the Cavaliers selected swingman Andrew Wiggins from Kansas as the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NBA draft.[34]

On July 11, dictating an article to Lee Jenkins for Sports Illustrated, James, now a free agent, electrified Cavaliers fans when he announced he was rejoining the Cavaliers from the Heat.[35][36] On July 15, the Cavaliers signed James' former Miami Heat teammate, swingman Mike Miller (who was part of Miami's two NBA championship seasons), coming from the Memphis Grizzlies.[37] The next day, the Cavaliers signed another one of James' former two-time champion Heat teammates, swingman James Jones, to a one-year contract.[38]

On August 7, it was reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves had agreed to a three-team deal with Cleveland along with the Philadelphia 76ers to trade three-time All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cavaliers in exchange for Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and a future first-round draft pick. By NBA rules, the deal could not become official until August 23, upon which it was formally announced.[39] Because Wiggins had signed his rookie contract on July 24, league rules prohibited him from being traded until 30 days after his signing; the trade was finalized once the 30-day window expired on August 23.[40]

The 2014–15 season started 19–20 after 39 games. During the week of January 5, 2015, the Cavaliers traded Dion Waiters (along with various other players and draft picks) in a pair of deals and acquired swingman J. R. Smith and guard Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks, along with center Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets.[41] Mozgov and Smith were inserted into the starting lineup, while Shumpert became a top reserve. Beginning on January 15, the team's fortunes changed, as the Cavaliers went 34–9 the rest of the regular season. On January 28, Irving set a record for most points in Quicken Loans Arena history as he scored 55 points, leading the Cavaliers to a 99–94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.[42] On March 12, he established a new team record for most points scored in a single game with 57 in a 128–125 overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, surpassing James, who had held the record with 56. Irving did so while shooting a perfect 7-for-7 on three-point shot attempts and 10-for-10 on free throws. He also had several three-point plays in the game as well as two crucial three-point shots in the closing seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime, including the final shot at the buzzer. He then went on to score 11 of the Cavaliers' 18 points in overtime. With these two games, Irving ended the season having the top two individual high scoring performances.[43] At the end of the season, the Cavaliers had a 53–29 regular-season record and clinched a playoff spot on March 20, marking a return to postseason play after a four-year absence. On April 8, the Cavaliers clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference and won the Central Division title.

In round one of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics 4–0 to advance to the next round, but lost Kevin Love in the process after suffering a dislocated shoulder when Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk grabbed Love in what has been regarded by Love as a "dirty play" and a purposeful arm bar.[44] Despite that, the Cavaliers then beat the Chicago Bulls 4–2 in the second round and swept the Atlanta Hawks 4–0 to win the team's second Eastern Conference title and advance to the NBA Finals.

Games 1 and 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals saw a pair of overtime games, in which game 1 went to the favored Golden State Warriors and game 2 went to the Cavaliers. Prior to game 2, it was announced that an already hobbled Kyrie Irving suffered a broken kneecap in game 1, and would miss the rest of the season. The Cavaliers—who had been dubbed by James as "The Grit Squad" due to the team adopting a tough, physical style of play in the absence of All-Stars Irving and Kevin Love—took a 2–1 series lead with a game 3 win in Cleveland.[45] The city quickly embraced the team's new image, identifying itself through the team's new found scrappy style of play.[46] Australian Cavalier backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova in particular became the embodiment of this new image, becoming something of a cult hero in Cleveland and even nationally due to his hard-nosed playing style.[47] However, beginning with game 4 the Warriors switched to a smaller, faster lineup (starting swingman Andre Iguodala in place of center Andrew Bogut), the Cavaliers lost the next three games to Golden State, thus losing the series 4–2. James finished the series averaging a historic 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game, which ESPN recognized by honoring James with the 2015 ESPY Award for Best Championship Performance.

2015–16: First NBA championship

During the off-season, the Cavaliers re-signed Dellavedova, James, Love, Shumpert, Smith, and Thompson, and signed guard Mo Williams – who had a previous stint with the team from 2008 to 2011 (including being a 2009 NBA All-Star) – veteran forward Richard Jefferson, and center Sasha Kaun – who played the last several years in Europe.

Current head coach Tyronn Lue, who took over midway through the 2015–16 season. Lue would coach the East during the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, and led the Cavaliers to their first NBA Championship the same year.

On January 22, 2016, even though the Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference at 30–11, the team fired head coach David Blatt, and promoted associate head coach Tyronn Lue to full-time head coach, complete with a new three-year contract.[48] On February 18, the Cavaliers traded veteran power forward/center Anderson Varejão—who spent his entire 12-year career with the team—as part of a three-team deal to acquire veteran power forward/center Channing Frye. The Cavaliers finished the season with an improved record over the previous season, finishing 57–25. In doing so, they achieved both the top seed in the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs, and a Central Division title.

In the 2016 NBA Playoffs, the Cavaliers swept the Detroit Pistons 4–0 in the first round, the Atlanta Hawks 4–0 in the second round, and defeated the Toronto Raptors 4–2 to win their third Eastern Conference Championship and advance to the NBA Finals. In Game 2 of the second round against the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers set NBA single game records for most three-point field goals made in a game (25) and a half (18).[49]

Upon reaching the Finals, the Cavaliers faced a rematch from last year's finals with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, coming off an NBA record 73–9 season and retaining many of the players who had beaten the Cavaliers in six games the previous year – including Iguodala, Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and unanimous MVP Stephen Curry – started off strong, leading the series 3–1 after Game 4. However, the Cavaliers, led by strong play from James and Irving, won the following three games to win the championship. The capstone was a 93–89 victory at Oracle Arena in Oakland in Game 7, including a triple-double by James (the third ever in an NBA Finals seventh game), clutch defense and rebounding from Love and a three-pointer from Irving isolated against Curry that put the Cavaliers ahead with 53 seconds left. It marked not only the Cavaliers' first-ever NBA championship but also Cleveland's first major league professional sports championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship. It also made the Cavaliers the eleventh team in NBA history to come back from a 3–1 deficit to win a playoff series and the first to do so to win the NBA Finals (previously, all 32 teams who had trailed 3–1 in the Finals had lost the series.) This improbable comeback was referred to by local media as the "MiraCLE at the Oracle" (CLE being emphasized as a reference to Cleveland).[50][51]

James was named unanimous NBA Finals MVP, making him the fifth player to earn at least three.[52] An estimated 1.3 million people attended the victory parade the Wednesday after Game 7 as Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson declared a local public holiday.[53]

The Cavs picked up more accolades, as the team won the 2016 Best Team ESPY Award and Best Moment ESPY Award (for winning the title) at that year's ceremony.


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