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Hopefully, fellow Cavalier fans staying safe, social distancing and enjoying FSO’s re-airing of the 2016 Finals. If you tuned in for Game 1 on Sunday night and are back for Game 2 on Monday, here’s a spoiler alert: as the week moves on, things get way, WAY better!
While we re-gird for the seven-game epic, Cavs.com tips off a new feature – calling it the “Cava-List” – that’ll break down some facet of the Wine & Gold into bite-sized pieces. (Yeah, we know it’s a tacky title.) And what better place to start than those exhilarating, exhausting 17 days in June of 2016?
Today’s catalog looks at how that Finals squad was built.
Tristan Thompson was as close to a full-blooded Cavalier as that team had. He was the Wine & Gold’s actual 2011 Draft pick – No. 4 overall out of Texas, and the blue-collar big has manned the middle ever since.
Cleveland got contributions from all over the roster over the course of the 2015-16 regular season – from Mo Williams’ 19 points in the season opener in Chicago to Jordan McRae’s 36-point detonation in the regular season finale.
But once the NBA’s tournament rolled around, Coach Ty Lue tightened things up considerably.
Again, there were big moments from role players in the postseason – from Dahntay Jones’ clutch moments before half in Game 6 to Iman Shumpert’s four-point play in Game 7. But it was essentially a seven-man rotation (with a dash of Delly and Shump) for much of the Playoffs and especially in the 2016 Finals. Even Timofey Mozgov, who started 48 games that season, saw scant action (5.8mpg) in the postseason.
Here’s a Cava-List – in no particular order – of the moves that eventually erased a city’s half-century of sports misery ...
By now, most Cavs fans know that Kyrie Irving was actually the Draft pick Cleveland received from the Clippers late in the previous season. He was both a key piece of Cleveland’s title-winning run and a cautionary tale for GMs who don’t put the word “protected” on traded picks.
At the 2011 Deadline, Cleveland sent All-Star Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers in exchange for Baron Davis and the Clippers’ unprotected pick in that June’s Draft.
Los Angeles finished the season with a 32-50 record, Davis averaged 13.9ppg in 15 games for Cleveland and, about a month later, the Cavaliers (and 14-year-old Nick Gilbert) made history, defying a 2.8 percent chance to win the Lottery. Cleveland did, and that year’s No. 1 pick – a quiet, quirky point guard from Duke named Kyrie Irving would go on to win that season’s Rookie of the Year, the 2014 All-Star MVP award and, of course, hit the biggest single shot in franchise history.
Long before the Cavaliers’ unprecedented Lottery run that began in 2011, the franchise underwent seismic change eight years earlier when it won the 2003 sweepstakes, with ping-pong balls totaling “23” and the chance to select a transcendent talent from 40 miles down the road in Akron.
LeBron James led the new expression of Wine & Gold to five playoff runs, the team’s first trip to the NBA Finals in 2007 and a complete re-writing of the record books during his first seven-year stretch. He then took his talents to South Beach in 2010, demolished the Cavs in his first game back and won two titles with Miami.
But by time the Cavs retired Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ number in early March 2014, the city (and apparently, the King) were feeling all warm and fuzzy again. And that July, Numeral 23 announced his return to Cleveland as a free agent.
In his first year back, James was Herculean in six Finals games. He was superhuman the following June.
As long as we’re talking Lottery, the Cavaliers once again defied the odds in the offseason before LeBron came back – overcoming 1.7 percent odds to win their second straight Lottery – and the rights to the 2014 Draft’s overall first pick, Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins. (One year after selecting UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the top choice.)
Bennett averaged 4.2ppg and didn’t start a single game for the Cavs as a rookie and Wiggins barely finished his first Summer League stint with Cleveland – under new head coach David Blatt – before being dealt to Minnesota in exchange for All-Star Kevin Love, who’d averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 boards the previous season with the T-Wolves.
Love’s numbers took a slight dip in Cleveland and he got cheated out of his first Finals run after suffering a season-ending injury against Boston in the First Round in 2015, but was a huge contributor the following season, netting 10 double-doubles in the Playoffs and had maybe the biggest single defensive stop in team history late in Game 7 against league MVP Steph Curry.
The Cavs title-winning run of 2016 was almost pure perfection – and Channing Frye is the reason it was both “pure perfection” and “almost.”
Frye arrived in a Deadline deal in February 2016 and proceeded to lead the NBA in three-point shooting that postseason, going a staggering 41-for-69 from long-range – completing tormenting the Hawks the Second Round and drilling 63 percent of his triples in the Conference Finals against Toronto.
The “almost” part is that the Cavaliers weren’t able to celebrate the title with the “Wild Thing” – Anderson Varejao, who, after 11-plus seasons in Cleveland, was part of the deal to acquire Frye: a three-team trade with the Magic and Blazers.
The Cavaliers sent Jared Cunningham to Orlando, Varejao and a 2018 first rounder (who eventually turned out to be Moritz Wagner) to Portland, with the Blazers sending a 2020 second round pick to the Magic.
In a bit of cruel irony, the beloved Varejao signed with the Warriors after his release from Portland and was part of the team Cleveland vanquished to win the title that June.
Richard Jefferson’s route to Cleveland wasn’t complicated. He was an under-the-radar signing in early August 2015. But he’d been all over the league before setting in as an indispensable member of the Cavaliers Championship-winning squad.
Jefferson had already played for six different teams before his arrival in Cleveland, including with Tyronn Lue as a player in Milwaukee (and that was his third stop).
But Jefferson, who had Finals experience with the Nets, brought not just on-court production but some levity to a locker room that was understandably pressure-packed. All Jefferson did in the 2016 Playoffs was make 21 appearances, provide steady leadership, start two big games in the Finals and go .516 from three-point range (16-of-31) against the Warriors – another one of his former teams.
The Cavaliers first major move in the chess game that’s building a Championship squad came midway through the previous season.
Just before the Wine & Gold was set to square off against the Sixers on January 5, 2015, they pulled a major three-team deal – sending Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City; Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 2nd round pick to the Knicks all in exchange for New York teammates Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. (Future draft picks involved in that complicated deal eventually turned out to be Furkan Korkmaz and Carsen Edwards.)
Shumpert came up big in the 2015 Finals, helping an injury-depleted Cavaliers squad nearly overcome Golden State in six bare-knuckle battles. But it was J.R. that put Cleveland over the top the following June – drilling 65 three-pointers (besting his franchise Playoff record 51 from the previous season) in the Cavs’ legendary postseason run.
Swish scored 762 total points during his Playoff career in Cleveland, but none were bigger than the eight straight he piled up after halftime of Game 7 in 2016. Without them, it’s likely that the Block, the Shot and Stop might never have happened.