They have since proven they don’t need James this year. The Cavs have put together a talented young core that has given the franchise a chance to make the playoffs for the first time without LeBron since 1997-98.
But in an upcoming meeting with James and his struggling Los Angeles Lakers squad, the Cavaliers can get their ultimate revenge.
LeBron James’ shadow still hovers over the Cleveland Cavaliers
There aren’t too many current Cavs players who were on the team when LeBron James last played in Cleveland in 2017-18. Kevin Love and Cedi Osman are the only two.
But considering that the Cavaliers haven’t had a winning season without James since 1997-98, it appears players can still feel his presence in The Land.
“Having our own legacy without having anything with Bron to do with it, that’d be pretty cool,” All-Star point guard Darius Garland said to Shams Charania in January.
So, while the Cavs don’t necessarily have ill feelings toward LeBron, they can still get their ultimate revenge on him during their next game.
The Cavs can get their ultimate revenge on LeBron
It has been the story of the NBA season: The Lakers stink.
LeBron James and company had high expectations after adding Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and others in the offseason, but they have since been the league’s biggest disappointment.
LA is 30-41 and sits in ninth place in the Western Conference.
The Cavs now have a chance to further cement LA’s frustrating campaign when the two teams meet on March 21.
If the Lakers win out, they will finish with a .500 record of 41-41. But if Cleveland wins on Monday, LA will clinch a losing record. It will be the second time James has had a losing record since joining the Lakers and only the third time of his career.
Yes, LeBron, who is still playing at an elite level, departed from Cleveland in 2018 on much better terms than he did when he left the first time in 2010. But ensuring that he has his second losing season since ditching the Cavs would likely still be sweet to those who were with the franchise during his most recent stint.
A Cavaliers win wouldn’t just hurt the Lakers, though. It would also help Cleveland put the cherry on top of its resurgent season.
The Cavs can clinch their first winning season without LeBron James since 1997-98
While LeBron James’ Lakers have had a disappointing year, the Cavs have been the NBA’s biggest surprise. They are 41-30 and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
If they were to lose the remainder of their games, the Cavaliers would finish with a .500 record of 41-41. But a win over James and the Lakers would clinch Cleveland’s first winning season without The King since 1997-98.
In case you didn’t follow basketball back then, the Cavs went 47-35 under head coach Mike Fratello that year. Shawn Kemp led them in scoring with 18.0 points per game, and future All-Star Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a breakout rookie season with 13.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game.
Cleveland, however, lost to the Indiana Pacers in the first round of playoffs 3-1.
So, the Cavs not only have a chance to give LeBron a losing season, but they can clinch a winning year for themselves on the same night.
That sounds like the perfect revenge.
LeBron James is a Cleveland hero, and the Cavs will forever be indebted to him, especially after winning a title with him in 2016. But for just one night, they can rub their success in his face.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference