Rewrite History: What if LeBron never left the Cavs?

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LeBron James spent the first seven years of his career on the Cleveland Cavaliers before signing with the Miami Heat in 2010. His departure left a lot of people questioning what the league would have been like had The King chosen to stay.  Photo by Alexandra Walt via Flickr Creative Commons.

LeBron James spent the first seven years of his career on the Cleveland Cavaliers before signing with the Miami Heat in 2010. His departure left a lot of people questioning what the league would have been like had The King chosen to stay. Photo by Alexandra Walt via Flickr Creative Commons.

Sports are canceled. Classes are online. We’re all stuck at home. So what is there to do with all this free time and nothing to write about?

Make something up.

For part No. 1 of this new rewrite history series, we’re going to be using 2K20 to see what would have happened if LeBron never left the Cavaliers. To do so, I’ve imported a user-created roster from the 2009-2010 season. It’s obviously not perfect and is missing a lot of the lower-roster guys on all the teams and some current players are still floating around in free agency, but the cores are there and no current players are good enough to make an impact. Don’t worry, I’ll hold off on signing Caruso. The Cavs have a 23-year-old LeBron and 37-year-old Shaq, Tim Duncan is on the Spurs, Chris Paul is on the Pelicans (then the Hornets) and Kobe Bryant is on the Lakers.

I’ll be controlling the Cavs, and I could just let the CPU take the reins and see what the 2K simulation would have happened, but that’s no fun. I’m going to try to do what Cleveland couldn’t do the first time around: put a championship roster around the King. I’ll go as many years as it takes to win a chip, and if it happens early, maybe more. 

I’m going to try to keep this as realistic as possible. That means keeping the salary cap on along with the Stepien rule, the rookie signing restriction and the recently signed and traded restrictions. Let’s get started.

Set-up Year

For this year, I’m not going to make any moves the Cavs didn’t make in real life. I take over in the offseason. I even completed the three-team trade between the Cavs, Wizards and Clippers that netted the Wizards Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Emir Preldžić, Al Thornton and the Cavs’ 2010 first-round pick, the Clippers Drew Gooden and the Cavs Antawn Jamison and Sebastian Telfair. Well, I did it to the best of my ability — both Thornton and Telfair weren’t in the roster, so it was essentially a two-way trade with the main pieces being Ilgauskas and Jamison.

The Cavs finished the season worse than in real life, going 49-33 in the sim versus 61-21 in reality. Not only that, but we got our first sign that this is most definitely a fantasy world, with Dwight Howard winning the MVP on the Magic averaging 27.3 points and 19.1 rebounds per game. LeBron also won defensive player of the year and averaged 30.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 assists per game. Cleveland was a 6-seed, not a 1-seed, but LeBron still willed the Cavs to the conference finals — past Derrick Rose and the Bulls in the first round and MVP Dwight in the second round before falling to Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in five. Then, in the first true rewrite of history, the Celtics beat the Lakers in the finals in seven games, not the other way around.


In this scenario, LeBron had the added help of Marc Gasol, who spent the earlier parts of his career as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. Gasol’s height and shooting touch was a much needed addition to help LeBron on both ends.  Photo via Instagram @marcgasol.

In this scenario, LeBron had the added help of Marc Gasol, who spent the earlier parts of his career as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. Gasol’s height and shooting touch was a much needed addition to help LeBron on both ends. Photo via Instagram @marcgasol.

Year 1

Now time for draft No. 1. The Cavs don’t have a first-round pick after sending it to Washington, but I’m curious how the rest of history changes. Step one: John Wall going No. 1 to the Pistons, Demarcus Cousins going No. 2 Pelicans, Gordon Hayward going No. 3 to the Pelicans (yes, picks traded in real life are still traded, the 2K sim can only do so much). We brought back LeBron, of course, as well as added Marc Gasol to play center and filled out the guard positions with Ish Smith, J.J. Reddick and 31-year-old Tracy McGrady — all on one-year deals so I can replace them with a star guard next year in free agency.

We’re going into the season with a starting five of Ish Smith, J.J. Reddick, LeBron, Antawn Jamison and Marc Gasol with Leon Powe, T-Mac and Anderson Varejao coming off the bench. Not the best, but better than last year and still with time to improve. Believe me, if we’re in it, I’ll be making some trades.

We started off the season pretty well, going 32-12 through the first 44. LeBron and Marc are both killing it, the role players are doing fine, but Ish Smith is just not a starting point guard. If I’m going to go for it all Year One, I need to make an upgrade. I want to keep Smith as a backup, so I packaged Anderson Varejao and the Suns’ first-round pick, which I acquired in the offseason while dumping some salary to sign J.J., for Ricky Rubio, a solid, young guard who’s under team control for two more years and can help get the ball to our scorers.

We finished the season with a slight improvement to the record, 53-29, and ended up as the No. 4 seed. After beating the Wizards in five in the first round, we went up against the No. 8 seed Celtics, who knocked off the No. 1 seed Bulls in seven. Garnett, Pierce, Allen (no Rondo anymore) and company took game one, but Cleveland took the next four en route to facing Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Brandon Roy and 20-year-old Jrue Holiday in the conference finals. Turns out they were good — we got swept and they swept the Warriors in the finals. Onto Year Two.

Year 2

Draft No. 2 is upon us. This is the draft where the Cavs got Kyrie Irving, but seeing as we pick 24th, that’s not going to happen here.

One thing you’ll notice is that teams have the benefit of hindsight, so players like Kawhi Leonard won’t be going outside the lottery this time. The Trail Blazers took Klay Thompson No. 1, Kawhi went No. 2 to the Kings, Kyrie went No. 3 to the Nuggets and Kemba went No. 4 the Knicks (Knicks fans wish right).

Then, I did something kind of crazy. I traded Antawn Jamison, my first-round pick and four second-round picks to the Knicks for Kemba (I know, not very realistic, but deal with it). We got our guard for the future.

Thanks to me signing everyone to one-year contracts last season, I now have four players on the roster: Lebron, Marc, Ricky and Kemba. I tried to go after Michael Redd, one of my all-time favorite players in 2K, but he didn’t want to move to Cleveland. So, I turned my attention to a mid-tier free agent: Caron Butler. I already have Kemba, might as well get another Husky too, right? I got him, meaning I’ll probably be moving LeBron to the four but we’ll make it work.


In desperate need of a point guard, the Cavs traded up in the 2011 draft to select Kemba Walker from UConn. Walker would provide a scoring threat on offense and solidify himself as the team’s point guard of the future.  Photo by Michael Dwyer/AP.

In desperate need of a point guard, the Cavs traded up in the 2011 draft to select Kemba Walker from UConn. Walker would provide a scoring threat on offense and solidify himself as the team’s point guard of the future. Photo by Michael Dwyer/AP.

Now to fill out the roster. I brought back J.J. on a larger, three-year deal. He did well for us, he’s still only 27 and we know he remains productive for a while. I brought back T-Mac for the bench on a minimum deal because why not? I also added Ty Lue for the same reason, maybe the two of them can win a chip as teammates before Lue becomes his coach. That puts us in a pretty good spot with guards, as I’ll be having Kemba and J.J. start and Ricky and T-Mac come off the bench. 

I also got Tiago Splitter and Scot Pollard to back up Marc Gasol to give some good depth at center, but unfortunately due to the cap that means I’m not going to have much room for backups at the forwards. I got legend Brian Scalabrine to hold down the fort at power forward when LeBron is grabbing some water along with Jared Jeffries and Morris Peterson to relieve Butler.

Going into the season, I’ve got a starting five of Kemba, J.J., Caron, LeBron and Marc.

At the trade deadline, we’re a really solid 38-14. LeBron is averaging 28.6, Marc is averaging 22.8 and Kemba is averaging 16.7. But I’ll be honest, 31-year-old Caron Butler just isn’t working out, averaging 8.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting just 37.3%. So, I put him in the trade finder to see what other teams would give me for him and my first-round pick, and boom, offer No. 1: Lamarcus Aldridge. Not only does it give me a younger guy on a similar deal, but it also gives me a true power forward, allowing me to move LeBron back to small forward. It’s a no-brainer.

As it turns out, that was exactly the right move. After the trade deadline, we went 24-6, finishing the season at a great 62-20. LeBron won MVP, he and Marc both made All-NBA first team and All-Defensive first team and we were still just the No. 2 seed. Derrick Rose, Greg Oden and the Chicago Bulls still have control of the No. 1 seed. In real life, this was the season Rose had his infamous ACL tear, and for Oden, well, we’re seeing a glimpse of what he could have been. They also have a 36-year-old Allen Iverson, so that’s fun. 

Then, all of a sudden, we go down 3-1 to the No. 7 seed Atlanta Hawks. I shortened the rotation and got it back to 3-3, with it all coming down to Game 7. Not something I wanted to have happen in the first round, but it happened. It was a close one, but on the backs of 20 point games from LeBron, Kemba and Marc, we got it done, winning 115-111.

Round two, this time versus the Magic, it happened again. Down 3-1. Dwight Howard, Baron Davis and Vince Carter are giving us the work. We won Game 5 thanks to a LeBron triple-double, but lost Game 6. Dwight put up 33 and 16, including nine offensive rebounds. Marc got bodied.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden won their first championship.


After missing out on the title the previous two seasons, it was all or nothing this year for LeBron. With the best starting five of his career and entering his prime, all signs pointed toward this being the one.  Photo by Alexandra Walt via Flickr Creative Commons.

After missing out on the title the previous two seasons, it was all or nothing this year for LeBron. With the best starting five of his career and entering his prime, all signs pointed toward this being the one. Photo by Alexandra Walt via Flickr Creative Commons.

Year 3

I don’t have any picks in this draft, I shipped it for Aldridge, but I’m still curious how it works out this time. It didn’t disappoint: Anthony goes first overall to the Knicks (rejoice, the savior is here!), Bradley Beal goes second to the Pistons — still ending up teammates with John Wall even in this fantasy world — and Damian Lillard went third to the Hornets (Bobcats). Harrison Barnes rounded out the top-five, Draymond Green went No. 8, Jeremy Lamb went No. 9 and the Grizzlies got a steal with Khris Middleton at No. 13.

The free-agent market is crazy. Chris Paul and Tim Duncan are both available, but have 10-plus offers each, along with players like Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Russell Westbrook, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Rudy Gay and Paul Gasol. However, they’re all well out of my price range. LeBron, Marc and Lamarcus are taking up almost all of my cap space. On top of that, J.J. Redick has what 2K describes as a spinal injury, so that’s $16 million of dead money, at least for the first few weeks of Year Three.

So, who is in my price range? Matt Barnes, snagged him to be a backup small forward. T-Mac, brought him back again on the minimum seeing as with J.J. hurt I need another shooting guard. I also brought in Jason Williams, Ty Lue, Steven Hunter, Ben Wallace and Michael Doleac on minimum deals.

Starting five for Year Three: Ricky, Kemba, LeBron, Lamarcus and Marc.

At the trade deadline, we have the best record we have had up until this point, sitting at 39-11. We have six people averaging double-digit points per game — all five starters and J.J, who is putting up almost 18 points per game after coming back about two weeks into the season. Everything is clicking, no trades needed.

End of the year and we finish with the best record we have ever had, 65-17. LeBron won another MVP, going back-to-back, and Marc Gasol joined him on All-NBA first team again. LeBron also got All-Defensive first team honors again.

We’re the No. 1 seed, finally unseating Rose and the Bulls. We swept the Nets’ Paul George, Andre Drummond, Lou Will and Isaiah Thomas in the first round. We beat DeMar DeRozan, Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and the Raptors in round two, and we swept Rose, Oden and Luol Deng in the Eastern Conference Finals.

All to face the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder in the finals. Still, they have KD and Harden, so it’s not going to be easy.

We won Game 1 by four, thanks to 20-plus points from five different players, including 36 from LeBron and 28 from Kemba. The Thunder won Game 2 behind a 40-piece from KD. They took Game 3 as well, getting 32 from Harden and 29 from KD. We evened it up in Game 4, with Kemba dropping 36 and Lamarcus, LeBron and Marc all dropping 25-plus.


Finally after nearly 10 years in the league, LeBron was able to win his first title after going to seven games with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He wasn’t as successful as he was with the Heat, but LeBron still found a title by hanging around in Cleveland for a few years.  Photo via Instagram @kingjames.

Finally after nearly 10 years in the league, LeBron was able to win his first title after going to seven games with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He wasn’t as successful as he was with the Heat, but LeBron still found a title by hanging around in Cleveland for a few years. Photo via Instagram @kingjames.

The Cavs took Game 6, with Marc, Ricky, J.J., Kemba and LeBron all dropping 20-plus. One game left until LeBron finally gets his first ring — and KD isn’t going down without a fight. 48 points in Game 6, enough to beat LeBron’s 34.

Game 7. Winner takes all. And it was a blowout. Not even close. A championship has come to Cleveland. 33 points from Kemba, 26 and 20 from Marc and 17 points, six rebounds and 11 assists from LeBron gets it done. It’s a good thing too, because it just so happens that most of my team is free agents now. 

Recap

This was a really interesting simulation. LeBron won back-to-back MVPs, just like in real life. He didn’t have the duo of Wade and Bosh with him this time, but he had a young superstar version of Marc Gasol along with young, ever-improving versions of Kemba Walker, Ricky Rubio and Lamarcus Aldridge. However, he only won one championship in three years as opposed to two.

We also got to witness a ton of interesting developments that I had no hand in. Derrick Rose never got hurt and led the Bulls to contending seasons year after year. OKC won a championship this time around with KD, Harden and Russ, and then it was Russ to leave in free agency, not Harden. John Wall and Bradley Beal were both drafted to the Pistons. Anthony Davis went to the Knicks. Kyrie Irving, not having been drafted by the Cavs for obvious reasons, ended up in Denver to play for the Nuggets.

So much about the NBA changed. Sure, it’s wild and unrealistic, but it’s fun to think “what if?”

If LeBron never took his talents to South Beach, the whole landscape of the NBA would be changed to this day.

I’m considering a few options of what to do next week. I might expand on the idea of what if the three stars in OKC stayed together. I might see what would have changed if the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade was allowed to go through. I might see what would have happened if the Timberwolves didn’t pass on Steph Curry not only once, but twice. Who knows?

For right now, I think it’s safe to say that, according to this simulation, LeBron made the right move going to Miami.                                                                                                      


Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.eckardt@uconn.edu. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31.

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