The Cavs went from a perennial title contender to one of the worst teams in the NBA, while the Heat went from a middle of the pack team to a legitimate championship favorite.
James created The Big Three on the Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Miami won 58 games in the first year of The Big Three era, but fell short of its goal after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
The Cavs, meanwhile, won just 19 games in 2010-11. They were one of the worst teams in the league on both sides of the ball and became irrelevant.
The next season was a big one for both the Heat and Cavs. LeBron finally won his first title, as Miami defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder. James won his first Finals MVP and his critics were nowhere to be found that season.
The Cavs, as a result of their putrid 2010-11 season, got the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft and selected Kyrie Irving from Duke. While Cleveland won only 21 games in 2011-12, Irving won the Rookie of the Year Award and the Cavs finally had someone worth watching in the post-James era.
In his first stint with the Cavs, James never played with another superstar. It’s why he chose to go to Miami so he could play with two Hall of Famers in Bosh and Wade and compete for multiple championships.
In the 2012-13 season, LeBron and the Heat won their second straight title, this time defeating the San Antonio Spurs in seven games. Irving and the Cavs were still a bottom cellar team in the East. Cleveland won 24 games in 2012-13 even though Irving averaged 22.5 points per game.
From South Beach, James could see the talent that Irving was. There were whispers in league circles that LeBron was thinking about leaving the Heat after the 2013-14 season since he had accomplished what he set out to when he first came to Miami.
Naturally, the Cavs and James were linked. So when the 2013-14 season started, all eyes were on James and everything he said about free agency and his future was magnified. Miami wound up losing to the Spurs in the Finals. The Cavs won 33 games, but again, missed the playoffs.
Had LeBron James never left the Cavs in the first place, Cleveland would have never been able to draft a transcendent talent like Kyrie Irving. He was the type of player LeBron was looking to play with all those years in Cleveland, but the Cavs were just never able to sign any big time players in free agency. That’s why LeBron had to sign with the Heat and leave his hometown because he knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play with Bosh and Wade.
Patience is a big virtue in life, and it paid off for the Cavs in the long run. James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014 to join forces with Irving and Kevin Love, whom the Cavs acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves. With a new Big Three, James guided the Cavs to the Finals in 2015, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors after both Irving and Love suffered injuries in the playoffs.
In 2016, though, the process was finally complete. James, Irving and Love led the Cavs to a Finals win over the Warriors in seven games. It was the first title in Cavs franchise history.
After James left the Heat, Miami returned to being a middle of the road team. It’s incredible how one player can shift an entire team’s makeup. The Cavs never wanted James to leave in the first place, but maybe it was necessary since they were able to draft Irving and eventually pair him up with James down the road.