Cleveland Cavaliers fans braced themselves when the calendar turned to July 2018. Rumors and insider information on their superstar’s future destination had prepared them for what was to come. On July 2, Cavaliers franchise leader LeBron James agreed to accept the Los Angeles Lakers’ four-year, $154 million offer, leaving behind the team that he led to the championship two years ago.

The city and its fans were rightfully saddened by the news of James’ departure as they are left once again to recover from the loss of its beloved superstar as they did in 2010 when he left for the Miami Heat.

Though many believe that the 2018-19 Cavs can win at least half the number of games the team won last year (50 games), the better part of valor may be to simply rebuild the team from the ground up. That means the Cavs will have to follow in the footsteps of the Philadelphia 76ers, who trusted “The Process” by former general manager Sam Hinkie and tanked the next two seasons at the very least.

Sam Hinkie

Though tanking is a frowned upon concept in the minds of many fans with the NBA itself totally against it, there is no other way at this point for the Cavs to go but further down in order for them to get back up. There’s a very practical reason for tanking.

The Atlanta Hawks Own the Cavs’ Non-Lottery Draft Pick in 2019 or 2020

In January 2017, the Cavaliers traded for Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks who now own a top-10 protected first-round draft pick from the Wine and Gold. That pick can be had either on 2019 or 2020. This means that if the Cavs’ selection falls within the first 10 picks of the 2019 draft, then they’ll have to wait another year for Cleveland to fulfill that commitment. But if the 2020 pick once again ends up in the top 10, then the Cavs aren’t obligated to send that pick to the Hawks. Instead, they will send two consecutive second-round picks to Atlanta in 2021 and 2022.

The Hawks don’t want the Cavs to lose too many games next season and the season after that in order for them to receive a better return for the Korver trade. Unfortunately for Atlanta, James’ exodus makes that possibility less likely.

Mediocrity is not something to be proud of and that’s where the Cavs are headed if they force this current roster to win as many games as they can. Many have tried to be in that middle ground to at least be relevant but there is very little leverage to improve their positions in the standings once there. Most mediocre teams get stuck in the middle and never get out from that middle-of-the-pack level without becoming champions.

That’s the primary reason why the Los Angeles Clippers blew up their team last season before the trade deadline by trading away franchise player Blake Griffin.

Jerry West, Blake Griffin

A losing culture is not what I am endorsing here, but just two seasons of letting the Cavs have a chance at acquiring high draft picks that could end up being cornerstones to their rebuilding efforts. By doing so, the Cavs set themselves up for a better future than if they remained mediocre with nothing to show for it.

Cleveland can rebound from these two years of irrelevance quicker than they think by getting two top-10 picks and carefully choosing players in the draft that can lead the team into the next decade.

Expiring Contracts

Another reason for the Cavs to tank now is the fact that five of their veterans who have signed huge contracts will be off the books in 2020. The five are George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. By the time the Cavs are done losing, they have more than enough cap space to rebuild the team to the identity that they want it to have.

The only players left under contract by that time (as they are currently constructed) are Collin Sexton and Ante Zizic. If their 2019 or 2020 pick ends up in Atlanta, there’s at least a slot for another draft pick in the Cavaliers payroll by the summer of 2020. If they end up with a top-10 selection in each of those years, the Cavs have two young studs signed plus Sexton and Zizic to build upon.

By that time, Sexton, their first-round pick from this year’s draft, will have shown the league whether he is a force to be reckoned with for years to come or if the Cavs made a mistake in choosing him.

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Barring any resurgence on the part of Love’s career in the next two years, it is unlikely that he will be retained by the team beyond his current contract unless he re-signs for less money to play a mentor role and a stabilizing force for the young players.

2020 Free-Agent Pool

Another reason why 2020 is such an important time for the Cavs to be ready to rebuild is the free-agent pool by that time.

Here are some of the names that Cleveland could target as free agents (restricted and unrestricted):

  • Kyle Lowry
  • Kevin Durant
  • Paul Millsap
  • Al Horford
  • Harrison Barnes
  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Ben Simmons
  • Brandon Ingram
  • Jaylen Brown
Brandon Ingram, Lakers

Among this group, the players that they could conceivably sign are Lowry, Horford, Butler, Barnes, Ingram and Irving. Irving and Butler, however, may exercise the opt-out clauses in their contracts to become free agents next summer. If they don’t, then the Cavs have a chance at acquiring these players especially Irving who could make a return to the team now that James is no longer on the roster.

Butler was rumored to be discussing an opportunity to team up with Irving somewhere down the line.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley, the “Celtics could try to acquire Butler this summer, or the two former Team USA teammates could simply opt out of their player options after next season and join forces then. Their intent is to build an elite backcourt, whether that’s in Boston or somewhere else in the East.”

That “elite backcourt” can be in Cleveland.

brandon ingram, kyrie irving

Again, that depends on how good Sexton will be in a few years. Irving is also reportedly interested in playing for the New York Knicks. If Butler doesn’t want to join him there, the Cavs could pair him up with Sexton.

Simmons, Ingram and Brown are also interesting prospects but as restricted free agents, it’s doubtful that their respective teams will let go of these superstars in the making.

The Waiting Game

Waiting until 2020 for the Cavs to be relevant again seems like a long wait even if it’s just two years. But more than simply waiting, waiting without purpose or direction is what fans hate most. By giving them a reason for the losing, they have a timetable for when they can start winning again.

Cleveland will ultimately bounce back from losing James to free agency this summer.

This time, the Cavs may be more ready than before to move on without the possibility of the King coming back to his throne in Cleveland. And even if he does decide return after four years in L.A., James will have more than enough stars to play with that he might even finish off his career with a championship-ready roster waiting for him in the Land.