Times are great in Cavalier-land as we muddle through a calm and mostly pleasant offseason, but as some of you recall (AND REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WANT TO PROVE THAT YOU RECALL,) times weren't so good just a few short years ago.
The Cavaliers stumbled their way to a combined record of 97-215 record in the wake of LeBron's departure. The Cavs bungled draft picks, failed to inbound basketballs, and signed Andrew Freaking Bynum.
That's to say, opportunities for a pleasant viewing experience were pretty slim. Most games left fans frustrated, if they stuck around at all. That said, the die-hards continued watching, and just like anybody with a neurosis, we found random happenings to take joy in and help us cope with the losing.
This article is a dedication to the absurd phenomena that captured our attention for a game or two and made it fun to be a Cavs fan.
Basically, here's to you, Luke Harangody.
Beating the Heat
In the first year of the LeBron-less era, even the most mature and rational Cavaliers fan desperately wanted to beat the Heat. They had tried and failed three times. On March 29, 2011, they succeeded. With this lineup.
I could probably stop writing while you sit in awe of that box score. Ryan Hollins was a +33! Ryan Hollins has never dreamt of being +33 in his life. Anthony Parker played the game of his geriatric life, dropping 20 points on nine shots. Luke Harangody played 24 minutes!
Also, true to form, J.J. Hickson put up 21 and 12 while only finishing +3 for the game.
The Cavaliers clearly wanted the win, especially at home. In the midst of an 11-0 run that put the game out of reach, Baron Davis, in playground mode, floated up the perfect alley-oop to Alonzo Gee to put a capper on the evening.
For one night, at least, the beast was slain.
The Cavaliers were slogging through the lockout-shortened season during Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson's rookie year, and signed Lester Hudson to a 10-day contract out of the D-League on March 30, 2012. He spent his first four games in a largely non-descript role, playing spot minutes. And then, Kyrie Irving went down with a sprained shoulder and allowed Hudson-Mania to be born. AND THEN THIS HAPPENED.
Hudson proceeded to (relatively) light the league on fire over the next four games. He earned a second 10-day contract after chucking his way to a career-high 26 points. I'm not even going to bother checking to see if this still stands, because I'm so confident it does.
Note, the Cavs went .500 in these games, yet finished 21-45 overall for the year. The case could be made that Hudson should have been starting all along. It shouldn't be made, but it could. Don't make that case.
If you're hoping to check in on ole' Les, we last saw him as the 30th man on the Clippers bench. But for four games, he was a star.
Anderson Varejao, All-Star Center
Anderson Varejao had showed potential in the first post-LeBron year, but in 2012-13, he was a bona fide star. His season was ultimately cut short by a potentially life-threatening blood clot, but man, the guy was electric in the first 25 games of the year.
He averaged 14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. The only player since 1980 to average at least those numbers through a full season is Charles Barkley. It's fair to assume Andy wouldn't have maintained those numbers over the course of a full season, but for a guy that was best known as an unskilled flopper, the sudden production was jarring.
He suddenly had turned into a competent shooter, hitting 41 percent of his jumpers from 16-23 feet on 2.7 attempts per game, nearly doubling his previous career high attempt rate from that range. He was also snagging an unprecedented amount of rebounds, with a 16.9 offensive rebound rate and a 30.1 defensive rebound rate.
Varejao was suddenly a star, and it's a testament to the injustice of injuries that he never got the All-Star spot he earned that year.
It was the 2013-14 season, and the Chris Grant-era Cavaliers were in asset acquisition mode. The year prior, the Cavaliers had sent out Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga (RIP) to the Lakers in exchange for a first-rounder, Jason Kapono (!), and Luke Walton's hefty contract.
Then, in January, the Cavaliers acquired Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, a protected 1st-rounder and Josh Selby in exchange for Jon Leuer.
For whatever reason, the group of Shaun Livingston, Ellington, Speights, Walton and sometimes Boobie Gibson or C.J. Miles, dubbed the Herculoids by Cavs: the Blog's Nate Smith, combined to create the most devastating bench unit in league history. I'm joking, but some of the numbers these guys put up were absolutely the dumbest things I've ever seen.
After the Speights/Ellington trade, Walton put up an assist ratio (the percentage of a player's possessions that end in an assist) of 47.7! To give a frame of reference, the league leader in 2014-15 (min. 15 GP, and more than 5 MPG) was Andre Miller at 39.9.
They somehow absolutely blitzed opposing defenses. The five-man unit of Livingston/Ellington/C.J. Miles/Walton/Speights had an offensive rating of 107.4 in 121 minutes of court time.
If you're looking for a comparable offensive rating, you can find it from the 2014-15 Cavaliers, who had an offensive efficiency of 107.7.
Each player complemented one another beautifully on these bench mob units. Livingston and Walton dished the ball beautiful, Speights was money on turnarounds and from mid-range, and Ellington and Miles/Gibson bombed away from deep.
It was the dumbest, most beautiful random occurrence of basketball nirvana that I have seen or ever will see.
Andrew Bynum Devours Jo Noah's Soul
Andrew Bynum was signed by the Cavs to much fanfare at the onset of the 2013-14 season, and after a year away due to injury, wasn't expected to contribute much early on. And, well, he didn't. Actually, he was a total disaster and ended his tenure on the Cavs by ruining a practice by shooting every time he touched the ball, no matter where he was on the court.
But, what went wrong for the Cavaliers is not what this piece is about, so instead, go back to November 30th, when the Cavaliers hosted the Bulls.
Bynum was matched against eventual MVP candidate Joakim Noah, and proceeded to put on an absolute clinic. He bullied Noah for post position, rediscovered his mobility, if for one night, dished the ball out of the post, and actually finished at the rim.
Bynum ended the night with 20 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three assists, and explicitly remember calling my brother to tell him what a steal the Cavaliers had gotten. Bynum was back, baby!
Except he wasn't. But that's okay, because I got to be happy with my team for one night.
When the Cavaliers Owned All-Star Weekend
Kyrie had his own coming out party at the 2013 All-Star weekend, but it was the 2014 event that was defined by the Cavaliers.
In the Rising Stars challenge, Dion Waiters helped create the first interesting or exciting series of events ever in the Rising Stars challenge, dueling with Tim Hardaway Jr. as the two traded deeper and deeper threes with a higher degree of difficulty. It was vintage Waiters. I loved that guy.
Irving is built for All-Star games. His handle is so smooth, his jumper is so pure, and he's so creative with the ball that he did just about whatever he wanted. He dropped 31 points and 14 assists, finding future teammate LeBron James on several dives to the rim to take home the All-Star MVP honors in his third season. The future, LeBron or no, was bright in Cleveland.
- Jeremy Pargo's Lester Hudson-esque explosion
- Snapping the losing streak against the Clippers
- Oh, y'know, winning three Draft Lotteries
- Buddy. Ball.
- Baron Davis' weird, joyful resurgence
- Kyrie deconstructing Brandon Knight during the Rising Stars Game at the 2013 All Star Weekend
- Joe Mastrantoni's Cavs Drinking Game and Ryan Mourton's Cavs Failure Bingo
It certainly wasn't fun to be a Cavs fan during the four seasons LeBron James played in Miami. Nobody would argue that. However, the moments of light that eased the burden of perennial failure were arguably more valuable than they are today.
I'd certainly rather win 60 games and contend for a title, but I can't say I didn't miss the random bursts of insanity that the LeBron-less era provided.