When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for a second time, the organization lost so much. Out when the greatest player in franchise history and arguably of all time. Out went their nucleus. Out went their culture. Out went the winning. Out went the national relevancy. The local relevancy, too.
Out went everything when James left for Los Angeles and in his wake, the Cavaliers have stumbled to an overall record of 60-159. Granted, one of those seasons was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic but it would have probably added more losses to their overall record if they played the season out. Nevertheless, Cleveland has seen plenty of losing while picking up the pieces from James tearing things down during their heyday. But, hey, everything isn't as doom and gloom as some may think.
In three short years Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman has assembled an impressive young foundation. Collin Sexton (22) was the team's leading scorer at 24.3 points per game and had some All-Star consideration. Darius Garland (21), Sexton's backcourt partner, had a strong sophomore season and led the team in assists at 6.1 per game. Jarrett Allen (22) was an addition via the James Harden trade but has become an anchor for Cleveland defensively. The same can be said for rookie forward Isaac Okoro (20) who was impressive in so many ways this season for the Cavaliers but showed true maturity from the beginning of the season on the defensive side of the ball.
But, despite all this, things come back to that overall record post-James Cleveland has weighing them down. Sure, having a young core that's impressive and oozing potential is great and all but it doesn't mean much when you don't show tangible progress on the court. Right now all the Cavaliers have is a nice collection of young pieces but they don't have the one player that can tie everything together. Well, they did until not too long ago when they took Evan Mobley third-overall in the 2021 NBA Draft.
In any non-Cade Cunningham draft, Mobley would be a consensus first-overall pick. For him to fall all the way to Cleveland at three is a steal - especially when Altman called him a "transformative talent" on draft night. Mobley has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famers like Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis. The term unicorn has become an overblown buzzword for most players but when you start to break down Mobley's game and his skill set as a player, you start to walk away with the idea that the Cavaliers have finally found their guy.
Sure, he's no LeBron James - no player ever can compare to that. But, Mobley nevertheless is truly special. Mobley has the natural ball skills that any NBA big man should have. He can protect the paint and the rim. He can score with either hand in the pant. He can gobble up rebounds with relative ease. That's all there but there's even more to Mobley's game as well and that's what sets him apart from other traditional big men.
Growing up, Mobley would play with his older brother Isaac more often than not. Because of the age, and size difference, Mobley would be forced to play guard on those teams. Because of that, Mobley's father, USC assistant coach Eric Mobley, helped cultivate his ball-handling and other guard skills.
“I’ve always been pretty mobile and stuff like that, so when I was young, me and my dad used to work out a lot on ball skills,” Mobley said in an interview with The Athletic. “We felt the big man moves were pretty easy to learn once you get the guard skills down. The guard skills are the tougher ones to learn. So we focused on the guard skills like ballhandling, shooting, dribbling, all that early. Then as I grew and got older, the big man moves came naturally."
That's what sets Mobley apart from traditional big men in today's NBA and makes him so unique. Not only is he extremely polished defensively at 20 years old, but there's boundless potential in his offensive game as well. It appears that Cleveland is well aware of this too as the team posted footage from an offseason scrimmage that shows Mobley acting as the primary initiator on offense.
Sure, they were simple reads in the grand scheme of things but it's still something to build upon and develop your identity around going forward. Cleveland Summer League head coach J.J. Outlaw recently shared with the media that they want Mobley to stay true to his game and play the offense through him like this.
Now you're probably thinking that while Mobley is impressive, what separates him from the rest of Cleveland's young core? Simply put, it's because Mobley is a winning player. During his lone season at USC, Mobley was the reason why the Trojans made it all the way to the Elite Eight during March Madness that had no business being there. The Trojans had no primary point guard so more often than not Mobley was the player that made the offense function. Defensively, meanwhile, Mobley was the sole reason why USC was one of the top teams in the country. Now joining a Cavaliers team that has done more than its fair share of losing lately, Mobley will likely once again raise the ceiling of the rest of the team.
Again, Mobley is nothing like LeBron James, that's an extremely unfair comparison. But, both Mobley and James are cut from the same cloth where they can take a collection of pieces, make everything work and build a winner. Sure, it won't happen overnight - that's entirely unrealistic to think. But, the Cavaliers finally have their franchise centerpiece, and their new hope, in Mobley. Cleveland can now build everything around Mobley in order to maximize his potential to live up to those expectations. Thankfully, the young core around him is a great place to start but there's still plenty of room to grow as well.
The future starts later tonight in Las Vegas when Mobley and his Cavaliers take on the Houston Rockets in Summer League play. All eyes will be on Cleveland as they're on the national stage for the first time in several years on ESPN. Granted, most Summer League games are on ESPN but for the Cavaliers, this is a huge deal. It's a coming-out party for their new star, and their new hope, and a perfect opportunity to show that while losing LeBron James did significant damage not everything was lost. This is Cleveland's chance to show that they're back.