The shadow of LeBron James hangs over virtually everything the Cleveland Cavaliers do. He did far more than win Cleveland its first championship. The Cavs have made the playoffs nine times since 1998, and James was on each team that did so.
But that’s going to change this season. This year’s iteration of the Cavs are off to a 27-18 start and one of the most surprising teams in the NBA. At present, they are not only firmly in the playoff picture, but sit only 1 1/2 games out of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. For the first time in two and a half decades, the Cavaliers are going to make the playoffs without LeBron, and their players have taken notice. In an interview with The Athletic’s Shams Charania, star point guard Darius Garland spoke about how excited he was for this team to have an identity all its own.
“Having our own legacy without having anything with Bron to do with it, that would be pretty cool, and then having a playoff run without Bron for that long, that would be pretty amazing,” Garland said. “Then just having the city behind our back, they’ve been waiting on this for a long time. Making the playoffs again would mean a ton for the city of Cleveland and the Cavs organization.”
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You’d have to go even further back than James to find a Cavs team this good. Cleveland is currently on pace to win 49 games. No Cavaliers team has done that since the 1992-93 season … which took place seven years before Garland was born. That group may have peaked a bit earlier, but it probably represents the best Cavaliers team to not include James. The combination of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and Craig Ehlo made the Cavs a steady contender in the 1980s.
That group never won a championship, though. It never even reached the Finals. No Cavs team without LeBron has done so, but this group has a chance to become the first. Garland is only 21 and Evan Mobley is 20. Their peaks are still years away. If they’re this good already, they’re even going to give LeBron’s 2016 championship team a run for its money.