In 2010, after James walked out on the Cavs, they were so shell-shocked and unprepared that it took them a calendar year to even begin to recover. But one thing they did from Day 1 -- literally the first day after James' decision -- was realize they had to get draft picks. They had only three first-round picks over the previous six years. So when they begrudgingly traded James to Miami they insisted on two first-round picks back. They kept going from there, without fully knowing what they'd do with them.
Over the next three years, then-general manager Chris Grant traded for six first-round picks, five second-round picks and two pick swaps. Also, despite some temptation, the Cavs mostly refrained from offering big free-agent deals, and the few free agents they signed mostly were on short contracts.
The result was some bad teams, a combined 97-215 record over the past four seasons. But they did have a fairly clear salary cap, a roster stocked with young prospects on cheap contracts and a load of future draft picks to use in trades, including what ended up being the top overall pick in the Andrew Wiggins draft.
The Cavs won the 2011 lottery with a 2.8 percent chance on a pick they got in a deadline-day deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. In 2013, they won with their pick when it had a 15.6 percent chance. In 2014, their pick won again with a 1.7 percent chance. What is the math on that? About a 0.05 percent to win all three or, put another way, about one chance in 1,900.
That's how they ended up with not only Kyrie Irving, but also Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the heart of the deal that finally got the Wolves to relent on trading Love.
Just for perspective, add in winning the 2003 lottery when they drafted James with a 22.5 percent chance at the top pick, and the Cavs won the lottery four times in 12 years. The odds were 0.01 percent of the Cavs winning those four lotteries with the odds they were given. One hundredth of a percent.
Within days of James' decision to sign with the Cavs the rumors of long-term conspiracies started popping up, especially in whispers out of Miami. As for James' intention to play for the Cavs again some day, that one was right out in the open. But the "when" part quickly became a debate.
However, it could have been no debate at all. Had the Heat won the NBA Finals to become one of the historic teams to three-peat, there is almost no doubt James would have returned for at least another season to attempt to win four in a row. Not to mention there's no sensible reason for a star player to walk away from the chance to defend a title; the historically conscious James never would've passed up a chance to do something that hadn't been done since Bill Russell and a feat neither Michael Jordan nor Kobe Bryant pulled off.
When the Heat and San Antonio Spurs were tied 1-1 in the NBA Finals and Miami had homecourt advantage heading into Game 3, the Cavs' dream scenario looked rather shaky. Especially with talks with the Wolves gaining no traction despite their No. 1 overall pick being in play.