For weeks, Cleveland has heard about the recruiting efforts made by LeBron James, a guy who, just last week, met his new head coach for the first time since agreeing to terms with the Cavaliers on July 11. For weeks, James has reportedly been a part of the discussions surrounding Kevin Love joining him in his quest to bring a championship to the lakefront, if only on a player-to-player basis. For weeks, names like Mike Miller and James Jones were bantered about, cagey veterans who would fill the role of winners who just so happen to efficiently force a piece of inflated leather to splash through a nylon net hoisted 10 feet into the air.
With the Cavaliers officially signing Miller and Jones, and promptly introducing them to the city’s media contingent on Wednesday morning, all of those talks immediately became real. James, who was criticized for his inability to get players to come to Cleveland during his first act in the town, has taken his off-court game to the next level. Jet-setting around the world, stopping in places like Rio De Janero, Brazil and various cities in China, the four-time MVP has found time to reach out to friends, those who not only helped him win during his time in Miami, but those whom he feels can take marry their winning résumés with their infallible work ethic as the Cavaliers transition from NBA Lottery fixtures to the game’s marquee attraction.
Cleveland—the town and the people who inhabit it—appears to still be amazed by the names that have been linked to their team through free agency. It’s foreign territory, a welcomed visit to the Haves after decades of being housed with the Have Nots. First it was Miller and Jones. Veteran shooting guard Ray Allen continues to deliberate about his future. Shawn Marion was in town just days earlier. It took one singing and an owner with a bottomless wallet to turn Cleveland from a frigid winter punch line to free agency destination. Both players know full well that expectations are considerably higher than the ones placed about this same team just 12 short months ago. But like James in The Essay, Miller and Jones—players who have played on several teams yet have only won rings with one—would not go as far to promise a championship.
“LeBron makes things easy, but it’s also about what this organization is about,” said a suited Miller at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Cleveland is a hard-working city, and winning a championship takes a lot of hard work. It’s a blessing and we’re excited about the opportunity.
“It’s going to be crazy this year and we understand that. ‘Championship or bust’ makes basketball not as fun as it should be, but [a championship] is our goal.”
The window to win a championship in any sport, even with the league’s best player in tow, can be surprisingly tight. Any NBA player or fan saw a glimpse of how quickly fortunes can change as they watched Indiana’s Paul George be carried from a Las Vegas gymnasium while tied to a wooden stretcher. For all of the hope and promise that comes with prospects, the Cavs, led by general manager David Griffin, continue to build a roster full of “pieces,” ones which he feels are vital to comprising a championship-level team.
Miller, a 14-year NBA veteran, comes equipped with a decorated career. He was named the 2000-01 Rookie of the Year. In 2005-06, he was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Then there’s the whole two NBA championships (and three NBA Finals). He among the NBA’s most prolific shooters with top-20 career totals in several categories, including career three-point percentage (.409) and 1,531 made three-pointers made, hitting at least 70 long balls in 12 of his 14 seasons. Lest anyone think the highly-inked swingman is washed up, Miller ranked second in the NBA by connecting on .459 (107-233) of his three-point attempts and averaged 7.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 20.8 minutes over 82 contests (four starts) with Memphis last season.
Jones has a slightly smaller trophy case, but has the added benefit of being a player who spends off-seasons with James and his family, vacationing and talking life just as much, if not more, than the game of basketball. When the two worlds collide, you have a team of players who will have some familiarity, but will largely be joining a young, inexperienced core who have yet to taste the sweet delectability of success at the professional level.
“The process is where you build the chemistry to sustain success,” said Jones, a player who saw first-hand that new faces, regardless of talent level, take time to gel. “It’s a lot tougher than it looks, but it’s so enjoyable once you get there.”
The Cavs, who had promised to turn into asset targeters (for lack of a better term), do not appear to be done adding bodies who can help achieve the ultimate goal. Jones stated that he’s been in touch with Allen, a player who “has a decision to make.” Marion was in town and has heard the sales pitch—he’s likely to get a larger offer from a different team, but his odds of winning a ring are substantially higher if he were to accept a minimum offer from the Cavs. Veteran point guard Chauncey Billups met with the team on Tuesday, though his role at this point is unknown. “Anything we do will be about those big rocks,” said Griffin. “We’re going to continue to surround ourselves with the right type of people. We’re always trying to get better.
“We’re blessed to be surrounded by a great staff and great ownership. LeBron is the best recruiter you could possibly have. It’s a special relationship.”
For weeks, fans have basked in the positive news as it has rolled in, headline after headline, tweet after tweet. The 2013-14 season ended months ago, but for the first time in what feels like forever, basketball has not stopped in Cleveland. And for the first time since The Essay, things in Cleveland are starting to take shape. The crazy thing? It doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.