Glory Road

The Cavs and Warriors are at the top of the NBA, but how did they get there?
by June 03, 2015

This year’s NBA Finals feature some great storylines.

LeBron James’ homecoming, Stephen Curry’s incredible MVP season, two first-year NBA coaches of traditionally non-elite franchises, two passionate fan bases and several unique journeys of the players on both teams.

With the Finals just around the corner, we chose to explore how both of these two great teams came together to compete for the ultimate prize, starting June 4.

To start, the Cavs have one of the greatest players in the game, LeBron James. As we all know, LeBron, an Ohio native, grew up with the Cavs in his area. On the basketball court he wowed everyone that saw him from an early age.

He was dubbed “King James” and “The Chosen One” and certainly made his mark not only on the game of basketball, but by chance, on his home state, as he was drafted by the Cavs with the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft.

Starting his career in the NBA at the age of 19, he gave the Cavs seven incredible seasons, including two MVP campaigns and one trip to the NBA Finals (where Cleveland was swept by the Spurs in 2007), before “taking his talents to South Beach.”

In Miami he would win two regular-season MVP trophies and help the Heat make four straight Finals appearances, taking home two NBA Titles, while winning both Finals MVP awards.

After his success in Miami, on July 11, 2014, LeBron changed the make up of the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ franchise forever. Just over five months prior to his 30th birthday, the King was returning home.

His announcement would be the catalyst for what would turn out to be this season’s Eastern Conference champion team.

To bring context to the rest of this year’s Cavs NBA Finals team, let’s go back to the 2010-11 season where the pieces would start being assembled.

During that season, on February 24, 2011, the Cavs made a trade with the Clippers that would eventually put them in a great position to morph their franchise. Cleveland traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round draft pick.

The Cavs finished with a 19-63 record (second to last in the League), including a horrible stretch where they lost 36 of 37 games at one point, giving them a 19.9 percent chance at the No. 1 pick.

The Cavs ended up with the No. 4 pick, while the Clippers defied the odds (L.A. had just a 2.8 percent chance to get the first overall pick) by winning the lottery and the No. 1 pick, instantly sending it to the Cavs as part of the aforementioned trade.

After the lottery, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was quoted as saying, “We have some great talent and hopefully who we pick up at 1 and 4 and I just can’t believe this is really happening.”

That trade with the Clippers ended up being pretty unreal, giving the Cavs the opportunity to select Kyrie Irving, changing the trajectory of the franchise. With the fourth pick, they would take Tristan Thompson, a key member on this year’s Finals team.

The following year was another poor one for the Cavs. In the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, they finished with just 21 wins, tied for third-worst in the League. They landed the No. 4 overall pick again, which led to the selection of Dion Waters.

He would play with the Cavs for about two and a half seasons until being traded on January 5, in a three-team deal, resulting in Cleveland landing JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, two important pieces on this year’s squad.

The Cavs would finish the 2012-13 with the third worst record in the League and got luckier than the two worse teams (the Magic and Bobcats), landing the first overall pick. In what is arguably one of the worst NBA Drafts of the last 20 years, Cleveland selected Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick.

Bennett wasn’t able to contribute much in his rookie season and the Cavs finished with a 33-49 record, missing the Playoffs for the fourth straight season. And even though they had only a 1.7 percent chance of getting the first overall pick in the 2014 Draft, they won the Lottery once again.

So, last June the Cavs selected Andrew Wiggins with the first pick, which would lead to the blockbuster trade the Cavs would need to contend for a title. In a multi-team trade, the Cavs essentially unloaded Wiggins and Bennett to the Wolves, ultimately winding up with Kevin Love.

The Cleveland version of the “Big Three” was set—LeBron, Kyrie and K-Love. Although Love suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the Playoffs, he was a major contributor to the Cavs’ success all season.

As far as some of the nice role players on this Cavs team go, here is a brief summary of how those pieces to the puzzle came together for the Cavs.

8/7/2013 – Signed Matthew Dellavedova

6/21/2014 – Named David Blatt coach

8/5/2014 – Signed Mike Miller and James Jones

9/9/2014 – Signed Shawn Marion

1/7/2015 – Acquired Timofey Mozgov from the Nuggets

2/24/2015 – Signed Kendrick Perkins

It should be noted that the only other current Cleveland Cavalier that was on the 2006-07 Cavs NBA Finals team other than LeBron is Anderson Varejao, who tore his left Achilles tendon on December 23, 2014, effectively ending his season.

As for the Finals matchup, up to this point LeBron’s will to win and fight have allowed the Cavs to overcome Love’s injury. He has put the team on his back, almost averaging a triple-double in the Playoffs.

Kyrie has been banged up but is back in action in pursuit of a title. Smith has been nice in the Playoffs at times, giving the Cavs a much needed spark. Shumpert has become the dangerous three-and-D option that the Cavs were hoping for. Thompson has come into his own in Love’s absence. Coach David Blatt lets the guys be themselves and it’s impressive any time a coach can lead his team to the Finals in his first season.

This is pretty even NBA Finals matchup, but the oddsmakers have the Cavs as a slight underdog going into Thursday’s first game. If LeBron and Kyrie can play at a high level and Smith can hit some big shots, the Cavs have a great chance to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Cleveland.


The core contributors of the Cavs’ roster all came together pretty quickly it seems, whereas the Warriors’ team was assembled as a more gradual build.

It all started with the 2009 Draft. Up to that point, the Warriors had only made the Playoffs once in the last 15 seasons. The franchise was struggling.

That year the Warriors had the seventh overall pick. There was some pretty solid talent on the board that year, including the small school sharpshooter Stephen Curry. Golden State opted for the small Davidson guard.

Little did many people know that the son of long-time NBA veteran Dell Curry would develop into one of the best players in the League and someone who is now being looked at as the greatest shooter of all time.

Curry would become the foundation for the Warriors, the centerpiece. In his rookie season he averaged 17.5 points, almost 6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Tyreke Evans.

He was finding his way in the League, and the Warriors were still bad.

In the following Draft in 2010, Golden State picked Ekpe Udoh sixth overall. He wouldn’t pan out and on March 13, 2012 he would be grouped with Kwame Brown and longtime Warriors guard Monta Ellis in a trade to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. Bogut has been a defensive anchor and key in the pick-and-roll for the Warriors this season.

In the summer of 2010, the Warriors acquired David Lee from the Knicks and he has been a strong contributor to the franchise. He is just two years removed from locking up Third-Team All-NBA in 2013. Last season, Lee averaged over 18 points and 9 boards a game, and although he hasn’t seen a ton of playing time this season, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore his contributions to the growth of this Warriors team.

The Warriors’ 2010-11 season was mediocre once again, but the summer of 2011 would prove to be a big one. While the Cavs drafted Kyrie and Tristan Thompson at 1 and 4 in that Draft, the Warriors would choose the other Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, another former pro’s son, out of Washington State, 11th overall.

Then in July, the Warriors would name Mark Jackson the new head coach. After a rough first season (2011-12) where Jackson and the Warriors only mustered up a 23-43 record in the shortened season, the 2012 Draft would lay the foundational groundwork for what is now an NBA Title contender.

With the seventh overall pick, the Warriors would pick Harrison Barnes and steal Draymond Green who has been a huge part of this year’s Championship-caliber team in the second round. Green was selected 35th overall by Golden State, right after the Cavs selected Bernard James and Jae Crowder who were instantly traded to the Mavs.

For the 2012-13 season, the Warriors had Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson and Carl Landry as solid contributors. They would end up going 47-35 and making the Playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons dating back to 1994-95. According to Stephen Curry, Mark Jackson had changed the culture.

The following season Jack, Jefferson and Landry were gone via trades and free agency.

The Warriors kept improving, winning 51 games in 2013-14, but were bounced by the Clippers in the first round of the Playoffs. Within 48 hours of the loss, in a surprise move, Mark Jackson was fired.

Management would choose Steve Kerr to replace him. Kerr has managed to continue to build off of the Warriors’ success of the previous two seasons, finishing with a 67-15 regular-season record this year, leading Golden State to the NBA Finals for the first time since they won it all in 1975.

Below are some of the other moves the Warriors made to assemble this Finals team.

6/28/2012 – Drafted Festus Ezeli

6/12/2013 – Signed Marreese Speights

7/20/2013 – Acquired Andre Iguodala from the Nuggets

6/11/2014 – Signed Shaun Livingston

9/10/2014 – Signed Leandro Barbosa

Curry and Klay are having incredible seasons. Draymond Green is having a career year and the Warriors’ team chemistry seems to be as good as any team we’ve seen in recent years.

This Warriors team is only the eighth team since the 1976 merger that a team has been made up of players that have never been to the NBA Finals.

Despite that lack of experience on the court, Coach Steve Kerr brings plenty of insight, having won five NBA Titles as a player (three with the Bulls and two with the Spurs). It seems that Kerr has had the team focused and prepared going into every game in the Playoffs so far.

The oddsmakers have the Warriors as a slight favorite, and if the Splash Brothers can shoot the lights out and the team can defend with the energy they’ve brought all season, they’ll have some new jewelry at the end of the series.

Props to both franchises for assembling two super impressive teams that should make for an engaging series on many levels. I can speak for basketball fans around the world when I say I can’t wait for it to start.

For more stories, feel free to follow me on Instagram @jordanhagedorn.

Images via Getty