In early December 2010, LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time since signing with the Miami Heat as a free agent the previous summer. James' new team handed his old one a 118-90 shellacking, part of the early stages of a stretch that saw the Cavaliers lose 36 of their next 37 games. Consider that return the Ghost of LeBron Past.
Tonight's meeting, the first between Cleveland and Miami this season, was supposed to be the Ghost of LeBron Future -- a chance for the Cavaliers to demonstrate to James how far they'd come since then, and potentially even the start of a pitch to bring James back to Cleveland as a free agent next summer. Instead, with the Cavaliers mired in a disappointing 4-10 start to the season that has featured more players-only meetings (1) than wins by double figures (0), it serves as a painful reminder that their rebuilding plan has gone off track. The culprit? The front office's failure to turn a bevy of high draft picks into production on the court.
Over the last three drafts, Cleveland has made a league-high six first-round picks -- two per year, including four selections in the lottery. Twice, the Cavaliers have picked fourth, and in both 2011 and 2013 they landed the No. 1 overall pick. Yet only one of these picks, point guard Kyrie Irving, ranks among Cleveland's top five players in terms of wins above replacement (WARP) this season.