Cleveland Cavaliers

League Pass Game of the Night: LeBron James returns to Cleveland with the Los Angeles Lakers

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LeBron James (NBA Canada Illustrations)

On Wednesday, LeBron James will make his return to Cleveland (8:00 p.m. ET) for the first time since joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers enter the game having won seven of their last 10, a stretch that has seen them move towards the middle of the Western Conference standings.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, find themselves at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with a league-worst 2-13 record.

Cleveland had plans of competing entering this season, but they were always going to struggle to bounce back from losing one of the greatest players of all-time in free agency for nothing in return. Not only did LeBron set numerous franchise records during his time with the Cavaliers - ranging from games played to points scored - he carried them to nine playoff appearances in his 11 seasons.

LeBron also made five trips to the NBA Finals as a member of the Cavaliers, four of which came in consecutive years. One of those trips, of course, ended with LeBron delivering Cleveland its first championship in 52 years, the longest drought between titles in professional sports at the time.

The Cavaliers haven't had much sustained success outside of the LeBron era. In the 33 years before they made him the No. 1 pick in the draft, they won less than half of their games and made it out of the first round of the playoffs only three times.

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Sure Not Now

They struggled when LeBron left them in free agency the first time as well, winning 19 games in their first season without him and peaking at 33 wins in their final season without him.

Wins Losses Record
Cavaliers with LeBron (11 seasons) 560 342 62.1%
Cavaliers without LeBron (38 seasons) 1,271 1,730 42.4%

So what's next for the Cavaliers? More of the same.

They're not in the exact same situation as they were when LeBron joined the Miami Heat, but they're at the beginning stages of a rebuild centered around a talented young point guard in Collin Sexton.

The biggest difference this time around is they have the option of accelerating that process depending on what they decide to do with Kevin Love.

While Love signed a $120 million extension with the Cavaliers in the offseason, he will be trade eligible before this season's deadline on Feb. 7. Keeping the five-time All-Star around would help the Cavaliers be more competitive in the short-run; trading him for younger prospects and/or draft picks would put them in better position to compete down the line.

The same goes for the other veterans on the roster - Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, George Hill - though none of them are likely to yield the same return as Love.

The outcome of Wednesday's game won't have any impact on those future decision, but seeing LeBron in Quicken Loans Arena again will serve as another reminder of all the success the Cavaliers had with him and how one decision completely changed the course of not one but two franchises.

Sign up for NBA League Pass here to watch tonight's showdown live.

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