This is why Cleveland blew it during LeBron James‘ last year there.

The Cavaliers spent the 2017-18 season bracing for LeBron’s exit. They kept the treasured Nets first-rounder. They targeted young players. They didn’t trade for Paul George due to fear he’d walk the next summer.

The result: A team with a real chance didn’t maximize its opportunity to win the 2018 championship.

Perhaps, LeBron would have left, anyway. Many believe his exit last summer was fait accompli. But I think another Cavs title would’ve increased their odds of re-signing him. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered much. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered enough. But living through a championship run and celebration could have been transformative.

Even if LeBron still left, a championship would’ve been rewarding in its own right. Each title is so important. That’s the whole point of the game.

It’s so hard to reach title contention, and Cleveland was there. Teams on that level should do all they can to win rings.

But the Cavaliers took only a halfhearted swing in 2018. They were too interested in preparing for their post-LeBron future. More than a year after LeBron’s departure, where has that gotten them?

Not far.

The Cavs stink. They spent three years pushing all-in to win titles around LeBron. Hitting the brakes in the fourth year didn’t stop them from crashing into the wall.

They still have the poor roster (or equivalent parts) assembled around LeBron, just without LeBron. They still have a bloated payroll, which bit them when they couldn’t trade J.R. Smith’s partially guaranteed contract for value without entering the luxury tax. They still have as many outgoing future first-rounders as incoming, though at least the incoming pick has slightly more favorable protections.

This is the head start into the next era Cleveland earned by tepidly pursuing the 2018 title. It doesn’t count for much.