Ever since LeBron James first announced he was coming home four years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been riding a roller coaster of insane highs and lows.
At times they’ve looked like world-beaters. Other times they look ready to come apart at the seams.
LeBron’s first season back in Cleveland was headlined by subtweets and Kevin Love-less Instagram posts. The year they won the title, the Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt midseason.
Currently, Cleveland is making headlines for all the wrong reasons again. The Cavs have dropped 10 of their last 13 games and reports of a split locker-room have fans feeling déjà-vu and it’s not even Groundhog Day yet.
For the past three seasons, the Cavs have always found a way to squash the rumors and tear their way through the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, this season feels different.
The signs are all there. Arguably the second best player in franchise history forced his way out this offseason. On Wednesday, rumors broke that owner Dan Gilbert was looking to sell the team. Kevin Love was singled out for missing a game over an injury and reports have emerged that the locker-room has developed into a civil war between the “Old and New Guard”.
Few players have had more unwarranted bad press thrown their way than Kevin Love.
Love has scarified stats, played out of position and had more unwarranted bad press thrown his way during his tenure in Cleveland than most players see in a lifetime. Now he has to endure players that have been on the team for a couple months question his toughness.
Jae Crowder stepping over a wounded Kevin Love like he was Tyronn Lue during Tuesday’s game with the Spurs provided a visual for what we already knew. The Cavaliers are a mess.
In the past when the Cavs were struggling, they were always able to pull themselves together by relying on talent. If it wasn’t LeBron, it was Love or Kyrie Irving doing the heavy lifting. Kyrie Irving is now Isaiah Thomas minus a functioning hip and Kevin Love is apparently one wrong move from being left at the airport.
Even the Cavs’ current record is misleading. Their third place standing in the Eastern Conference was built on the back of 19-2 run from mid-November to late December. Fifteen of those wins came against teams that are not currently in the playoff picture.
Cleveland’s 109.9 defensive rating is second worst in the NBA. Per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, only two teams in NBA history have made the NBA Finals when they’ve had a below-league average defensive rating, let alone ranked near the very bottom.
Simply put, these Cavaliers are not as good as the ones that have been torturing the Eastern Conference for the past three years.
With All-Star weekend fast approaching, the Cavaliers are running out of time to right the ship and they have a laundry list of things to take care of.
The Cavs could relieve Tyronn Lue of his head coaching duties, but a new voice in the coach’s chair isn’t going to heal Isaiah Thomas’ hip, teach Jae Crowder how to shoot again or turn the team into even an average defensive team.
Getting JR Smith out of the starting lineup would help but there’s not a player on this roster that could create dramatic improvement. The Cavs already tried Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup and it worked so poorly that Lue turned it back over to Smith.
Cleveland has the Brooklyn pick sitting in their back pocket to make a move but that is a great piece to hold on to in case LeBron leaves this offseason. And after assessing the state of this franchise, could you really blame him?
The new players hate the old players and apparently everyone hates Kevin Love. Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability on his best day; factor in his defective hip and it’s unlikely he gets the Brinks truck he’s always wanted.
If the Cavaliers do get hot at the right time, they could still burn through the Eastern Conference because they have the best player on the planet. But they’re still leagues behind the Warriors and are unlikely to catch them this season, next season or the season after that. Why would LeBron stay for that?
The last several years have been the best in the Cavaliers history. It’s a shame it looks like its ending in a fizzle. The Cavs are a bad team and it’s unlikely they get better anytime soon. It’s hard get better at the game of basketball when the most important thing to a team is clawing at each other’s throats.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.