NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Cavs remain way off course – When the Cleveland Cavaliers revealed on Jan. 1 that LeBron James would miss two weeks with soreness in his back and left knee, the hope was the team’s other stars would find their rhythm and get the squad on track. Instead, the Cavs went 1-6 during James’ absence and even after he returned to the lineup last night in Phoenix, they still lost. Now sporting six straight losses and defeats in nine of their last 10 games, the Cavs are clearly a mess. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst digs in on where the problems lie:
One day it’s an offensive quote, such as when David Blatt, in the midst of attempting to belittle a reporter Gregg Popovich-style without the cache or depth of knowledge of the CBA, tripped on his own snark when inaccurately referencing Love’s salary this week. Another day it’s LeBron James’ moving Blatt aside in the midst of an argument with a referee in the first half against the Suns, a move that unfortunately for the Cavs fit way too easily into a shareable social media clip.
It’s fun to be first in team merchandise sales, be on national television 30-plus times and play in sold-out houses every night, but there sure are downsides that come along with it. And when you’ve lost 9 of 10 games to fall to 19-20 on the season as the Cavs have, there’s very little fun.
When the casinos were making the Cavs the favorites to win the title last summer, the idea of a prop bet that the Cavs would be under .500 39 games into the season was so ridiculous, no sports book would’ve taken action. You’d have had a difficult time getting anyone to take such a bet even if they were a pessimist who was a Miami Heat fan who just wanted to make a self-gratifying revenge wager.
It isn’t just the casinos that are agape at how this is playing out — the Cavs were 4-15 in their past 19 games against the spread coming in to Tuesday — so are league scouts, executives and rival players.
They see players appearing to run different plays than the bench calls, see assistant coach Tyronne Lue calling timeouts literally behind Blatt’s back during games, and hear Cavs players openly talking about coaching issues with opposing players and personnel. Not once, not twice, but frequently over the past several months.
For weeks now, the small talk when league personnel run into each other at college games, airports or pregame meals has frequently started with: “What the hell is going on in Cleveland?”
There is a common perception that James is the de facto general manager of the team. His role in getting Love traded to the Cavs in July and talking Mike Miller, among others, into signing in Cleveland only bolstered that.
But over the past few months, the Cavs didn’t come to terms on a contract extension with Tristan Thompson, who is close to James and represented by the same agent, and then issued a strong public backing of Blatt despite what has been an obvious disconnect with veteran players, including James.
Meanwhile, the Love situation continues to befuddle. In the preseason there was a little bobble when Love complained about not getting the ball as much, but after that he’s said nothing but team-supportive things. That includes Tuesday night after Blatt decided to play James Jones ahead of him.
“If you told me I was going to sit out the fourth quarter, maybe I would have thought it would have been tough. But we had a great rhythm going,” Love said. “I thought the group that we had out there was doing a great job of getting us back into the basketball game, and more than anything, they gave us a shot.”
This was just after Love told Cleveland.com that he was not planning to opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer, something that was deemed a foregone conclusion when he signed the deal three years ago. Not only is it remarkably supportive of the team, but odd considering opting out makes significant financial sense even if his intention is to immediately re-sign in Cleveland. Anyone giving Love objective advice would recommend opting out under any circumstance other than devastating injury.
When the Cavs executed the trade to get Love last summer, they were granted a rare pre-trade. What was said or promised in that meeting has been kept secret because any deal struck about contractual provisions would be against NBA rules. Whatever was said, the Cavs traded the past two No. 1 overall picks and a future first-rounder.
Like everything else done in July and August, Love couldn’t have foreseen all these contingencies. His defense has been predictably shoddy much of the time, but as a team, the Cavs’ transition defense and overall communication are routinely abysmal. The Cavs got down by 19 against the Suns before making a comeback, mostly without Love, but James and Kyrie Irving‘s combined 13 turnovers were more of a culprit than Love’s defensive issues.
On offense, where Love should be a monster, he hasn’t been very often.
“I’ve seen Kevin fall down with the ball more times this season than the rest of his career combined because he’s always in positions where he’s uncomfortable and he’s forced into trying to make some sort of move to get a shot, and that has never been his game,” said one veteran NBA coach. “They almost never put him in position to get the ball that he did in his last few years in Minnesota and I can’t figure out why.”