Feb. 09, 2018
Kingdom Done: Why the Cavs Aren’t Serious Contenders
We’ve seen this before. The struggles, the drama, the chaos, and the rumors all swirling around the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers. Those things have been constant ever since LeBron James decided to go back to Northeast Ohio. And with each of those issues came the reading of the Cavs eulogy. Everyone would conclude that they’re finished and by June they’d be back in the Finals. It’s the same old process of events. Usually, around this time of year, I’d write the yearly “don’t be fooled” article about the Cavs; warning you of the inevitable outcome and trip to the Finals that awaited them. This year, I cannot do that. The Cavs issues are very real. So real in fact, that I can no longer look at them as serious contenders. The infighting, power struggles, and ego warfare are far too much for them to overcome. They may still make it out of the East, but their days as being legitimate title contenders are over. LeBron’s window in Cleveland has closed.
I attribute the Cavs struggles to three things: the leverage war at the top of the franchise, the on-court issues, and the loss of Kyrie Irving. Starting at the top, we have the eternal tug of war between LeBron and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Part of what makes LeBron the most powerful athlete in sports is his ability to maintain leverage at all times. His short contracts and willingness to pack his bags force the Cavs to go all in at all times. They’ve led the league in payroll nearly every year LeBron has been back in Cleveland. That all changed during the Kyrie Irving saga. The Cavs initially planned to flip the star point guard in a three-team deal that would’ve netted them, Eric Bledsoe and Paul George. Allegedly, Gilbert approached LeBron with the deal and wanted LeBron to commit to the organization via a contract extension. LeBron declined the offer in favor of his leverage. Once Irving was dealt, the Cavs organization got some leverage of their own: the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick that is destined to be at least top-10. With the Cavs past draft lottery luck, it could be even better than that. Now that we’re closing in on the trade deadline, we have two sides refusing to budge. The Cavs could use the Nets pick to get the Cavs more pieces, but that would jeopardize their position for the future. The last time LeBron left, the Cavs had nothing to immediately build with. They’ve learned their lesson from past mistakes. Meanwhile, LeBron will not commit to a contract extension. With that in place, the Cavs won’t be making any major deals at the deadline. And unfortunately for them, they desperately need a change if they want to compete.
The on-court product has gotten tough to watch as well. Once again, the defense is atrocious and the offense is uninspired. The Cavs are the oldest team in the league and it shows with their lack of speed on defense. Typically, good defensive teams rotate so the help can help the help and so on. The Cavs can barely play help defense. Offensively, they insist on playing fast despite their age. They still rely on the LeBron system of majority iso and stiff style of play with little movement. Reported behind the scenes finger-pointing has them looking flat out uninterested at times. It also seems like everyone is playing for themselves. Some players playing for their own stats, others playing for a future payday, and most not looking like they want to play at all.
Lastly, the absence of Kyrie Irving is now being felt. Throughout the offseason and during the early stages of the season, a lot of people were under the impression that Isaiah Thomas would effortlessly be able to fill the shoes of Kyrie. After all, IT scored just as well as Kyrie last season and was great in the clutch. However, what everyone seemed to forget is that Kyrie is an elite talent and can be elite in any system. The only time IT was elite was in Boston playing under Brad Stevens. Playing in Cleveland next to LeBron is totally different. The trade hasn’t worked out at all. IT looks nothing like the player we saw a year ago and Jae Crowder has been a non-factor for most of the season. Meanwhile, Kyrie has Boston atop the Eastern Conference without Gordon Hayward.
In the end, the Cavs may still make it out of the East because they have the best player in the conference. However, they’re judged against the top teams in the West. And when they play those top teams, it looks like a complete mismatch. With so much chaos surrounding the team combined with their on-court play, it’s is difficult to take them seriously as a contender. As it stands now, they’d be lucky to win one game against the Warriors, Rockets, or Thunder in a seven-game series. Simply put, they cannot compete with the top standard of NBA teams. And when his teams cannot match the top level teams in the league, LeBron is known to leave town before the ship completely sinks. Yes, the Cavs are done as contenders as of right now and in the future.