The Cleveland Cavaliers are 1-9, and the team has replaced the Browns as the most dysfunctional organization in Cleveland. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Throughout the entire summer, all levels, from owner Cavs Dan Gilbert to then head coach Tyronn Lue to the players themselves, repeatedly stated that the goal was the compete for a playoff spot.
Those aspirations have since devolved into an absolute dumpster fire, one that makes the drama of last season pale in comparison. We are just 10 games into the season, but it’s time for the Cavs to finally accept what was inevitable from the moment that LeBron James left; tanking.
The Athletic’s Joe Vardon recently released a story that revealed many of the issues the team is currently dealing with. Suffice it to say that if these things are true, and we have no reason to believe they aren’t, the Cavaliers are in deep trouble. Let’s take a look at some of the major points addressed in the article.
First, the organization’s completely delusional outlook on the season. Rather than trade their veterans for young players and picks for the future, Cleveland kept them and gave Kevin Love a lucrative contract extension, signalling their desire to compete.
Love was told the team would remain competitive during negotiations. Perhaps the team was just putting up a facade in order to try to remain relevant without James. Perhaps they had actually convinced themselves that this team was capable of a playoff run. Whatever case, that ended up being a lie. This club is clearly nowhere near playoff caliber. Instead, they are the favorites to land the first overall pick.
Speaking of Love, he is out for at least a month after undergoing toe surgery. He was struggling before getting hurt, but his absence leaves the team without a legitimate primary scoring option. If the Cavs have any hope of stringing together a few wins, Love must come back fully healthy and drastically improve on his current 32% shooting clip.
Another key veteran, Kyle Korver, finds himself in the midst of an interesting extension situation. He signed a three-year deal prior to 2017-2018, apparently with a handshake agreement that he would be traded to a contending team if LeBron James went elsewhere. Once that happened, Korver’s camp talked to Cleveland’s front office about a trade, but the request was denied, because Korver was to be a player who would help the squad make the playoffs. That hasn’t happened. Korver could still be dealt ahead of the February 7th trade deadline, and would likely have a strong market, as plenty of teams would be interested in the services of one of the league’s greatest shooters.
The firing of Tyronn Lue seemed reactionary, and that isn’t fair to Lue. There is an argument to be made that he was not a very good coach, but that is beside the point. The discussion is whether or not Lue deserved to be fired six games into an 82-game season. Dan Gilbert clearly felt as if the team was much better than its record showed, and that Lue was responsible for the underperformance.
It remains to be seen whether he was correct, but the situation was not handled well. If Gilbert was comfortable with keeping Lue to mold this young team, why did only six games change that? Furthermore, the team was completely unprepared for the firing, as interim head coach Larry Drew had a contract dispute, wanting security for both this season and next if he was to take over.
On Monday, the two parties finally reached an agreement which gives Drew a partial guarantee for next season. This means that if Gilbert finds a new head coach for 2019-2020, he will be paying a total of five coaches, while only one works for him. Additionally, because of his contract situation, Drew is not respected as the head coach by a few of the players. This is a major issue that can only be fixed if the players believe Drew will be around long-term. This is the danger of firing a coach midseason; if the season is lost and the coach is gone after the year ends, why should the players listen to him?
Cleveland’s future depends on the development of eighth overall pick Collin Sexton, and that development is off to a bumpy start. Sexton has shown flashes of brilliance, but he is an out-of-control rookie with poor situational awareness.
He needs a lot of work, and he isn’t seeing the floor enough to really learn from the many mistakes that he makes. Players in the locker room don’t think that he “knows how to play” and are bothered by his nonchalant handling of losses. Sexton’s well-being should be the Cavs’ top priority, but they need the whole locker room to congeal before things improve.
Finally, the J.R. Smith situation. There are reports that he wants to be traded, and others that he wants to stay in the Wine and Gold. Publicly he has denied asking for a trade and has also said he is hoping to be dealt. It’s J.R. Smith after all, so the only person alive who knows what he’s thinking is himself. He may even have a different thought on the matter from day to day. It would be sad to see a member of the 2016 championship team go, but moving on may be in the best interest of both Smith and the Cavaliers.
The Cavs have plenty of issues, many of which don’t have simple solutions. What is clear is that this team is destined for the lottery, and the sooner they accept their fate, the better. Players such as Smith, Korver, and George Hill should be traded for draft picks, and Sexton, Ante Zizic, and David Nwaba should get more playing time.
Cleveland needs to take inventory of their young pieces so they can decide which areas to address in the offseason. The rest of this year will not be fun, but at least the Cavaliers won’t have to send their first-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks. Small victories are all we may get for the foreseeable future.