LeBron James took a game off, and the results were horrifying. The Cavaliers were torched 113-99 in D.C. by the Wizards.
For a team with two other supposed star players, losing in this fashion is inexcusable simply because James rested. I had a few thoughts –not many specific to the game that was played but more high-level takeaways on the state of the Cavs — following the game.
I’m going to do whatever I can to guard against firing off hot takes, so I hope what’s laid out below doesn’t read as blusterous over-reaction. I tried to put an extra dose of measure and reason into these thoughts:
1. It’s not you, it’s him. The day the Cavs fired David Blatt, that was my immediate thought. By firing Blatt, amid all the tales of locker room strife and lack of faith in his ability to carry out even basic coaching tasks, the message David Griffin emphatically delivered to the players was clear: Hey guys, I’m on your side, I want you to be happy, I’ll get rid of this impediment to your happiness.
2. Of course, Blatt was conveniently thrashed on the way out the door with wild stories of him hyperventilating during games and not doing enough to keep vets like Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson satisfied (yes, for some reason, folks in the Cavs organization were supposedly concerned about the opinions of Mo and RJ).
3. With Blatt’s dismissal, there was no sliver of a doubt that this team was being controlled by the players. Maybe I’m naïve, maybe most NBA teams are effectively run by the players. But the Cavs were first in the East and, outside of a terrible performance against the Warriors, playing decent ball when Blatt was shown the door.
4. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to note that Pat Riley doubled down on Erik Spoelstra in the early days of Miami’s Big Three, when things weren’t humming quite so smooth.
5. There’s no account of Riley even thinking about firing Spo, let alone taking steps to actually do it. Contrast that with Griffin’s handling of Blatt. In Miami, at least from a distance, it was clear that the players and coach were accountable to Riley, and no one else. In Cleveland, the players and the coach (and maybe the GM) are accountable to … I’ll just stop there.
6. What does all this have to do with Sinday’s game? First, it calls into question the man who replaced Blatt. Ty Lue was supposed to be an upgrade, a player’s coach who would excel in all the ways Blatt was supposedly deficient. But in hindsight, there’s at least an argument to be made that Lue’s hiring was just one more step towards appeasing the players.
7. The players got the guy they wanted, the guy they supposedly connected with so well. But what we are finding out is all these wonderful connections that Lue fostered with the roster as an assistant coach don’t necessarily mean he can command their attention and buy-in as a head coach.
8. If you disagree with that last sentence, go back and watch Kyrie Irving taking care to shoot the final shot of the first half after the buzzer sounds. He made it, by the way. It sure looked like a guy who was more concerned with his shooting percentage than he was the scoreboard. This is the kind of nonsense that was supposed to evaporate with Lue’s arrival.
9. I’ve read some opinions from respected writers who know this team better than I, and they say that Lue simply hasn’t been given the time to change the culture and the attitudes on the team. That thinking doesn’t pass the smell test — he was hired to replace the winningest coach in the East and make the team better, with an emphasis on how he could bring the players together.
10. You don’t get a long leash, or a leash at all, when you are hired as an upgrade to a winning coach. So for a supposed no-excuses team and organization, I think we should shelve the notion that Ty Lue deserves more time to make this work.
11. Now, a few positive thoughts: It’s all too easy to take LeBron’s game for granted. Maybe he isn’t exactly the same player of a few years ago. And of course, Steph Curry is quite literally redefining the boundaries of shooting and rightly is the apple of the NBA universe’s eye. But as Donnie Walsh told me, LeBron is the creative energy that makes it all go. Sunday’s disastrous performance was just the most recent evidence of his impact. The Cavs were just hopeless without him.
12. I’m sort of going against my instinct when I say that the Cavs still have time to straighten things out. I think they are nearing the point where time is too short to pull it all together. I also think other teams in the East don’t fear the Cavs. But . . . it’s not even March yet. There really is time, at least as it’s measured by the calendar.
Maybe Monday’s game will provide for a few more tangible thoughts worth sharing because this one sure didn’t. The Pacers are always a tough draw for Cleveland, so it will be interesting to see how the Cavs respond.