Last night, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost a relatively ugly game to the Memphis Grizzlies. The leading scorer for Cleveland was James Jones. Chris Andersen played 20 minutes, by far his most since joining the Cavs.
Obviously, this wasn’t exactly the recipe for a victory. It also helps highlight the fact last night’s game was – and still is – gathering headlines more for who didn’t play than who did.
After beating those same Grizzlies in Cleveland Tuesday night, coach Tyronn Lue told everyone none of the Big 3 would play in the next game. LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving didn’t even travel with the team, instead staying home in preparation for Saturday’s bout with the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a peculiar call, sure. While star players get off nights all the time in the NBA, yet it was odd to see Lue rest all three of his marquee talents on the same night.
Said call was not a popular one in Memphis, where numerous fans in attendance were miffed about not getting to see the Cavs superstars, James in particular. The media, too, seemed perplexed about the day off Lue granted, and the story quickly became bigger than the game itself.
While I understand the confusion surrounding all three stars being rested on the same night, there’s no denying this story is getting way too much fuss.
The bulk of the disdain towards Lue and his big-name players came from those who attended last night’s game. Stories have popped up about fans who bought their tickets expecting to see James in-person being incredibly upset about him not even traveling to Memphis. A young boy could be seen holding a sign which said “LeBron, thanks for ruining my Christmas.”
Don’t get me wrong, I get the anger from those who felt ripped off or misled by Lue’s decision. I completely understand the logic behind a fan being upset because he or she loves James and paid for a ticket solely to see him play live. It’s not cheap to see an NBA game, so when someone throws down a good chunk of money expecting to see the best player in the league, only to find out he didn’t even travel for the game, it has to be frustrating.
After getting all of that out of the way, one thing needs to be clarified. No disrespect to anyone who was salty about not seeing James, Irving or Love last night, but at the end of the day Lue can’t make decisions based on your feelings. Nor should he. Neither he nor his players should ever develop game strategies with opposing fans in mind (or any fans for that matter).
Sorry if it sounds cruel, but that’s the harsh reality here. Last night’s game was in no way the focal point of Cleveland’s season. This is a team with championship aspirations. As a result, when Lue finds an opportunity to give his best players a breather, he needs to do it.
It should also be noted that there’s nothing on the ticket which guarantees anything beyond the fact the Cavs will play Memphis. No fine print can be found which says “refunds available if LeBron is a no-show.” Again, harsh as it may sound, that’s the fact of life here.
While I certainly sympathize with those who paid hard-earned money under the expectation they’d be seeing Cleveland’s top talent, the reality is the Cavs don’t owe them anything. Lue doesn’t have to defend his call because of how the fans reacted to it. Had any of the Big 3 played and gotten hurt last night, I highly doubt Cleveland’s coach would react by saying, “Well, that stinks, but at least those Memphis fans got to see James.”
So, no, Lue shouldn’t be criticized for his call to rest James, Love and Irving. The players shouldn’t be called out for not opposing said decision. If Lue felt his top guys needed some time off, then he was right to give them some. I doubt there was a single moment where he stepped back and thought of those who were going to the game in Memphis before making this decision, based on the simple fact he shouldn’t be expected to coach that way.
If you traveled all the way to Tennessee with the hopes of seeing James, instead being forced to watch Mike Dunleavy play 23 minutes, that’s unfortunate. At the same time, Lue, his players and the Cavs organization in general can’t make decisions based on you. As a result, maybe it’s time we stop making a big deal about it.