For the past three seasons, this first month of the calendar year is always when all of Cleveland’s issues get aired out in public fashion. January of 2015 featured players clashing with then-coach David Blatt while the team fell below .500. Last year around this time, Blatt was fired despite the Cavs being in first place.
This time around, we have a lot of losing and plenty of headline-grabbing quotes from LeBron James, none of them flattering.
On the court, Cleveland is losers of six of eight, including last night’s slop-fest overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings. Off the court, James is taking shots at the front office, both for the lack of a trade and, apparently, a lack of new spending.
Per Brian Windhorst of ESPN, James is unhappy with team owner Dan Gilbert for not spending as much on upgrading the Cavs’ roster this year. While the Golden State Warriors went out and signed Kevin Durant this summer, Cleveland for the most part came into the 2016-17 season with the same championship-winning roster. Said unhappiness is reportedly causing strain in James’ relationship with the front office.
I certainly understand his frustration, I just think it’s currently misguided. The way Cleveland has played over the past couple weeks has indeed been terrible, but to claim this is due to Gilbert decreasing the spending seems inaccurate. Considering everything that’s been done over the past couple seasons, the front office hardly deserves as much blame as it’s getting.
Gilbert has gone over the salary cap every season since James returned to Cleveland, resulting in his having to foot the bill for luxury taxes each time. He paid $7 million in luxury taxes in 2014-15, $54 million last year and is currently paying $27 million for it this season. This alone indicates Gilbert is hardly penny-pinching.
Consider, too, what Gilbert and the front office have done to appease James’ demands for specific players.
The team went out and acquired Kevin Love a month after James announced his return in 2014. Cleveland ponied up in a big way to re-sign Tristan Thompson last year after the power forward joined James’ agency. This past summer, James angled hard for the re-signing of guard J.R. Smith, once again getting his wish.
Despite all of this, apparently ownership is at fault for the Cavs’ losing ways.
Apparently more spending would’ve prevented Cleveland from shooting 50% from the free throw line in last night’s loss to the Kings. Gilbert increasing payroll totally would’ve ensured the Cavs didn’t turn the ball over 18 times in the same game. Obviously the lower luxury tax bill is why Cleveland’s defensive efforts have become blatantly lazy.
God, Gilbert is just the worst, am I right?
At the end of the day, claiming the biggest issue with this team is a lack of spending from up top is laughable. The Cavs have been playing uninspired basketball for a month now, but they’re still the same group of players which opened this season with a 25-7 record. Obviously wear and tear develops as the year drags on, but if such a concept is new to anyone within Cleveland’s locker room, that’s quite a concern.
And, yes, Golden State signed Durant without losing any of its core players. It should be noted, though, the Warriors’ big three aren’t all receiving max contracts. The same can’t be said about the Cavs.
Another alarming note is the belief some of the frustration is apparently coming from Cleveland not spending to keep Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova this past summer. No disrespect to either former Cavalier, but both of them had played their way out of the rotation midway through the playoffs last year, with Mozgov specifically barely making the slightest impact in 2015-16. If them leaving is a reason for Cleveland’s present struggles, it says a lot more about the players on the current roster then it does about the ones who signed elsewhere.
The point is if James wants to lay blame for the Cavs’ woes at the foot of ownership, he better be ready to accept some in return. He and the rest of his teammates have hardly been playing flawlessly all month, something which can’t be fixed solely by Gilbert opening up the checkbook.
I’ll say it again – Cleveland needs to make a roster move or two before the trade deadline. That said, there’s more than enough to clean up internally. One would hope James and the rest of the Cavs eventually realize this.