At this point, I’m not sure what’s more surprising – the borderline unwatchable basketball the Cleveland Cavaliers have been putting forth recently or how many people seem to think it’s all no big deal.
Believe it or not, as the Cavs got spanked by the San Antonio Spurs Monday, as they fell flat last night against a Chicago Bulls team which has spent most of the season infighting, much of Cleveland Twitter was paraphrasing “they’ll be just fine” in some way or another. There’s still an underlying feeling that, despite the fact the Cavs haven’t looked like a functional club for most of March, there’s no real problem. As soon as the postseason starts, they’ll just flip the switch and coast to the Finals again.
If you’ve been able to watch the dreadful effort this team has put forth the past few weeks and can still lackadaisically claim there’s nothing wrong, you’re an incredibly positive-minded individual. Who am I to judge anyone who can stomach this garbage and laugh at anyone who conveys concern?
The problem, though, is there’s nothing about how the Cavs are playing which makes you think this is all a matter of shifting out of cruise control. They don’t look like a team casually hanging back in first gear, as if the second the postseason starts they’ll just come out guns blazing.
This is not just a funk. This isn’t a case of a team playing bored because it’s been a long year and everybody’s tired of dealing with regular season games.
Cleveland is playing with zero effort, zero defense and zero motivation. These aren’t things which are fixed simply by the regular season coming to an end, nor are they problems which can be erased in just one playoff game.
This isn’t to say the Cavs can’t get back on the right path. The roster is simply too talented to consistently play this poorly.
At the same time, listen to the commentary we’ve been getting from the locker room this past week and tell me this isn’t a deeply rooted issue.
After last night’s loss – which inexplicably completed the Bulls’ four-game season sweep of Cleveland – LeBron James curtly answered questions as fast as possible and was out of the locker room before coach Tyronn Lue had even addressed the media. In his three minute session, James claimed the team was in a bad place, said he’d determine when it was time to explode on his teammates and intimated complacency might be an issue.
When asked if it might be instinct for the Cavs to forgo effort due to last June’s championship, he simply said “I can’t speak for everybody else. Not for me.”
This comes one day after Kyrie Irving took the concept of contentment even farther, basically calling out anyone on the team who might be satisfied with just one title.
“You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough,” Irving said Wednesday, per The Athletic. “It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable, to rely on just having won a championship. But if you a muthaf**ka [sic], you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.
“My job as one of the leaders on the team is to bring my guys with me.”
Who’s not coming with him? Who is Irving calling out here? Who, less than a month away from the postseason, is still focused only on polishing their 2016 championship ring?
Are players like J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert complacent from their first Finals win last year? Are new additions Deron Williams and Derrick Williams not giving max effort knowing you might not need it when playing alongside James?
As you can see, comments and questions like these intimate deeper problems than just trying harder on a given night. The above quotes imply there are some significant concerns among Cleveland’s star players, specifically about the lack of effort and concentration they’ve been seeing from their teammates.
If this is indeed the case and Irving and James are this worried, they’re running low on time to fix everything. The fact these problems have lasted this long presents a very real possibility they may drag into the postseason, as well.
Should Cleveland face such an outcome, those who think it’s only a matter of flipping the switch in the playoffs are going to be dealt a sizable dose of reality.