I’m ready for this Cleveland Cavaliers regular season to end. I can’t be alone in that.
This year has been 78 games of inconsistency, in-fighting, injuries, roster changes, rumors and an entire January full of watching the team get throttled on a nightly basis. Despite the fact the Cavs are rounding into form as the playoffs near, the road to get to this point has been rocky and, at times, unwatchable.
Somehow, it could’ve been worse. So very much worse. Had Cleveland not deviated from two separate paths it was going down at different points of the year, this team might be heading into the postseason in terrible shape.
Consider what would’ve happened if the Cavs refused to trade then-disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving last summer.
For one, LeBron James would’ve had to invest a ton of time in repairing a bridge which certainly appeared to be torched. Irving had zero desire to stay in Cleveland as long as James was there, which eventually led to the team sending him to the Boston Celtics. There was a point where it seemed as though the Cavs would try to stick it out and refuse to bow to Irving’s trade demands. However, the implication was he was planning on boycotting training camp eventually forced Cleveland’s hand.
But what if the team held strong and refused to trade Irving?
For one, the season would’ve become a sideshow. Both he and James would be asked about their relationship on a nightly basis. Irving’s frustration might’ve festered throughout the year, making the locker room a constant source of chaos. He may have refused James’ attempts to patch things up, pushing the two stars deeper into a feud which could’ve driven the team to a point of implosion.
Even worse, Irving wouldn’t have been available in the playoffs.
It was announced earlier today Irving will need additional knee surgery, which effectively ended his season. Had the Cavs tried to make things work with him, not only were the odds of it proving successful notably low, they would’ve only had him for 60 games before he got shelved.
This is by no means an attempt to celebrate the news on Irving. It is, however, meant to point out one way this regular season could’ve been an even bigger nightmare for Cleveland.
It certainly wasn’t the only bullet this team dodged, though.
When the Cavs dealt Irving to Boston, they felt as though they had a worthy replacement in the form of Isaiah Thomas. Though he was recovering from a severe hip injury, the hope was the 2016-17 MVP candidate could return to form once he was fully healed.
While he did make it back on the court in January, the results were far from positive. Instead, Thomas nearly drove the team to the brink of destruction on his own.
It was clear from the get-go the former Celtic was nowhere close to full strength. Despite this fact, he continued hijacking the offense on a nightly basis, chucking up a ton of shots and missing most them.
Off the court, he became a lightning rod for controversy, routinely calling out his teammates and coaching staff. As the trade deadline neared, though, the belief was the Cavs would try and work things out with Thomas, mainly due to their not wanting to give up on the returns from the Irving deal too early.
Cleveland eventually buckled, dealing him at the deadline. Had it not, the choice to stick it out with Thomas would’ve had the same result as retaining Irving. He, too, has since been sidelined due to surgery, as his attempt to let his hip heal naturally ended up failing.
So, yes, as grueling as it’s been to watch Cleveland get to this point in the year, the experience is significantly better than what would’ve happened had the team decided to hold strong with either of its troublesome point guards.
The Cavs could’ve dug their heels in and resisted Irving’s demand to be dealt. They could’ve ignored the clear chemistry issues Thomas was causing, letting pride get in the way of team success.
Had they taken either route, they’d be entering the postseason with an All-Star point guard on the sideline and a murky future ahead.