The five-game road trip that commenced just 10 days ago added five more losses to the Cavaliers’ record but claimed several bodies in the meantime, forcing the team to finish the final game of the west coast swing with seven active players – one fewer than the required number for an NBA game to start. While fans dream about ping pong balls and players of the future, Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott is looking to circumvent the toe tags that continue to pile up as the team limps into February.
A trip categorized by Scott as “tough,” the average point differential over the five game stint was -26, and this includes the eight-point loss in Phoenix. And things are not about to get any easier.
As Yahoo!’s Kelly Dwyer stated, his 12-game win prediction was predicated upon Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant blowing up the roster and attempting to reconstruct a winner from the ground up. Unfortunately, the 8-32 Cavs are staring at a 2010-11 win total under 20 and have yet to make a move that signifies anything for the future.
Three weeks ago, Alonzo Gee was playing NBA 2K11 on his sectional couch. Two days ago, he is the starting small forward for a team that is coming off of consecutive 60-win seasons. Let that marinate for a bit.
Just as things start to look up – Daniel Gibson is slated to return Wednesday as the Cavs host the Phoenix Suns – the schedule continues to rear its ugly head by placing names like Boston, Orlando, Chicago and Miami between present day and the end of the month. And just think, fans and players alike hoped that 2011 would bring something different than 2010. Actually, it has – the Cavaliers were not forced to finish a game with seven able bodies at all through the first two-plus months of the season.
So where do the Cavaliers go from here? Their biggest human asset is likely out for the rest of the season. Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker and Leon Powe – four players perpetually discussed in trade rumors – seemingly cannot stay healthy. The team’s Traded Player Exception remains in their back pocket, but there appears to be a healthy disconnect when it comes to valuation as the Charlotte Bobcats could not be sold on shipping a first-round draft pick to Cleveland for the salary relief of one Gerald Wallace.
Speculation early on was that the team was hoping to hold on to said flexibility and not utilize their exception until the spring when the team’s future became clearer. However, with the injury to Anderson Varejao and the complete free-fall from the .500 record which the team possessed back in November, the urgency to begin the rebuilding process has come considerably sooner than anyone – and I stress anyone – had envisioned. Gilbert and Grant had envisioned a scenario where the team would be able to rebuild on their own terms given their flexibility and handful of pieces that could be of value to other teams.
Before fans can debate about the varying values of Perry Jones, Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger, the team must decide when the rebuild starts. While the pending Collective Bargaining Agreement will not do Chris Grant and his front office team any favors, the perception of passiveness is already permeating throughout a frustrated fan base. While it can be reiterated that the team is making and taking phone calls – and will not make a move solely to make a move – the lack of tangible results can understandably force a fan to throw his or her hands into the air in disgust, wondering just when those responsible for making the decisions will do something. Anything.
Okay, anything aside from releasing an unguaranteed player who registered marginal minutes, only to bring on another of similar ilk.
In the NBA, teams take years to rebuild following the end of an era. Typical downswings do not happen so abruptly, but this is the hand Cleveland was dealt. The post-Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls played sub-par basketball by any standards for seven years. When Shaquille O’Neal took off for Los Angeles, the Orlando Magic found themselves rebuilding for the better part of a decade. Ask Boston and Paul Pierce about how bad things were before the Celtics managed to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
No one said that the road back to prominence was going to be an easy one to travel. But in the same, no one expected it to be this tough to endure. As the losses pile up and the Cavaliers continue to distance themselves from the leftover lottery lackeys (now two full games behind the Sacramento Kings), it comes as little surprise that the entire city of Cleveland can have the feeling of hopelessness and irreversible despair.
But as fans of this franchise, one that suffered a blow that – at one point – had the world as its collective support system, pride cannot be something that can merely be cast to the side. Things will get better; the games may not become easier on the stomach, the post-game rhetoric may not deviate from that of applauded effort and “we’ll get ’em next time,” but three years from now, this team will look completely different. Hopefully, with a year or two to gel beyond that, Cleveland can be right back where they once were.
It will just take some time, a lot of patience and unwavering pride.
Five weeks until the trade deadline – just in case you needed a light at the end of the treacherous tunnel. Stay strong, folks. Time only flies when you’re having fun.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)