With their stunning victory over the defending Champion Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers head into the All-Star break actually being able to hold their heads up a bit. For a team that some hoped would contend for the playoffs, a 10-46 record is certainly nothing to be proud of. Yet, with all the adversity, pressure, scrutiny, and just overall bizarre circumstances of this season in which quite literally nothing has gone their way, getting a big win and avenging their 55 point loss finally gives the team something to feel good about.
The NBA is a business, of course, so happy feelings aren’t typically something given much consideration. And when you endure the seemingly endless streak of embarrassment and humiliation that this group of players have gone through, asking sympathy of others may be a tough task. This is a league driven by individual play, and if you don’t like losing, you’re expected to go out and do something about it.
The perception of many is that these players have frequently given less than a full effort, and perhaps that perception is deserved. No matter what the reasons or causality may be, as the Cleveland Cavaliers head into the break, the team is a miserable 10-46.
The break is often a time of reflection upon what happened in the first half of the season and where the teams may go from here. So what are we to make of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers at this point in the season? Where is this team headed? What moves will be made? What moves should be made?
Those who follow the Cavaliers have been asked these and similar questions all year long. This entire season has been one gigantic question mark, with many simply shrugging their shoulders and incredulously proclaiming their lack of clarity. It makes sense, though. Even prior to the season, none of us seemed able to grasp what this team was going to be.
Projections were all over the place. Many writers, myself included, were left trying to apply some kind of tangible quality to intangibles like leadership, heart, winning traditions, and chemistry. If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that those are issues that only matter when you have a superstar on your team. On a team with such an enormous talent gap, it’s become abundantly clear that those intangibles can only take you so far.
So am I saying the Cavaliers have just been a victim of circumstance? It would be easy to say that. It would be even easier to blame things like effort and coaching. And it would be a cop out to just give the company line about how it’s a “combination of all these things”. Fans want answers and specificity because fans are the ones who have continued to invest their emotions into this team.
So what’s the answer, then? What is the great explanation for this first half of the season? There are a lot of different ways to write this answer, but they all come back to one thing. The Decision. The defection of LeBron James. The trickle down effect of that betrayal has seeped it’s caustic poison into almost every nook and cranny of this organization, and it has created an environment unsuitable for winning.
Now, LeBron leaving hasn’t had an influence on the injury problems of the Cavaliers. But look deeper at why the Cavaliers are losing. They had that emotional opening win over Boston, and everything looked great. The problem is, that effort was the result of LeBron leaving. The Cavaliers players put their entire heart and soul into that one game, and they seemingly found their vindication in that one game. They would limp through the next few weeks, alternating between good performances and poor ones, but by the time LeBron James came to town on December 2nd, there was nothing left for the Cavaliers to give.
Obviously losing LeBron changed everything on the court as well. The team was built to support LeBron James. They were created in the image of his preferred playing style, the dribble the shot clock down and then drive and kick offense. If you don’t believe that’s LeBron’s preferred style, then you probably haven’t seen too many Miami Heat games this year. But what happens you remove LeBron James from that equation? Of course the system breaks down. But the Cavaliers never intended on LeBron leaving and for all their shortcomings, they really did do a nice job of surrounding him with the kind of team he said he wanted.
Almost every explanation I’ve seen offered for why the Cavaliers were as bad as they were in the first half of the season can be tied to LeBron James. Yet, it is my hope and belief that the losing streak actually purged a lot of that out of the system. The Cavaliers have hit rock bottom. There’s no lower place to go, and the players seem to realize that. The record streak actually appears to have lifted some of the pressure off the team and the players showed a renewed energy and spirit, for the most part, over the last couple weeks.
As we move into the 2nd half of the season, there is some reason for measured hope and optimism. The Cavaliers name continues to be thrown around in trade rumors, whether it be for Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Anderson Varejao, Leon Powe, Mo Williams, or even Ramon Sessions. The impending lockout may prevent anything from actually happening, but at least the Cavaliers will be trying to make some moves that they believe will help the team.
There will be further development. There is real excitement over the way JJ Hickson and Christian Eyenga have played in recent weeks. Nothing is better than winning, but if your team is going to lose, it’s nice to at least be able to watch players blossom before our eyes.
Finally, there is the prospects of having a top 3 pick in the NBA draft. In this sport, there is no greater source of hope and optimism than a top 3 pick. It’s where successful teams are made and broken. Even in a down draft class, the Cavaliers should still be able to find a player or two that can help them in the future.
The fans of this franchise have been simply outstanding this season. It’s been a bonding experience and most fans are united behind this franchise. It’s been encouraging to see. I don’t know how many other NBA franchises would have this level of support in the wake of losing a superstar and enduring an NBA record losing streak. I don’t know how long the fans will keep this up, either. I just know it’s been heart warming to see and I couldn’t be more proud of Cavs fans than I am right now.
So as we reflect on the season this week without any NBA basketball, we don’t have to like all the losing that has been experienced, but we can also at least take comfort in the fact that despite all the bad things that have happened, there is still hope, excitement, and resolute support in Cleveland.