The season from hell hath unleashed its versatile fury all over the Cleveland fan base during the past week. From last Sunday’s Suns meltdown to Saturday’s array of hoops-related excitement, these truly are dark days in Cavs world.
There are many, many things that annoy me about this Cavs franchise and its current dysfunctional state. Let’s breeze through some of the items that come to mind:
Whoever said this: “We were losing last year with Byron, but at least we were having fun.” This was my least favorite of the many anonymous player quotes in last night’s latest bombshell article from the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd. Like, what type of professional athlete complains about not having as much fun when their team is still sad, miserable and just underwent an already dramatic week? That quote really, really pissed me off.
Which reminds me: The Cavs choked at a historic rate under Byron Scott. Remember that? Have you already forgotten those good ol’ fun times? Here’s a fact: Cleveland was 34-38 when leading at halftime in Scott’s three seasons as head coach. Last season’s 14-21 such record stands among the NBA’s worst marks in the last decade.
On average, of course, teams win at a .725 clip when leading at halftime. That squad last year was absolutely dreadful in second halves, as I wrote in The Diff on April 3. Far worse than this year’s team. So yes, brag all you want about the more fun Byron Scott, anonymous Cavs player. Those teams sucked, too. Perhaps more gut-wrenchingly so.
That this franchise actually has shown flashes of on-court promise over the past 15 months. They had the seventh-best offense in a 38-game stretch last season from Dec. 22, 2012 to March 16, 2013. Mostly, that was due to an impeccably low turnover rate, which ranked second-best in the NBA. Now-departed rotation players like Shaun Livingston, Luke Walton and Wayne Ellington were great for ball movement and offensive consistency. The Cavs actually were 17-21 in that stretch.
Then, this season, Mike Brown’s squad had the NBA’s 13th-best defense in the first 35 games. In those first 35 games, the Cavs defensive rating was 102.9. Their rating was never lower than 106.0 in Scott’s three seasons. That’s a pretty significant improvement, efficiency-wise. Those season-long stats were accurate until Luol Deng’s debut on Jan. 10, 2014.
Now, in 12 games with Deng, the Cavs are back all the way down at 110.8 in defensive rating. That’s the second-worst mark in the league in these last three weeks, only better than league-worst Milwaukee. I’m not quite sure how it happened so suddenly. It’s frustrating as hell and horrifying to watch.
It’s also frustrating for neither the offense nor the defense to work out in concert. This team and these young players have had better days. Everything is falling apart right now.
That the Cavs still don’t have a four-game winning streak since the LeBron days. Look it up. It’s legitimately true. More depressingly, Phoenix already has hit a five-game winning streak that started with Sunday’s second-half comeback victory at The Q. That’s how easy such runs are for seemingly every other team. Let me repeat this: The Cavs are the only NBA team without a four-game winning streak since the 2010-11 season.
Five times, they’ve had three-game winning streaks. Even those have been very rare for this franchise. Every ensuing game, however, has been a loss. It’s such a peculiar oddity, even among consistently bad teams. Only four other franchises have yet to accumulate a five-gamer in the last four years. The Suns are in the midst of their second five-gamer, but don’t yet have a six. Each of the other 24 NBA franchises have at least a six-game winning streak in these four years. There you go.
That the New York Daily News broke that Luol Deng story. This was Saturday’s lead story. The reports were sourced to a “close friend” of Deng’s. The most notable tidbits: Dion Waiters was kicked out of practice, then played the next game in full; GM Chris Grant is expected to be fired; Kyrie Irving reportedly wishes to fire his agent (which he’s now denied vehemently); Cavs partied late the night before the game in New York; and the dysfunction, “mess” and “no accountability” status of the Cavs.
But really, it took the New York Daily News to report any of these items? None of the traveling Cavaliers media were there or had any of that information? Not even a guy like ESPN’s Brian Windhorst?
That Luol Deng really doesn’t deserve this disaster. As captured in Jason Lloyd’s final thoughts after Saturday’s game, it appears Deng was as confused and distraught from the Daily News stories as anyone. The comments included this: “I’m looking forward to taking the challenge and doing whatever I can whether it’s being a good leader or just being out there playing as hard as I can.”
Deng has been miscast as a savior in Cleveland. That’s not within his skill set, both on and off the court. Here’s what he actually is: An opportunistic 28-year-old athlete that is above average defensively, a slasher offensively and not good at creating offense by himself. The Cavs’ nonexistent offensive structure has placed responsibility on Deng too often to create scoring opportunities. He’s a below-average shooter.
He’s also seen it all in Chicago, from the dark times post-Michael Jordan to the past several years of contention under Tom Thibodeau. But it honestly seems, again, that the Cavs didn’t do their scouting report on Deng. The Duke product played over 24,000 total minutes in his 9.5 years in Chicago. This task is too tall for nearly any one new player.
Why does the Plain Dealer have a Cavs Twitter account shared by two people? Like seriously, who does that in 2014. Really. Like, this right here should never be a tweet from a beat writer account. Ever. Jason Lloyd is the best Cavs beat writer. The race for second place isn’t pretty.
That the playoffs actually still kind of somewhat are in reach. This is one very bad basketball team. They have a record of 16-31. Their Net efficiency rating of -6.5 is fourth-worst in the NBA. Yet, as The News-Herald’s Matt Skrajner unfortunately mentioned, they’re still not that far out of the East’s terrible playoff picture. They’re “only” four games back of eighth-place Charlotte. This horrendous team should not ever be thinking about the playoffs anymore. Neither should fans. It’s a frustrating back-and-forth.
That there’s a non-zero probability of Andrew Bynum potentially being a playoff factor. As you likely saw, the Indiana Pacers officially signed Bynum on Saturday. He’s only 26 years old. He only has played 480 minutes in the last 21 months – all with Cleveland. He was signed for $1 million.
For the Cavs, Bynum was a disappointment and perhaps a below-replacement level NBA player. Outside of his one actually good seven-game stretch in early December, he shot 36.5%. That’s abysmal for a 7-footer. Overall, the Cavs had a 93.9 offensive rating with him on the court. They have a 98.1 offensive rating for the season. Bynum dragged them down quite a bit.
But, in the complete sense of all possible outcomes, there’s a tiny, tiny chance that he might actually be able to beat out Ian Mahinmi for backup center minutes in Indiana. He’s got another 2.5 months to get in playoff shape. While I don’t have the right to be as ticked off about Bynum’s potential success as Philadelphia fans (like Liberty Ballers’ Michael Levin), it’s still an annoyance.
The fact that I’m firmly on board the Trade Anderson Varejao train. Again. I announced my arrival back on this train a few days ago. Varejao is 31. He has a $9.8 million contract for 2014-15 with $4 million guaranteed. The trade deadline is three weeks away. Varejao’s missed the last three games with a hyperextended left knee.
Sort of like Deng, Varejao has seen it all. He’s the only remaining holdover from the LeBron era. Drafted as the No. 30 pick in 2004, he’s improved his game drastically since his foul-prone younger days. He’s now a very effective mid-range shooter. His passing makes the Cavs offense flow. His defensive intensity remains contagious. The Cavs have a very average -0.4 Net efficiency rating with him on the court; it’s -14.6 otherwise. He likely is the best current player any contender could acquire away from the Cavaliers.
In February 2012, he shared “I feel like I’m from here.” In February 2013, on the mend from his season-ending blood clot, he said “I’m happy here. I don’t want to be traded.” In February 2014, begrudgingly, after years of rumors, I think it’s finally time to say goodbye. It won’t be easy.
That it seems nobody else besides me actually noticed that Henry Sims has totaled over 54 minutes in the last three games. This has been in Varejao’s absence. Sims played 11:32 against New Orleans, 22:03 against New York and again, 20:36 against Houston. Just checking to see if anyone noticed or really cared. Sims had just about 57 career NBA minutes before this stretch. He wasn’t terrible last night against Houston. That’s about all I have to say here.
That it appears we’re down to trading away either Kyrie Irving or Dion Waiters. This is likely where we are. Let’s review the proceedings from the past week.
Irving was named an All-Star starter a week ago Thursday. On Sunday, Lloyd tore him back down, blaming his defense, lack of leadership and no huge third-year leap for the Cavs’ struggles. On Thursday, ESPN’s Chad Ford shared that Irving’s privately telling people he wants out of Cleveland. He shared he’s “happy in Cleveland,” but perhaps the Cavs also aren’t that happy with him. In Lloyd’s latest on Saturday, one anonymous player said: “He’s acting like he doesn’t care.”
Waiters, a second-year, was named Cleveland’s lone representative in the All-Star Rising Stars Challenge. He wasn’t in the news as much this week. But it’s all exploded now. Saturday’s New York Daily News report shared he was kicked out of practice, then played against the Knicks. Lloyd followed up in saying teammates are tiring of his act, blaming a lack of accountability. He was reportedly even worse with his antics last year.
Both of these players are under-sized ball-dominant guards. The Cavs also signed Jarrett Jack this offseason and he’s now back in the starting lineup. More likely than not, one of Irving or Waiters will be traded before the deadline on Feb. 20. It just has to happen.
That people still keep misconstruing the Dion Waiters draft workout thing. Let’s rewind the time machine. It was reported on June 7, 2012, that Waiters was shutting down his predraft workouts. Many speculated that Toronto at No. 8 made a promise to select him. Here’s a throwback DraftExpress video where Waiters said his agent instructed him to cancel workouts. He did not work out for any team. He did not interview for any team.
Lately, there has been a ton of criticism about the Cavs not even interviewing a player they then selected so highly in the draft. There are a few key points of clarification: Waiters and his camp shut down workouts. The Cavs didn’t have any other option to talk to him. The Cavs also did a serious amount of background homework, per a number of previous reports. This type of hindsight criticism would be placed on any team that eventually selected the talented guard out of Syracuse should he struggle. If he succeeded, no one would care.
That we’re actually throwing out possible trade ideas for Kyrie Irving. The most eye-popping anonymous quote via Lloyd was listed above. If that were just the only comment or criticism of Irving, then we’d all be happy to just move on. But it’s certainly not.
Irving is a 21-year-old two-time All-Star. He’s likely a top-15 or top-20 offensive player in the NBA. He’s also one of the 25-30 youngest players in the NBA. There are very few players (and guards) that have ever had his type of success this early in their careers.
On Twitter last night, there were some usual ESPN Trade Machine proposals of Irving deals. However, as WFNY’s Joe Mastrantoni shared, along with Windhorst and Lloyd, the odds of Irving leaving Cleveland anytime soon are just not high. The Cavs own his rights and he’d have to turn down serious money multiple times. No trade talks have reportedly occurred.
Again, I’m all in favor of blowing up the entire organization. If only Dan Gilbert and Kyrie Irving survive this ensuing housecleaning, I’ll have no issues whatsoever. That hopefully will show significant accountability to the rest of the league. But Irving should stay. As of now, he’s the NBA’s youngest All-Star, although he’s not without blemishes.
That, practically speaking, it probably just makes sense to fire Chris Grant right now. This was a great point from Fear The Sword’s Sam Vecenie last night: If you don’t trust Grant anyway and/or seriously question his past decision-making, how can he be allowed to make this next gigantic move?
In professional sports, it appears pretty rare to fire a general manager midway through a season. It happens, although not that often. In this case, it might be the best move. Grant is the one who put all of these pieces together – Bynum, Jack, Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett, struggling Tristan Thompson, Waiters, Irving, etc. – and entrusted anyone to figure out what to do next. The roster construction issues are on him.
A big trade involving the Cavs will happen before the deadline. It’s bound to after all of these reports of chaos. But how can Gilbert allow Grant to be the one that pulls the trigger?
And finally, that I’m jealous of pretty much every single other NBA organization. I could probably talk myself into enjoying any other team more so than these current Cavaliers. Obviously, there are probably five-to-seven legitimate NBA Finals contenders. Those teams are filled with players performing at their peak right now. I forget what that kind of fandom is like. It must be fun.
But more frustratingly, I even envy the worst teams. Milwaukee, Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Utah? Those are the teams with records equal to or worse than the Cavaliers. Yet, they all have considerably more short-to-mid-term optimism. That’s because of their combination of actually improving young players, strengthening 2014 draft assets, fresh-faced new coaches/executives/owners and/or just overwhelming market pull. They seem to be on the right track.
This season, Cleveland fans were actually hoping to be in the infamous NBA purgatory zone of middling contention. And that is the case for teams like Brooklyn and New York (surprisingly so) along with Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington and Charlotte.
The Western Conference is just so much better. Almost every team is so exciting to watch over there, which makes me even more envious. Specifically, I yearn for Houston’s analytical approach behind GM Daryl Morey (a Cleveland native) and Phoenix’s all-around long-term upside under new GM Ryan McDonough. Those are two teams I have a ton of confidence in for years and years to come.
The bottom line is that the Cleveland Cavaliers currently are the most disappointing, dysfunctional and disastrous NBA organization. That makes me so sad. And certainly quite annoyed. Annoyed enough to question whether I should even keep caring about all of this much longer.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.