The Cleveland sports scene has managed to take an otherwise unifying bond and turned it into a polarizing chasm of considerable proportions. As fans of the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers, Clevelanders experience every bump, every The, together—we celebrate the occasional win, and collectively grieve through the latest loss. But as the Browns offseason wraps up and the Indians’ regular season just begins, it is the Cavaliers who have provided the most hand-wringing and polarization.
While it can be reasonably assumed that all Cavalier fans have an identical ultimate goal, the avenue best taken can be debated. As the NBA Draft nears, fans can discuss who would be the best piece for Chris Grant to add to the puzzle. But as the losses pile up—many of which have been after 20-point leads—the Cavaliers are forcing fans to take sides, each one feeling that they are fighting for the greater good.
On one side, you have the patient, oftentimes masochistic group. They claim that losses are all a part of the plan.That rebuilding takes time and that losing is the only way for a small- or mid-market team to improve and do so with consistency. That Byron Scott was brought in, knowing full well that—regardless of outcome—he would have three seasons to get this Cavaliers team back on track. They see a coach who, despite a perception of being too passive, is a leader of men who has a track record of reclamation. They see improvement in Kyrie Irving’s mid-range game; in Tristan Thompson’s post moves; in Dion Waiters’ maturity; and in Tyler Zeller’s confidence.
Clear on the other side, you have a faction that is done losing. They want to see wins immediately, even if said wins lead to a worse draft position. They’re sick of hearing about a “winning culture.” They feel that there has been little improvement in key players; Kyrie Irving is still a dreadful defender, Dion Waiters has poor shot selection. They are not listening about injuries as this team was sub-par before Anderson Varejao went down for the seasonn—if anything, the players have shown more heart when backed into a corner. They want accountability and demand that players and or coaches be relieved of their duties. No excuses to be had. Poor game management, poor rotations, a poor team that needs to be blown up immediately.
Statistics can tell both sides of the story. The eye test does the same, depending on what games get cherry picked. Regardless, fans are left to lob passive-aggressive tweets at one another as the entire base watches their Titanic slowly disappear into the horizon.
Without knowing what goes on behind closed doors—who are the leaders? Is this legitimate tanking?—it is difficult to pin any sort of certainty on either side. Having now blown four games with at least a 20-point cushion late in each respective contest, it seems that this team is either really good at showing what they can do when desired, but also that they can’t finish the jobs they start. While it can be attributed to youth, there are times when the Cavaliers collapse despite having veteran players like Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights on the floor. Then again, it can be said that having those four players on the floor could be the reason why the Cavaliers cannot hold onto leads against formidable opponents.
While the debates range, what can be universally accepted is the fact that the 2012-13 season has been frustrating for every fan. Just when the team shows a glimpse of respectability, it throws every ounce of support back into the face of even the most devout. There is no telling what the immediate future holds for Byron Scott or any of the impending free agents. Ask two Cavalier fans on what they believe should happen and you could easily find yourself receiving two completely different answers.
The entire scope can be boiled down to a miserable, niche version of ESPN’s First Take. Wait it out. Start over. Look at the development. What development? The locker room is lost. Listen to Tristan Thompson. Where’s Dan Gilbert? What good are votes of confidence? The Cavaliers can’t buy a call. It shouldn’t come down to one play. What about the injuries? Look at the record before they occurred. Byron needs more talented players. Other teams are doing more with less. We’re the next Oklahoma City! We’re the next Sacramento. The model is broken. Next year is our year…
Rather than coping together, Cleveland fans have decided that it’s a matter of right-versus-wrong. The pitchforks and torches versus the shills and the blind. The only thing that appears to be able to bring the unity back to this fan base is winning. Until that happens, it appears that lines will be drawn, debates will be had and everyone will go home knowing they deserve better, whatever the means may be.
AP Photo/Mark Duncan