Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The Cleveland Cavaliers spend the first part of the season trying to find their rhythm. Once they find it, the team clicks and starts rolling through the wins. Everyone figures the team has more or less figured things out and will just coast into the playoffs. Then, after Christmas, the team goes into a lull. Eventually, that lull turns into flat-out lethargic and uninspired play. From there, chaos ensues. Fingers start pointing, the media is brought into things, Kevin Love is blamed, and everyone wonders if this is the end for LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Yep, we’ve hit mid-January, so it’s time for our annual drama and collective freakout. Things really came to a head overnight with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that the Cavaliers had a team meeting (not a players-only meeting, as Ty Lue and Koby Altman were in attendance for this one) in which the fingers were pointed directly at Kevin Love for leaving the Oklahoma City game early with an illness and not showing up at Sunday practice.
The Cleveland Cavaliers held an emotional team meeting prior to Monday’s practice, where several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love leaving OKC loss on Saturday ill and missing Sunday’s practice, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 23, 2018
Apparently, the meeting became quite heated, until Love finally spoke and gave his side of the story. Woj says that Love’s explanation was ultimately accepted by his teammates and that some in the locker room feel this could be a turning point.
In a locker room increasingly full of finger-pointing, Love defended himself and explained his side to teammates, coaches and management, sources said. At end of meeting, there was a sense with some that team had worked out some issues, but that ultimately remains to be seen.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 23, 2018
“That ultimately remains to be seen.” Indeed.
From the outside looking in, this seems like a lot of nonsense. It seems pretty hard to find any good reason to blame Love for this season. While Isaiah Thomas is chucking (and missing) tons of shot, JR Smith looks lost, Jae Crowder has been nothing but a disappointment, Derrick Rose has brought nothing to the team all season (and even left the team for an extended period of time), and Tristan Thompson has struggled to fully regain the form that forced the Cavaliers to give him his pay raise, it’s Love who’s actually to blame for all this?
Kevin Love came to Cleveland to help LeBron win a Championship, and he succeeded at that. Apart from that ultimate success, though, Love has had to sacrifice more than anyone else. He’s been misused, ignored, passive-aggressively called out by LeBron and other teammates, asked by coaches to play out of position, and been the subject of countless trade rumors. Through it all, he’s never publicly complained. He’s mostly kept his head down and continued to sacrifice and do what is asked of him. And most of the time, it has worked out in the end.
That’s not to say Love is perfect. Like LeBron, he can appear moody at times. His defense is often lackluster. He can seemingly disappear for large chunks of games. Yet I would argue his defense isn’t any more or less egregious than anyone else’s on the team. And it wasn’t Love who drove Kyrie Irving away. It’s not Love holding the franchise hostage with uncertainty about his future. Frankly, I’m not sure how anyone on this team is pointing fingers at Love. Despite his reservations about playing center this season, he’s done it. And when he was the second option in the offense, he was excelling and the team was rolling. The Cavaliers have been at their best this season when leaning on Love.
IT’s return to the lineup has disrupted that flow and Love is now frequently an afterthought in the offense again. And the team is struggling mightily. If you’re looking for people to blame, Love would probably be the second-to-last person I would look at it, with only LeBron shouldering less blame.
Furthermore, the fact that Woj is the one who got this story is quite curious. There’s a notorious rift between LeBron’s camp and Woj. When it comes to getting NBA news, Woj has been a revolution. Nobody has been better. Except when it comes to LeBron news. LeBron has made sure Woj has gotten nothing from his camp and his teammates. Over the previous three and a half seasons, it’s been Brian Windhorst, Dave McMenamin, and Jason Lloyd breaking the news. There seems to have been an understanding between LeBron and his teammates that nothing would leak to Woj.
So what happened this time? How did Woj get this and not Windy or McMenamin? The obvious answer is that this probably came from one of the new guys. With Dwyane Wade’s friendship with LeBron, it seems unlikely to be him. That leaves Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Jeff Green. With the way IT has been using the media to complain about the Cavs’ lack of practice time, it’s not a huge leap to guess that this probably came from IT. Of course, this is pure speculation. I want to be clear that I don’t know this for sure. It’s just a guess. But if this did come from IT, it could be a pretty bad sign for this team and an indication of deeper fractures in the locker room than perhaps we realized.
Having an Isaiah Thomas at peak form is obviously the ideal situation.1 But there’s a part of me that wants Ty Lue to experiment just once. Put Calderon back in the starting lineup, put Channing Frye back in the rotation, and make Thomas and Thompson sit again. Just try it for a week, and see if things stabilize at all. Then we’ll have more information. It doesn’t mean Thomas and Thompson are bad players or not trying their best. But it might mean that they simply are bad fits for what the Cavaliers need to be to succeed in a post-Kyrie world. If things don’t stabilize, though, we’ll know the issues are deeper than that. It’s not about Thomas and Thompson being bad fits, it’s something else.
I’d just prefer Koby Altman head into the trade season with as much knowledge and information as possible. I think it’s much easier to project what kind of trade is needed if we knew more about what’s going on with the team. Was their success earlier in this season just a timely fluke, or was there something to the fit of those lineups?
Ultimately, I remain generally calm about all of this. It’s so easy to assume the worst when the team is playing like this and all these behind the scenes stories start popping up. This is the fourth season in a row in which the Cavaliers have had to deal with drama. The previous three times, they’ve worked things out. I believe this time will be no different. I think at some point Isaiah Thomas will recover his form and make a strong impact on the team. When that happens, the wins will come, the unrest will settle down, and these stories will be distant memories.
Like Woj said, though….Ultimately, that remains to be seen.
- It’s hard to underdstand what’s going on with IT. The team seemed to be fully behind Thomas in his recovery, and there were stories about Thomas’ leadership from the bench and how he was already part of the team. But now after a couple weeks of subpar play, he’s suddenly being passive-aggressive about the Cavs not practicing and potentially leaking stories about the team’s unrest? It just doesn’t make sense. [↩]