The Cleveland Cavaliers now stand alone at the bottom. Twenty-five straight losses. An all-time NBA record that they can claim as their own. We knew when LeBron James spit in the face of this franchise that things were going to be rough, but nobody anticipated this. An astounding trajectory of going from true Championship contender, if not favorite, to the most futile team to ever play basketball in the history of the NBA. All this in the span of one season.
Now that the record is theirs, where does this team go from here? For the Cavaliers and for their fans, I feel there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s to embrace it. It’s time to own up to this record, accept this losing streak for what it is, and try to move on.
This season has been one of overwhelming pressure and scrutiny for this franchise. First it was a question of how this team would play in the wake of LeBron’s defection. Then, it was how would this team play against LeBron and his new Miami Heat when they came into town on December 2nd. Most of us had hoped that once LeBron left, that would be the end of it, but things only got worse from there. The public humiliation of that game has carried over to the rest of this season and has resulted in the current 25 game losing streak. So the Cavaliers have been dealing with the pressures of extended losing streaks ever since LeBron’s return.
And make no mistake, there is real pressure when the losses begin piling up. This is a team short on talent to begin with, but when you add the overwhelming weight of trying to avoid being the team with the longest losing streak in NBA history, it’s not surprising that this team of undrafted free agents and journeymen would begin to tense up in the 4th quarters of games. The scrutiny of trying to live up to some kind of fake ideal of what LeBron left behind combined with the pressure of mounting losses has just been too much for this team to bear. And quite frankly, it’s more than any of these players deserve.
This is why it’s best for everyone to just accept this streak and move on. It’s not fun losing all these games, but it’s also not that big of a deal. I may sound like a broken record here, but this was inevitable. The Cavaliers had to get awfully bad before they could ever get better again. What difference does it make if the Cavaliers win 10 games or win 25 games? What difference does it make if they lose 25 straight games or 15? Worst is worst. There’s no varying degrees of this kind of failure. NBA record or no record, this team was going to be the worst team in the NBA this year. Why? Once Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams were lost for the toughest part of the schedule, the talent just wasn’t there to win.
Let’s look at the players who have been playing the majority of the minutes over this streak and where they came from:
There you have it. Five first-round picks (although it’s a stretch considering Eyenga first round talent, as he was drafted there for reasons other than talent). Only one player drafted in the top 15 of the NBA Draft. Four undrafted free agents and three second-round picks.
People will rewrite history and I have no doubt that many will use this losing streak as some kind of vindication for LeBron leaving. As though this somehow proves all along that the Cavaliers were just LeBron and a bunch of horrible role players surrounding him. But this is not the same team LeBron played with. Of the players currently playing, Daniel Gibson is the only player out there who actually played more than one season with LeBron. Furthermore, this was a roster designed to compliment LeBron and his talents. So of course when you remove LeBron from the roster, the whole foundation is going to come apart.
I know that many fans had high hopes for this season yet. Many of us wanted to see the players rally around the heartbreak and disappointment of the offseason and prove a point to the world. Yet if we look at the retroactive inevitability of this losing season, we can easily see how that hope was just a mirage to help us ease the sting of LeBron leaving. The reality is that once Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O’Neal, and Delonte West left, the core was disrupted and what was left was a run of the mill, under-manned, bad basketball team.
The Cavaliers aren’t really this bad. Does anyone believe that if Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams had both been healthy this entire time that the Cavaliers wouldn’t have found a way to win two or three games in this stretch? But again, what difference does it make? Even with three more wins the Cavaliers would still have a league low 11 wins. The Cavaliers are exactly where they need to be in order to facilitate the quickest rebuild possible.
So let the national media take their shots and let them have pity on the fans. Let the history books show that this team lost more consecutive games than anyone else. None of it matters. The Cavaliers are now in position to start making top 15 picks in consecutive drafts. They still have a quality coach who knows how to build winners. They still have stockpiled draft picks and a massive trade exception.
This losing streak isn’t the lowest of the lows. Not for me, anyway. The lowest would be if the Cavaliers miss on the next few draft picks. Anything that extends the length of this rebuilding process is far worse than any ultimately meaningless losing streak. In fact, the losing streak actually serves to speed up the rebuilding process in this case.
Nobody is saying that this losing is fun. It’s been incredibly difficult watching these young kids play their hearts out trying to snap this streak and find a role in the NBA at the same time, only to come up just short in the 4th quarter time and time again. The only point here is that the franchise need not let this streak define them. It’s a means to an end, and nothing more. With a couple successful drafts, the memories of this winter will quickly fade and the bright lights of NBA relevance will shine on the franchise once again.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)