Sticking to sports: While We’re Waiting


Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

So what’s on your mind today?

I had planned on getting all political in my WWW this morning, but then Mr. Sargent went and stole all my thunder yesterday. While the comments on that post were an absolute delight to read and we actually fostered some civil debate and were able to listen to arguments on both sides without attacking, name calling, or shouting anyone down, the truth is, we still got an awful lot of “just stick to sports” feedback from various sources as well.

I kind of felt like we did talk about sports on this site. A lot. In fact, there were five unique posts all about sports. We touched on the NFL draft, the Browns offensive (OFF-fen-sive, not of-FEN-sive) line, Ohio State basketball, the Browns re-signing Jamie Collins (YES!), and a really funny and entertaining Behind the Box Score about a game that was neither funny nor entertaining. And yes, there was a sports post that dipped into the realm of politics in a way that could not possibly be more appropriate for what is happening in this country today.

So is this where we’re at as a society? Are we really so binary as human beings that we no longer (or maybe never had) the capacity to selectively choose what we read and what we discuss? If you come to WFNY for the sports (which, I assume, is probably quite literally every single person reading this right now), I understand you may not want to read about politics. That’s ok. I’m not mad at you for feeling that way. What I don’t understand, though, is why it’s so damn hard for some people to selectively just not read that post and move on to all the other pure sports posts on this site.

It’s been frustrating for me watching the amount and quality of civil debate completely breakdown over the last couple decades. Maybe it never existed, I don’t know. But somewhere along the way, we lost the ability to listen to and read opinions that we disagree with and just accept that we’re going to disagree and be ok with that. Because let’s be clear, when people say “stick to sports”, what they’re really saying is “I disagree with your political opinion or the political opinion of the person you are spotlighting and I don’t want to read things I disagree with here”. The next time someone says “You know, I really could not agree with you more, but I just wish you wouldn’t talk about that and stick to something else instead” it will be the first time.

But fine, let’s stick to sports today. I’m game.

Do you want to talk about the Cavaliers? Last week in my WWW I talked about the Cavs’ struggles. Much to my dismay, the feedback I received was an overwhelming “Ugh, why are you talking about this? It’s January, it doesn’t matter. It will be fine come playoffs just like last year.” Those who feel that way might be right. Hell, they probably will be right. The Cavaliers will almost certainly figure things out and represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. But why can’t we talk about the struggles this team is going through right now? This is the sports equivalent of “stick to sports”. It’s “stick to winning”.

Because, again, nobody likes to read things that we disagree with or things that might be difficult to accept. When the Cavs were playing well and I was writing about how great they were playing, I never got any feedback that said “Ugh, who cares? Why are you talking about this? It’s November and none of this matters, the only thing that matters is what happens in April, May, and June”. But as soon as I point out some flaws with this team (flaws that, in my opinion, are pretty hard to ignore right now), people seem to actually be upset with me. It’s truly fascinating.

I know one person who agrees with me. His name is LeBron James. Well, ok, I don’t know him, but I know he agrees with me. After the loss to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis last night, LeBron went off. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard LeBron express this much frustration with his own team. Some of the highlights, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:

“We’re not better than last year, from a personnel standpoint.”

“It’s like when you don’t have bodies. It’s tough. The f—ing grind of the regular season. We’re a top-heavy team. We have a top-heavy team. We top-heavy as s—. It’s me, [Kyrie Irving], [Kevin Love]. It’s top-heavy.”

“We need a f—ing playmaker. I’m not saying you can just go find one, like you can go outside and see trees. I didn’t say that.”

“They’ve got bodies,” James said of San Antonio when asked about the Spurs’ beating the Cavs without Pau Gasol or Tony Parker. “They’ve got bodies. For the most part, all championship-contending teams has got guys that are ready to step in. Knock on wood, what if Ky goes down? For two weeks. Let’s say two. What if I went down for three weeks?”

“What else are we going to do? You saw the game. Kyrie had to do that. And I tried to mix in my plays. We didn’t have no choice. … We got what we got.”

“I’m not singling out anybody. I’m not. Yeah, we won [the championship], but f—, you know what, let’s see if we can do something.”

Wow. Ok, then. So LeBron sees what I see. A team that is inherently flawed and is, quite frankly, not playing good enough basketball to win another championship right now. And while so many people want to rest on past success and say “it’s ok, we’ll just turn it on in the spring again”, the fact is, that might not be good enough.

I don’t think LeBron is saying everyone needs to panic. That’s certainly not what I’m saying. But there’s just no reason to put our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening with this team on the court right now. There is zero reason why this team should lose five-of-seven games in the regular season. I don’t know what this means in the context of April-May-June, I just know that we can only live in the moment, and in this moment, the Cavs are playing some bad basketball as a team.

Clearly, the defense is a mess right now. Thankfully, in my opinion, defense is easier to turn on and off than offense is. But the Cavaliers are just getting annihilated in the paint on defense. They aren’t slowing anything down at the point of the attack, there appears to be little communication on the back end of the defense, and the help rotations are slow if they even rotate at all. Far too often opponents are getting uncontested layups and dunks while three Cavaliers stand there looking at each other and pointing fingers.

On offense, the Cavs are struggling because the book is now out on how to defend them. Force LeBron or Kyrie to drive but have help ready to cut him off at the rim. Make sure that help isn’t coming from the wing, though. Stay on the corner three shooters at all times. If you do that, LeBron or Kyrie will either attempt a high degree of difficulty layup or they will force a pass to a player not really in position to score or do anything to progress the offensive set.

When you force a stop on the Cavs, push the ball the other way. At least one Cavalier (usually LeBron) will be staying on the other end of the floor to argue the call and nobody is going to pick up the person with the ball, so just push and you’ll get deep into the lane. From there, you might get all the way to the rim if there’s no help. If there is help, you’ll have a wide open shooter because the Cavs are playing a man down.

That’s the playbook, and right now you are seeing every team follow this to the letter. As much as LeBron wants another playmaker, and I do think a playmaker would indeed help, some of this is just a lack of energy. Perhaps all the nagging injuries, sickness, loss of JR and Birdman, road trip, loaded schedule, etc are taking a physical toll on the team. Put a gun to my head, I’m citing that as the real culprit right now. These are things that can be cured by the All-Star break and just some lighter parts of the schedule.

For anyone who says none of this matters, that the playoffs are the only thing that matters, I have one argument for that. The minutes LeBron and Kyrie are putting in right now could come back to haunt the team in May and June. LeBron James leads the entire NBA in minutes per game right now. Kyrie Irving is 15th. For a team that should only be caring about the playoffs, they are putting a serious workload on their two best players.

For comparison, Klay Thompson is 28th in minutes per game. Kevin Durant comes in one behind at 29th, Steph Curry is 43rd, and Draymond Green is 45th. Kawhi Leonard? 42nd. Russell Westbrook? 21st. Other teams are able to have success while limiting the minutes of their stars. The Cavaliers are pushing the envelope here. But what choice do they have? When LeBron doesn’t play at all, or when LeBron plays without Kyrie and Love, the team is not just bad, they are not even competitive. They are getting completely run when LeBron and Kyrie are not on the floor.

So yes, the Cavaliers have some issues right now. Yes, they will probably work them out. They will probably be fine when the playoffs come around. There is no reason to be freaking out right now or making panic moves. But if an opportunity to make the team better by making a move presents itself, you know David Griffin is going to look at it. If Griff and LeBron feel the Cavaliers need to make a move, I trust Griff will get a deal done.

Or who knows, maybe all of this is just LeBron angling to get enough pressure on the Cavs to make a move for Carmelo Anthony. And maybe Anthony is doing his part behind the scenes to make the Knicks exasperated enough to make a bad trade just to get rid of him. How’s that for a conspiracy theory? Good thing we stuck to sports this morning!