How to be rational about LeBron and the Cavs? While We’re Waiting

LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers
Scott Sargent/WFNY

It’s difficult to be very rational as a fan of the 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, rationality and sports fandom rarely go hand in hand. It’s just a bit of cognitive dissonance to be looking at the back-and-forth regular season arch of a modern LeBron James-led team, while also keeping in mind his historical playoff dominance.

These current Cavs have been a bore. They’ve been banged up. They’ve played terrible defense. Wednesday night’s big loss against the Denver Nuggets was a perfect example of these ailments. The negative 30 plus-minus was easily one of the worst regular season performances in LeBron’s career. These Cavs, on paper, have played worse basketball than last season’s Cavs. And mind you, those Cavs changed coaches in mid-January (yes, it’s hard to believe that was only 14 months ago).

But does any of this matter? How much should it matter right now? In the last six seasons, LeBron James-led teams are 72-20 (.783) in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That’s an average of just 3.67 losses per season in three rounds. It’s been just two East playoff losses in each of his two seasons back in the Wine & Gold.

So, while FiveThirtyEight now has it as a virtual coin toss for the 2016-17 Eastern Conference No. 1 seed between Cleveland and Boston, what is the appropriate feeling of #doom as a Cavs fan? The seeding itself may not matter much. Of course, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love just played their first game together. Everyone has been injured at different points. When is it fair to be concerned? How should we be concerned? What are the potential solutions?

It’s a bit of an unknown answer. Don’t forget: The 2014-15 Cavaliers were a No. 2 seed themselves, were down 2-1 to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and very narrowly found themselves in a 3-1 hole well before such deficits became memes. Playoff series can happen quickly. One loss here, another there, and suddenly the sleeping Cavs (and Cavs fans) could find themselves in a duel before even realizing it.

LeBron’s run of Eastern Conference playoff success is so unfathomable that no end ever seems in sight. But will we ever see the end coming? Even if the Cavs continue to cruise through the East yet again this April and May, will we ever know when the end might be here? Will it be after a regular season like this? Or will it just suddenly appear out of thin air? In a Twitter poll from last month, people seemed to think the end may be two years from now.

If these Cavs do lose before the NBA Finals, then it’ll be a grave disappointment. It’s well documented how the team has very little salary-cap flexibility anytime soon. Of course, that didn’t prevent the team from still finding a way to add Andrew Bogut, Larry Sanders, Derrick Williams, Kyle Korver and Deron Williams over the course of this season. But would large-scale changes be on the forefront? How would the front office react? How would LeBron himself react?

These are the kinds of thoughts that go swirling through my head when I try to rationalize about the basketball situation that faces the Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no real weights that one could use to properly balance LeBron’s past playoff dominance versus the overall meh-ness of this current regular season. So maybe it’s just fruitless to analyze further. Thank God for the playoffs finally coming up soon.

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