And Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Americans reading this! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’m sure I’ve written this before, but while Christmas is a special time, and people love dressing up for Halloween, and the romantics out there love Valentine’s Day, for me, it has always been Thanksgiving that gets me most excited.
I’m very fortunate to have a large and close-knit family. Thanksgiving has always been a time for us to get together, enjoy some incredible meals, share some laughs, and just spend time together. Adding an afternoon full of football on top of an enormous meal and life doesn’t get much better.
We have a tradition at WFNY of talking about the things we’re thankful for in the sports world. And traditionally, it has been difficult to find things to be thankful about with the Cleveland Browns. This year, however, things are quite different. There is so much to be thankful for with the Browns, despite this being yet another losing season. As John Colosimo wrote last week, there is a new hope in Baker Mayfield. The Browns roster has some exciting, young players and for the first time in forever, the Browns actually look like a bad NFL team. Which, you know, is an enormous step up from not looking like a team that even belongs in the NFL.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, however, things are different. After a four-year period of being plenty thankful for the Cavs, they are now the Cleveland franchise that looks like it doesn’t even belong in the league in which it plays.
And while the play on the court is bad enough, it’s really the turmoil surrounding the franchise off the court that is the worst part of it all. Heading into this season, the Cavs were telling everyone who would listen (*cough cough…would-be season-ticket purchasers*) that the Cavaliers were going to still contend for a playoff spot. Sure, developing young players like Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman was still a priority, but keeping veterans with NBA Finals experience like Kevin Love, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, and even George Hill meant that this would be a team fighting for wins. This was not going to be a tanking team. Or so we were told. Hell, the team even fired Ty Lue after six games, presumably because the team wasn’t winning games.
The more we learn, though, the harder it is to understand if this franchise has any plan or direction whatsoever. There are mixed messages everywhere on what is going on with the Cavs.
The Cavs fired Lue because the team wasn’t winning, yet the front office also told Lue to stop playing veterans and give more time to the young guys. Kyle Korver was promised he would be traded or released if LeBron left, yet he was then told after LeBron left that the team needed him and he wouldn’t be released. Then the team took away his playing time after two games.
The other day, Joe Vardon wrote an excellent piece for The Athletic outlining some of LeBron’s thinking about the front office. Jason Lloyd followed that up with thoughts from JR Smith about the direction of this team. I highly recommend reading both for broader context as to where this piece is coming from.
Of course, the frustrating thing about all of this is that it is all happening as the Golden State Warriors are going through some trials of their own. If you recall, the Warriors seemingly came out of nowhere and turned into a juggernaut the same year LeBron returned to the Cavs. They then added Kevin Durant and became a seemingly unstoppable machine and it’s hard not to think that played at least some part in LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland again.
I’ve written about this many times over the previous few years, but it’s been uncanny seeing how little adversity the Warriors have faced over the last four seasons. A few small Steph Curry injuries here and there, a Draymond Green blow up every now and then, a Klay Thompson slump every now and then, Steve Kerr missing some time with a back injury one season. But for the most part, the Warriors have been healthy, happy, and feasting on the rest of the league.
Now that LeBron is gone and the Cavaliers are a joke, it’s only natural that the Warriors seem to actually be facing some real adversity. The Warriors are currently 12-6 and sitting fourth in the West. By no means a disaster on the level of some teams (Hi, Washington Wizards!), but with the recent fallout with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, on top of some lackluster play, the Warriors look significantly more vulnerable than in past years.
To be clear, the Warriors are still going to win the NBA Finals this year, unless they lose Curry or Durant to injury. I don’t think many feel this is going to be an issue once the playoffs arrive. However, Kerr did point out that things are a little different this season for the Warriors:
“I’ve had a dream run for four and a half years. We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons. This is the toughest stretch we’ve been in. This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. And so now we’re faced real adversity and we got to get out of it ourselves.”
That four-year dream for the Warriors was a three-year nightmare for Cleveland fans. Sure, it was fun having LeBron back and watching the Cavs compete for a title four straight years, but it’s also more than a little frustrating when you think about what might have been had the Warriors not been able to add Durant or even turned into such a force almost overnight. I wish all of this was happening in one of the years the Cavs were still contenders.
The problem for Cleveland, of course, is that they woke up from a nightmare only to discover that reality was far worse. The new reality for the Cavaliers feels like a bad dream I wish we could wake up from. The harsh truth is that the Cavaliers aren’t just bad, as I expected they would be, but instead they aren’t even competitive. They look like a G-League team dressed in NBA clothes. Some of this is related to injury, of course, but much of it is simply uninspired play and a franchise aimlessly treading water with no path to dry land.
For some, this is all the best scenario. The Cavs are almost certainly going to come away with a top-five pick in the draft. Collin Sexton can play as many minutes as he needs to help with his development. The rebuilding process can be painful, but it appears to be starting now. So why is this a bad dream? Simply put, because I don’t trust this team to get the rebuild right.
The organizational mistakes over the years don’t need to be rehashed here again, but they are numerous and crippling. It’s hard to envision a future for this franchise where the right moves are made to develop into a steady, respected contender. The odds of finding another LeBron James aren’t in the team’s favor. I suspect it’s going to be a very long time until the Cavaliers find success again.
I started this out by talking about Thanksgiving. So I want to be happy and thankful this week. So enjoy your time off work, enjoy your Thanksgiving meals and your football. I know I sure will. Just don’t expect me to be thankful about where the Cavaliers are.