Cavaliers' futility not likely to end soon
The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a bad way. The team has lost 26 straight games since a Dec. 18 win over the New York Knicks, setting a new NBA record for most consecutive losses by any NBA team.
The worst part is that, aside from a high draft pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, this team has little hope to give its fans for the future.
This is a group of players that rode an early us-against-the-world mantra to a 7-9 record that featured a win against the Boston Celtics in their season opener. But then the wheels came off in a demoralizing 118-90 loss to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. From that point on, the Cavaliers have gone 1-35.
It appeared to those watching that game that the Cavaliers had their spirits broken on that December night in Cleveland. So much was riding on that match-up — the city and fans desperately wanted to hand James and his shiny new team a loss, and the players wanted to show James that they didn’t need him as much as everyone thought. But as that game progressed and the score became more and more one sided, reality seemed to sink in.
The Cavaliers’ woes began to snowball after that game, with injuries to key players (including a season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao) depleting the talent on an already depleted roster.
Their rock bottom single-game performance came in a 112-57 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 11, and for Cleveland fans, there is no guarantee that there is nowhere for the team to go but up.
This is a team lacking in many areas: talent, tradable assets, a desirable locale. It will be very difficult to rebuild this franchise into any semblance of what it once was, both now and in the future. After all, this is a team that lived in or near the NBA’s cellar for five years before James came along.
For this season, the Cavaliers are likely to stand pat at the trade deadline. Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, and J.J. Hickson are the franchise’s most intriguing trade chips, but none are intriguing enough to net the team much at the deadline. Jamison is an aging veteran whose contract ($15.1 million next season) is not very desirable considering the possible salary cap restrictions that could be in place in next season’s collective bargaining agreement. Varejao is a talented big man that Cleveland would like to keep, as is Hickson, and unless the Cavaliers acquire a quality big man (like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger) in the draft, they likely will not part with either.
That leaves players like Mo Williams, Ramon Sessions, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, and others as Cleveland’s trade chips — players few teams have much interest in.
The Cavaliers will also struggle to lure any big-name free agents to Cleveland in the summer, rendering Cleveland’s ample cap space useless. For one, good players generally want to play for a team that will contend for a championship, and this team is light years from that. Second, Cleveland is not one of the most desirable cities for NBA players. They tend to lean towards the bright lights and glitter associated with big markets, not blue-collar ones.
The best Cleveland can hope for is to get good draft position and snare a player to build around. Then, they can look for a free agent or two who is looking for either an opportunity to showcase his skills as “the man” or get paid more than other teams will offer (Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, etc.).
Taking this route won’t lead to any championship parades, but it is the best-case scenario for a team desperate to climb out of the cellar. Only by slowly regaining relevance will the Cavaliers be able to draw bigger names in subsequent years and give hard-working Cleveland fans something to cheer about again.
In the meantime, the Cavaliers must do something about their public image. Pundits from around the country have been piling on the misery for the Cavs, and even James has taken some shots at his former team. He was quoted recently in The Miami Herald as saying sarcastically, “I think that should be a nationally televised game right there, honestly,” when speaking about an upcoming game between the Cavaliers and Washington Wizards — two of the leagues poorer teams.
Despite James’ claims to the contrary, he is at least a bit amused at his old team’s current predicament, unconcerned with his role in its creation as owner Dan Gilbert catered to his every whim in an attempt to appease The King, mortgaging the team’s future in the process in an attempt to win immediately. James has no qualms about piling on a broken team, no matter how it affects the Cleveland fans he says he still appreciates. James could easily take the high road when presented with questions about his former team, and although he does occasionally, he would much rather take a jab at the Cavaliers when the opportunity presents itself — that’s just who he is.
So if Cleveland ever wants to hang up the mantle of league whipping boy it inherited from the New Jersey Nets, it is clear what the Cavaliers must do — fight. Every player must take a good, long look in the mirror, then step out on the court and play every possession like his very life depended on it. That is the only way to shut the critics — and James — up. The stories and comments and jokes and questions will not go away because people feel sorry for you; they will disappear once people start to respect you again. That is what the Cavaliers players must fight for with every ounce of their beings — respect.
And who knows? Maybe the basketball gods will look favorably upon that newfound desire and bestow upon the city of Cleveland a new “Chosen One” come June. Until then, this collection of players holds fate in their hands. It will be up to them to decide what to do with it.
By Eric Lorenz
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