Post-LeBron Cavs sink to new depths

Daniel Gibson(notes) isn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best player, but he’s their fans’ best memory still on the floor. All alone, all smothered in losing, Gibson is the last link to LeBron James(notes), the trip to the 2007 NBA Finals, the championship chase of yesterday. All these hollowed-out and lost kids around him, all turning to him and wondering: What do we do now?

Gibson never expected the history he would help shape with this franchise would be the NBA’s longest losing streak, but it’s come upon these Cavs like a tsunami. The Cavaliers tied the single-season record with a 112-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, and they now stand alone forever with a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night at the Q.

Daniel Gibson says he doesn't know when the Cavs "stopped believing" they could win.
(NBAE/Getty Images)

The Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics that night and held strong at .500 for a few weeks, but it wasn’t long until the injuries, until LeBron destroyed them, and everything conspired to start one of the greatest free falls in the history of the NBA.

“We still had a chip on our shoulder opening night, to prove something still,” Gibson said.

Twenty-four straight losses and 34 out of their past 35 games has become numbing to Gibson and these Cavs. Ask about LeBron and the glory days, ask about victory against the Celtics, and there’s just a fleeting second of silence on the phone late this week.

“It feels like 100 years ago,” Gibson said. “When you go through something like this, everything feels like 100 years ago, I guess.”

They still call him “Boobie” in Cleveland, and he understands the fragile psyche of the Cleveland sports fan better than everyone else still on this active roster. He had been sidelined with a quad injury for two games but desperately wanted to get back into the lineup for Memphis. He had to travel back to Cleveland for a family issue but returned Saturday and scored 12 points off the bench. He was there for the winning, the rock tour with James, and he wants to be there for this march into basketball infamy.

These Cavs are laughed at, ridiculed at 8-43, and it feels sometimes like they’ll never win again. This is a D-League team in talent, and perhaps something far less in spirit. Anderson Varejao(notes) has been lost for the season. Mo Williams(notes) has been out for two weeks with a hip injury. They’re starting two rookies – Manny Harris(notes) and Christian Eyenga(notes) – who belong in the D-League. The Cavaliers have crumbled into a punch line now, and this mix-and-matched roster has been trapped in the crossfire of a fight that never belonged to most of them. This was between LeBron and Dan Gilbert, between LeBron and Cleveland.

However James left town, however the owner behaved in the wake, this shell of a team has been left to take the nightly humiliation.

Longest losing streaks

24: Cleveland Cavaliers (Dec. 20, 2010-present)

24: Cleveland Cavaliers (March 19, 1982-Nov. 10, 1982)*

23: Denver Nuggets (Dec. 9, 1997-Jan. 24, 1998)

23: Vancouver Grizzlies (Feb. 16, 1996-April 3, 1996)

21: Detroit Pistons (March 7, 1980-Oct. 25, 1980)*

20: Philadelphia 76ers (Jan. 9, 1973-Feb. 14, 1973)

20: New York Knicks (March 23, 1985-Nov. 12, 1985)*

20: Dallas Mavericks (Nov. 13, 1993-Dec. 23, 1993)

20: Los Angeles Clippers (April 18, 1994-Dec. 7, 1994)*

*: denotes streak covered parts of two seasons.

Yes, the Cavaliers are a mess, but they aren’t the first team to ever lose a star, to get hit with injuries. They lost some life in the summer when Williams, a leader, told Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears that he was so distraught over James leaving for Miami that he considered retirement. It was a terrible message to a young team, and these veterans were responsible for letting James have too easy of a time in his return to Cleveland. They offered too little resistance and lost a city that wanted to fight for them.

“I don’t know when we stopped believing, when we stopped doing things the right way,” Gibson said. Only everyone else does, and it was that December night when James delivered the Cavaliers into an epic descent. Thirty-four games later, the Cavs have one victory since and now the longest losing streak in NBA history.

This is a bad spot for the Cavaliers, and it’ll be a long time before they can dig themselves out. There’s no player in the draft who can instantly transform them, and even the worst record can’t guarantee them the top pick. They can keep clearing salary-cap space, but free agency always will be difficult for them. Somehow, they’ve gone from a thriving NBA city to something of a cautionary tale post-LeBron.

James left some memories, a conference championship banner and the dull ache of watching him march toward a different destiny in Miami. Gibson had a hell of a ride with James but doesn’t bemoan what’s become of him and these Cavaliers. He remembers his grandmother always telling him: Don’t let hard times make you a hard person. Gibson thinks a lot about those words now. Around town, people are always asking him: What’s happening here? For all the strangers on that roster, Gibson tries to stay an anchor they can count on. He can’t carry the Cavs, but he can carry his responsibility there.

“I’m still surprised by the reaction I get from the fans here, but I guess that’s because they know me and know I’ve been here through the battles when we were winning,” he said. “I try to give them some reassurance that, ‘Hey, Boobie is still here, Boobie is still fighting.’ ”

Gibson got on the floor on Saturday night in Cleveland and tried to stop No. 24, tried to make a difference in a season when no one and nothing has made a difference for these Cavs. He goes back to 2006 here, back to the ’07 Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs and the feeling they would win titles together. Everything’s changed, the circus has left town and Daniel Gibson happens to be one of the few faces left that’s a reflection into the Cavaliers’ yesterday, a link to LeBron and everything lost.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Feb 5, 2011