Following Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, a number of “prominent” Cleveland Cavaliers anonymously shared their concerns with ESPN, The Athletic and Cleveland.com that the team is not equipped to recover from its current January swoon the same way past iterations of the roster have.
This is not merely frustration from losing to the reigning NBA champions for the seventh time in eight meetings or mounting anger over dropping eight of their last 10 outings. This is also a clear message to the front office that something has to change before the trade deadline, because the theme from Cavs players who let the team’s three primary beat reporters behind the curtain was, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, “an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players.”
Players on both teams Monday were quietly acknowledging that [Kyrie] Irving’s absence has changed the entire complexion of this rivalry.
“Rotations are awful. IT [Isaiah Thomas] is so much worse than Kyrie defensively it’s insane,” said a league source. “There is not a great feeling anywhere. They need to limp into the All-Star break and get away from each other.”
Thomas is the elephant in the Cavaliers’ locker room, and his struggles were a central focus of the three postgame dispatches from Cleveland. He’s shooting 36.1 percent on 14.4 shots and averaging almost as many turnovers (2.4) as he is assists (3.4), and they are allowing a mind-boggling 116.8 points per 100 possessions in the 116 minutes he’s been on the floor. Meanwhile, Irving is an MVP candidate for the East-leading Boston Celtics, who now lead the Cavs by 7.5 games in the standings.
This should not be surprising. Thomas required seven months of rehab for a torn hip labrum, and Lloyd counted seven occasions that the two-time All-Star point guard has lamented the team’s lack of practice as reason for his ineffectiveness. “We don’t practice,” Thomas added Monday, via The Athletic. “So [the] only thing that’s going to help me is getting reps and running up and down the floor.”
The problem, though, is that Thomas told reporters this past weekend it could be 15-20 games before he finds his rhythm, and that brings the Cavaliers to the All-Star break, when GM Koby Altman will be faced with a decision — to chase a fourth straight Finals appearance by trading future assets, including the first-round pick from the lottery-bound Brooklyn Nets that the Cavs acquired in the Irving-for-Thomas swap, or to keep them as rebuilding insurance should LeBron leave in free agency.
According to McMenamin, “several league sources told ESPN that the Cavs would prefer to hold onto the pick as a potential franchise-resetting asset should LeBron James leave as a free agent in July.”
LeBron’s unwillingness to inform Cleveland of his plans this coming summer leaves Altman in a bind, and if the four-time MVP is one of the prominent players all but asking for reinforcements through the media, then that bind becomes more like the vice that Joe Pesci used as a torture device in “Casino.”
It’s become clear that the Cavs no longer have a roster equipped to compete with the Warriors in another championship rematch, and it’s becoming clearer that they may not be able to hold off the Celtics and Toronto Raptors in order to get LeBron to his eighth straight Finals — no matter how many times James tells us, “I love our potential,” or Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says, “We’re not right now, but we will be the best team in the East. We’re not playing the best right now, but we will be.”
Will the Cavs mortgage their future for what could be one last run with LeBron and/or one last shot to convince him they can continue competing for titles? We’ll find out by the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
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