The Cleveland Cavaliers made a serious financial commitment to several players this past summer, laying out several hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few seasons to keep the likes of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and others together for several potential title runs. The re-signings (and several less major additions) were seen not only as a statement to the rest of the league, but the front office's message to LeBron James that they support him and believe in his ability to lead this group to the first championships the franchise has ever seen. Both the Cavs and the best player in franchise history seemed on the same page.
A new report suggests that several players were not on board with everything general manager David Griffin did this summer. According to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, they were "highly pissed" that Kendrick Perkins was not brought back to make room for little-used 30-year-old rookie Sasha Kaun. Here's what Haynes said on his "The Dan Patrick Show" appearance Thursday (via PBT):
They were highly pissed. I knew this for a fact. They were highly ticked off, this team, when the team didn’t re-sign Kendrick Perkins and they ended up picking up over the summer Sasha Kaun – a 29-, 30-year-old rookie who has not really played at all and I don’t really think is ready for the NBA.
So, he’s collecting about $2 million right now a season and not even playing. Kendrick Perkins would’ve been brought back for the veteran’s minimum.
Players – I know for a fact, I talked to them – they were highly ticked off about that, not bringing him back. Because it wasn’t about his numbers. It was about the intangibles, the emotional leadership and the enforcer, the enforcement role he brought to the team.
For the record, Kaun is making $2.6 million in total over the next few seasons, so his 2015-16 salary of just under $1.3 million is either in line with or not terribly more than what Perkins would have made under the veteran minimum. Regardless, it's not as if Perk would have provided much more production, because he's played only 15 games this season for a New Orleans Pelicans team with much less talent on hand than the Cavaliers.
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However, we must assess the Cavs' argument on its own terms, which say that Perkins was a necessary piece of the team as an enforcer and locker-room presence. It's hard to judge exactly what one veteran means to a team's chemistry in either his presence or absence, but this argument does not pass muster if only for the ways in which the Cavs have branded themselves. Plenty of teams call a championship the only worthwhile outcome of a season, but few have ever seemed to remind everyone of it at every opportunity. A group with such seriouness and singularity of vision would presumably be able to handle Perk's absence on the road to a title. They have plenty of title-tested veterans and less experienced players who have pledged to take on more responsibility. Kendrick Perkins is not the difference between fringe contention and favorite status.
Unfortunately, the quest to "win one for The Land" also appears to be something of a weight around the neck of the franchise. Whatever the merits of firing David Blatt with the best record in the East, it's apparent that the pressure of winning a title has forced the Cavs into making decisions teams under similar circumstances have never felt necessary. Worse yet, there's a sense that Cleveland isn't enjoying this season at all.
As for his quick trip to Miami to soak in sun and spend time with former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, James said he understood why the trip could cause consternation among fans given his four years playing for the Heat.
“I don’t care,” if people are upset, James said. “I would love to go to L.A., but I’ll take 2½ (hour flight) over 4½. I’ve got a house in L.A., but it makes more sense for me to go south than go west. But I go because I want to.” [...]
“That’s cool? I’m OK to leave when I want to leave?” James said as he concluded his availability. “Be back at my work on time, two hours before? Ok. Last one to leave the gym. OK. Thank you. Love you guys.”
It's understandable that LeBron would be upset about these questions given that it's his travels are his personal business, but he has responded to similar stories in the past with far less sourness than he did on Thursday. I don't point out the difference to cast James as a jerk — it's just a sign that he's not enjoying himself very much right now. A recent collection of cryptic tweets doesn't change that impression:
It's ok to know you've made a mistake. Cause we all do at times. Just be ready to live with whatever that comes with it and be with.....
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 1, 2016
those who will protect you at all cost!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 1, 2016
Can't replace being around great friends that reciprocate the same energy back to you in all facets of life
Rumors have other Cavaliers like Kyrie Irving unhappy, as well, although there's no evidence that anyone is on the brink of rebellion. Plus, for all these issues, it's a safe bet that Cleveland will move through the Eastern Conference this postseason and make its second-straight NBA Finals.
They're quite unlikely to be favorites against any West champion, though, and another June as runners-up would seem to create even more pressure on the Cavs as an organization and as individuals. A team that looks this on-edge may not have room for many more disappointments. What's the next option if they fall short again this postseason?
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