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Friday, February 09, 2018

Initial Impressions of the New Look Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers just traded away half of their active roster and the final verdict on such a massive makeover cannot be rendered until after the 2018 playoffs--and, perhaps not until LeBron James decides to stay or go.

After the dust cleared, the Cavaliers acquired George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and their own 2018 first-round pick.

Here are some bullet point, quick-hitting impressions regarding the Cavaliers' moves:

1) Turning the clock back just a bit, essentially the Cavaliers gave up Kyrie Irving--an All-NBA First Team level player who is a dark horse MVP candidate this season--for Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Brooklyn's 2018 unprotected first round draft pick. To recap, last summer the Cavaliers sent Irving to Boston and the primary assets they received back were Isaiah Thomas and the Brooklyn pick. This week, the Cavaliers dealt Thomas (and other considerations) to the L.A. Lakers for Clarkson and Nance, so the Cavaliers' net gain from all of this is the pick, Clarkson and Nance.

Looked at purely from that perspective, the Cavaliers seriously decreased their chances to win a championship in the near future compared to their chances when Irving was on the roster--and the near future is all that matters if James leaves, because a Cleveland team without James will have to rebuild (as all teams that lose James would have to do, because James designs the roster to be completely dependent on him). Perhaps the Cavaliers sans James can build something with that draft pick plus Clarkson, Nance and a few other pieces--but whatever that something is, it most assuredly is not a championship team.

2) Clearly, the Thomas gamble backfired. He appears to be laboring physically and it is obvious that he decided he did not want to stay in Cleveland; publicly questioning the coach's ability to make adjustments is about the surest way possible to obtain a one way ticket out of town.

3) Cleveland's chemistry was terrible so far this season. By implication if not by explicit statement, some or all of the departed players are being blamed for that bad chemistry. Will the newly arrived players be excited to play alongside James or will they be focused primarily on what their fates will be if James decides to leave? In other words, is this group committed as a whole to doing everything necessary to win a championship or is everyone trying to find a way off of a potentially sinking ship that has the shadow of a fleeing James hanging over it?

4) The player who can contribute the most toward making these moves successful is none other than LeBron James. If James is happy with the new roster and thus decides to play hard on a consistent basis then the Cavaliers have enough talent, depth and versatility to win the Eastern Conference and have a puncher's chance in the NBA Finals against the Western Conference champion. If James is not happy with the new roster, then his track record demonstrates that he will quit, his teammates will follow suit and then he will leave for what he perceives to be greener pastures. Just to be clear, this team is not better than last year's team that had Kyrie Irving but this team does have the potential to win a championship if James plays hard and other factors fall into place.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:08 PM


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

LeBron James is Presiding Over the Implosion of the Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James is, without question, one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. He can score, pass, rebound and defend. His basketball IQ is genius level. He has led his team to the NBA Finals for seven straight years, a feat not accomplished since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics won eight straight championships from 1959-66.

LeBron James also deserves most of the blame for the stunning implosion of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers.

James' supporters will point to his numbers this season--26.3 ppg, 8.6 apg, 8.0 rpg, .543 field goal percentage--and smugly smirk while declaring, "He is doing everything possible. The owner, general manager, coach and his teammates are letting him down."

The answer to that is simple: Numbers lie. Or, to be more specific: Numbers devoid of context do not speak truth to power.

James' individual numbers do not accurately reflect his on-court impact this season, nor do they tell the story of the off-court drama that he is creating and that is tearing apart the team.

Pat Riley spoke truth to power about James after James fled Miami: Riley said that the Heat would no longer have to deal with "smiling faces with hidden agendas"--and everyone understood that this was a direct shot fired at James.

James' legacy includes three championships and numerous individual records/accomplishments--but it also includes the truth that--on repeated occasions, with the stakes as high as they could be--he quit. To cite just two examples, he quit versus Boston in the 2010 playoffs and he quit as Dirk Nowitzki outplayed James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to lead Dallas to an improbable championship.

James' primary goal should be to lead his team to a championship--but James always seems to have another "agenda," to use Riley's word. James cannot pass the buck for Cleveland's lousy play to anyone other than himself. Owner Dan Gilbert has consented to vastly exceed the salary cap to sign or re-sign every player that James and his team of advisers hand picked/represent. Gilbert also fired Coach David Blatt and replaced him with James' choice, Tyronn Lue. James refuses to commit to staying in Cleveland--and will likely leave the franchise high and dry this summer--yet he seems to expect everyone else to play hard and commit to the Cavaliers' success. Kyrie Irving, a star in his own right, balked at James' power plays and drama and managed to escape from the Cavaliers before James blows the whole team up.

James cannot complain about anyone's defense when his defensive effort this season has been abysmal.

James cannot complain about players not being focused or playing hard when he is sending social media messages to himself to congratulate himself on scoring 30,000 career points before he even reached the milestone. James' narcissism is breathtaking and that is just one example.

James cannot complain about the owner's spending habits, the coaching staff or his teammates when (1) the owner has spent money exactly the way James wanted, (2) the coaching staff was picked by James and (3) James has picked the roster.

LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time--but his conduct this season is simply game five of the 2010 Boston series writ large and it is a stark statement of why James cannot be compared to championship-first greats such as Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. James'  talent is immense and his accomplishments are prodigious but he is missing some essential internal element that those other players had.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:34 PM