Over the past week, rumors began to fly that Kyrie Irving has been whispering that he wants out of Cleveland. On Thursday, Irving adamantly denied these rumors following the most recent thrashing of the Cavaliers at the hands of the New York Knicks.
Irving will never admit that he wants out for all of the obvious reasons. At this point in the season though, who could possibly want in? It can’t be warming Luol Deng’s heart to watch the team he’s been with for his entire career currently sitting on the fifth seed in the East without him while he’s stuck with the mess that has become the Cavs.
Let’s go out on a limb for a moment and say that nobody on the Cavalier roster is happy right now. Let’s assume that they all hate losing, that they’re sick of grossly underperforming, and that that they’re probably wondering the same thing everyone else is wondering.
How can a team with this much undeniable talent be this undeniably inept?
Don’t read that wrong, the Cavaliers aren’t even close to having the ability to contend for an Eastern Conference title or anything. It’s just that they shouldn’t be struggling to stay out of the basement of a division that, aside from the Indiana Pacers, is not something that should strike too much fear into the Wine and Gold. Detroit’s talented size in the paint and exciting young guards pose definite challenges, sure. But the Milwaukee Bucks are the worst team in the NBA, and the Chicago Bulls traded their best active player. To Cleveland. Alas, the Cavs are 3-8 in the Central.
The Cavs had their critics coming into the season, and it’s unfortunate that they’ve lived up to some of the doubters. Andrew Bynum was a failed experiment, and nobody can really be blamed for that. They netted Deng for Bynum, though, and conventional thought led most to believe that the deal would provide the boost that the Cavs needed so badly. Nothing about how they’ve played since acquiring Deng is his fault. He knows how to win, it just seems that the group around him is either too dysfunctional to listen or simply can’t translate his leadership into action.
With a roster that includes All-Stars in Deng and Irving alongside an upstart C.J. Miles and one of the league’s most consistent and energetic centers in Anderson Varejao, the Cavs are out of excuses. Dion Waiters has proved himself as one of the NBA’s best sixth men, Tyler Zeller has performed better than most could have expected. Oh, and Jarrett Jack was added in the offseason to bolster the second unit, too. Nothing seems to give. On paper, Chris Grant has done his job, it hasn’t worked, and now he’s taking heat that he shouldn’t have to.
In this season’s Eastern Conference especially, this Cavs team should be in the playoff picture, and the fact that they aren’t even close as things stand now is on the players.
Around the league this season, there are a couple of notable examples of teams that are succeeding with some names that would make casual fans scratch their head and Cleveland fans’ heads explode. The Phoenix Suns, who mounted what should have been an impossible come back to embarrass the Cavaliers less than a week ago, are one of those teams. Markieff Morris, a player without measurable star power, was the leading scorer with a game-high 27 points. Suns starters in that game included Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee. Phoenix is 28-18 and the sixth seed in the West.
Just two games prior to the debacle against the Suns, the aforementioned Bulls were in town. D.J. Augustin scored 27 points en route to an 11-point Chicago triumph. For good measure, just remember that Derrick Rose is out for the remainder of the season, Carlos Boozer didn’t play in the game, and Mike Dunleavy scored 22 points as the team’s starting small forward. Tom Thibodeau’s squad eclipsed the .500 mark on Wednesday with a win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Oh, Tom Thibodeau is coaching the Bulls. Maybe that’s why they’ve enjoyed success despite some critical departures. Can Mike Brown really be so much worse as a coach that the Cavs’ struggles come down to him alone?
There’s no way that Brown is the sole difference between a sufficiently talented roster underachieving and some less-talented rosters overachieving this season. However, he certainly isn’t helping things, and good coaching can absolutely make a difference. The Bulls are the epitome of a team reflecting its coach. The Cavs’ lack of execution late in games has been appalling at times, and better preparation on the part of the coaching staff can certainly help that. With that said, at some point it has to fall on the players, and a lack of cohesiveness is blatantly obvious with this year’s team to date.
It is tough to see Kyrie Irving actually leaving Cleveland any time soon, even though money could ultimately be the only reason he wants to stay. It’s easy to see how the Cavaliers are in no way a destination as they stand today, but maybe Irving will take it upon himself to change that. Not in the way of dribbling all over the court and causing the offense to lose any fluidity it may have, but in the way of becoming a leader. A lack of accountability has been cited over the past week, and Irving trying to restore it could go a long way in shaping the second half of the season. If All-Stars get remembered for more than just being All-Stars, it’s because they lead their teams to more than what they can accomplish as individuals.
The Cavs are simply too talented to flounder for all 82 games and finish the season with top-five odds in the lottery. It’s just unacceptable. There’s nobody who could blame Irving for not wanting to be in the situation he’s in, but the fact that his teammates probably feel the same way make it pointless to fret over. Hopefully, the talking will stop and some competence on the court will start. When the Cavs take the floor in Houston tonight, they’ll be only four games out of a playoff spot. A playoff spot.
Maybe that’s the most incredible thing of all.