At the start of play Saturday, the Cavs were closer to ninth place than first place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Even for a team that enjoys acting as though they are above anguishing over playoff seeding, this is a bad look.
They are old, slow, soft, injured, disinterested, dysfunctional, deKyried — and paralyzed.
With the Feb. 8 trade deadline looming, with marquee players and useful role players being traded or about to be traded all over the league, the Cavs, who lost eight of 14 games in January — outscored by 135 points in those losses — sit silently in their crumbling, delusional castle and do nothing.
So far, anyway.
When ingenuity is demanded, the team with the most riotous game presentation in the league goes quiet.
Given what’s at stake, the Cavs are picking a dangerous time to lose their voice. LeBron James is free to flee after this season, and that fear of fleeing is what should be driving the Cavs’ decision makers, not paralyzing them.
Hiding behind the “He won’t tell us whether or not he’s staying,” excuse doesn’t fly anymore for a front office that appears to be missing the discarded David Griffin more than ever.
At this point, whether or not LeBron stays or leaves is immaterial. All that matters are the next five months, not the next three years. For the next five months LeBron plays for the Cavs. They need to maximize that reality, because there are no guarantees beyond that.
The argument against going for broke, i.e., using Brooklyn’s first-round pick as a trade chip, is that if the Cavs trade that pick and LeBron leaves after the season, it hampers the subsequent rebuild.
That’s true, but the counterargument is even more persuasive: if they keep the pick, if they don’t sell out to win this year, they won’t win this year, or come close, which virtually guarantees LeBron leaves. Not just because the Cavs didn’t win, but because they didn’t use all their resources to try to win.
On the other hand, using that draft pick, or making a trade without using it, improves the team and gives the Cavs a chance, whether they win or not, to keep LeBron, because at least the organization tried. Did SOMETHING.
As we sit here today, LeBron might leave after this season. If the Cavs do nothing more to get better — with or without the Brooklyn pick — LeBron WILL leave after this season.
That’s called a no-brainer.
In the 1 percent chance that the Cavs do nothing, keep the Brooklyn pick, get bounced from the playoffs early and LeBron implausibly still decides to come back next year, then no rebuild is necessary. Good luck waiting for that ship to come in.
This kind of cat-and-mouse game is unique. There’s only one LeBron, and he’s the only player with whom a team would dance this dance. That the Cavs are his hometown team adds to the intrigue, as does the uneasy — non-existent? — relationship between LeBron and owner Dan Gilbert.
It’s a bubbling, volatile cauldron of basketball stew.
These would be choppy waters even if LeBron and Gilbert were chummy. That they’re not, coupled with the absence of an experienced middleman such as Griffin, makes it even more combustible.
Instead, rookie GM Koby Altman is stuck in the middle of a DEFCON 1 season: an old, broken-down roster in an underachieving season, bracketed by two quarrelsome alpha males — owner, iconic superstar.
In January, LeBron had by far the worst month of what prior to that was a season that seemed destined to result in his fifth MVP Award. Maybe he’s getting worn down mentally while waiting for the front office to do something. Anything.
Meanwhile, Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley, among others, have all been traded — none to Cleveland. DeAndre Jordan and George Hill, among others, are available in trades, but inert Cavs decision makers seem content to sit quietly in their castle, admiring, not shopping, Brooklyn’s first-round pick.
Now is not the time to go zero dark thirty.
Part of the problem is the empty Kyrie Irving trade. When LaMarcus Aldridge told the Spurs he wanted a trade last year, coach Gregg Popovich met with him and not only got him to rescind the request, but to sign a contract extension.
By contrast, the Cavs caved on Irving, trading him for injured Isaiah Thomas, whom the Celtics knew was going to miss most of the final year on his contract; Jae Crowder, who looks lost in Cleveland; and a first-round draft pick the Cavs seem too scared to trade.
So that’s where the Cavs are now: a broken roster, an impatient, demanding franchise-making superstar and a paralyzed front office.
Not a good combination.
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