Before the basketball season began there was a reasonable sense of optimism about the direction of the Cavs and the upcoming season. The expectations were that the Cavs might approach a .500 record and, with the pathetic Eastern Conference teams, likely sneak into the playoffs. No expectations beyond that and many even tempered the playoff speculation by believing they would just miss. But almost no one doubted that the Cavs would be improved in terms of competitiveness and wins/losses. Of course, it didn’t take much to improve on last season but what the heck. Many were hopeful that the signing of Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum would move the Cavs to the next level. Few liked or cared about the signing of Earl Clark but the Bynum and Jack moves were believed positive.
The draft led to the “head scratching” pick of UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett, but even that did not deter the Cleveland faithful. Most agreed that there was no consensus number one player in this draft. The Cavs would have been better served to pick from 3rd to 5th and the Bennett pick would not have given us all a head rash. Does anyone think that Bennett would not have been there at pick 5? Plus, the Cavs “Go Deep” ability had resulted in the pretty solid picks of Irving, Waiters and Thompson so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I had no expectations of Andrew Bynum myself as I had been adamantly opposed to all the fan hyperbole about Bynum. Twitter went berserk when there was speculation we might trade for Bynum before the ill-fated Philadelphia trade that turned out to be an abomination for the 76ers. I was much calmer about the eventual free agent deal that led to a club friendly contract and flexibility. My “over/under” on Bynum was 20 games and I was betting the under. I would have lost my bet but not for the reason I suspected. I believed (and still do) that Bynum’s knees will make it impossible for him to really mount a comeback. But I did see enough to believe he can still help certain teams that don’t depend on him.
Unfortunately the Bynum experiment hurt the Cavs greatly and I now know I shouldn’t have been as calm about the signing as I was. I had believed that he would be physically unable to play and the team and teammates would see that. If he didn’t make it, it would have been no major loss. Plus, if he was unable to play physically, he wouldn’t have hurt the growth of the other players whose minutes he stole. In my view the worst case scenario developed because Bynum played, took minutes, and didn’t help us win. Even worse, Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack looked on him as a big part of the team. Their comments after the suspension proved that. Kyrie “It’s just a terrible situation internally with our team. Coaches decision, came from management. That’s kind of where it stays with management.” Jack proved to be much more diplomatic but still indicated Bynum was not disruptive and he hoped the team would “return to full strength” (implying with Bynum, not without him).
So now a Cavs reality check is in order. The team has NOT performed with fight and intensity consistently and that comes from the top player down. As I said in an earlier post, when Kyrie plays hard and defends, the team seems to follow. A great example of that was the end of the recent Boston game. We made a real run at them and Kyrie was all over the place going for rebounds, steals, and pushing the action. But what happened in the first three quarters of that game? More of the same lackluster effort Cavs fans have come to know and love in this 2013-2014 season. Looks pretty similar to how we looked under another coach last year. But the Cavs are much closer to an impending disaster this season then they ever were before during the Kyrie Irving era. Let me explain.
Despite some rumors to the contrary, there was little doubt that Irving respected his “basketball father” Byron Scott. Sadly, he did not perform for him the way he should have but I believe he respected and admired him. There is little known about what Kyrie feels about Mike Brown even though he has tried to follow his coach’s lead. Now, with the soon to be released Andrew Bynum saga, there is evidence that Kyrie might not be on board with management or the coaching staff. Jack might feel similarly privately. This is a disaster waiting to blow up in the Cavs faces. As usual, the Cavs fans will feel the explosion as well with a team in disarray and locker room lost to Mike Brown. This will simply pile on the losses and the heartache. It will also lead to an early departure for Irving from Cleveland along with another coaching turnover. Even before that, there might be a GM turnover because Chris Grant is clearly in the crosshairs.
So, as you can see, this “little” Bynum incident might be the tip of the iceberg ripping a whole right through the fabric of the Cavs. It places everyone at risk and everyone under scrutiny. It keeps that fan base nervous and less tolerant. It makes winning more difficult UNLESS THEY START WINNING.
And that is the only possible silver lining in this disaster that is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Winning will fix all of this and the team will actually come closer together than ever before under Mike Brown. The loss of Bynum will be an opportunity for Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller. That opportunity could pay dividends now and for the future.
The Cavs do have a reasonable chance to avert this disastrous conclusion. They simply need to come together and realize that the stretch this season where they looked like a playoff team was not a fluke. It took consistent effort and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win. It took a team full of players and no one player to define them. As silly as it sounds, if they just followed their motto they would be fine. A team fighting as a team with a collective will to win. The Cavs do have it in them. We have all seen it this season in a short stretch.
Without Bynum, if they do not have the mega collapse that could be triggered by his release, they will come to realize that management was right cutting ties sooner than later. That allowing Bennett and Zeller to develop is in the best interest of the team and will actually make them more likely to win than with Bynum. Those players provide an improved ability to run the floor and get back on defense. They will allow the offense to flow without the slugging down of trying to feed the post. In another team, Bynum is a far superior weapon than either of those young players. But for the Cavs, I think they will be happy if they give them minutes.
Am I optimistic that a renewed effort and intensity will lead to winning? That would be pretty hard for me to swallow given what I have heard thus far. But I do recognize that it is possible and frankly hope I start to see it tonight against a superior team in Golden State. Just a solid effort would be a fantastic start.