The formula to team unity and success is simple. The theme was set from the first day when LeBron and Nike recited the obvious battle cry: 1-2-3 Hard Work 4-5-6 Together !! Yes, it was meant to pull on the heartstrings of the country and of Cleveland. The “King” had returned to his home and was beginning another journey of conquest (in Nike’s world). But despite it’s “feel good” and kind of nerdy tone, it actually captured reality as well as the fantasy of the commercial.
The Cleveland Cavs now have a winning streak to build on. Today’s challenge against the Thunder might be a big one that weakens our resolve again or it might be another step forward. I don’t pretend to know the answer. But I do and have known the answer to the Cavs failures and successes. And it was NEVER David Blatt as so many were screaming. The key was intense effort (rarely exerted during the struggles), the player’s belief and trust in their teammates, an improved composition of the roster, and LeBron James being LeBron James instead of a facsimile of himself.
So, as I clearly pointed out to all who would listen near the end of the losing streak, I was more comfortable about the team’s prospects and eventual success than I had ever been. And that was before they were starting to win. My belief in the Cavs came from several areas:
- I never doubted David Blatt and his ability to coach or reach players. He had an extensive track record in the past and any NBA players that had ever played under him had nothing but great things to say. Yes, he was responsible as they all were for severe underachievement. But he was not the root of the problem.
- I knew that having LeBron back with reasonable health was critical to the eventual success of the Cavs. He makes an enormous difference at all times. I cited Miami’s lackluster record this year without LeBron (even with Deng to replace) as the perfect evidence that LeBron really makes a difference.
- I knew that the roster composition was much better after the trades. We now had a team, as I made very clear at the time, that could compete with any team and go big or small as needed to maximize our advantage. Blatt could now be Blatt and become creative. This is despite the fact that I LOVED Dion Waiters and felt it would be risky to trade him. But when I saw the final result, I had no doubt Griffin had pulled the right strings. (I really wanted Mozgov BTW over any other options out there.)
- I knew that winning breeds winning, camaraderie, trust, and energy. And I felt, with the changes they had made and the immediate schedule ahead, that winning would start soon. Once winning started, I knew that the public and media tone would immediately shift from players hating Blatt and players planning to leave to a focus on the team and what they could accomplish. That is slowly happening. All it takes is a look on Cleveland.com and see how now they admit that the players frustration with their own roster and success was the issue and not David Blatt.
As Cleveland begins to provide the effort necessary and demonstrates belief in each other, they are a force that can challenge any NBA team and certainly any team in the Eastern Conference. That is why I said that they could even finish as the eighth seed in the East and still win the East if healthy.
That brings me to a critical point about the Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs need to stay healthy for a reasonable period of time !!! I mentioned in a previous blog post that, once Shumpert comes back, the Cavs need about 2-3 weeks to play together to really get the team rolling and comfortable. Then they could sustain some hits to the roster and still be fully ready if healthy by the playoffs. So I will be holding my breath every time a player goes down hoping he can get up and play. In my mind, the only thing that really could hold the Cavs back now is key injuries.
The roster is still not perfect. I think we need a better back up point guard and should use Delly as a defensive “specialist” in certain games. I would love to see another big on the roster. Haywood did not look good in the game against Charlotte in some extended minutes. I am concerned about him, but really don’t want to trade him before the off season. With Miller struggling the Cavs could always use another shooter. But these are things that might not be addressed this year and I think the Cavs need to proceed like this is the roster they will have come playoff time.
Today will be a good test of the “New” Cavs with Shumpert, Smith, and Mozgov all able to contribute in this game. I will be interested to see if the energy I observed at the Q on Friday will be there today. And, if you want to read commentary about the Cavs without all the hyperbole and drama, I’ll be here for you!! Go Cavs!