Well, as if the Cavaliers have not had enough tough news lately, the latest news is possibly as concerning as any. LeBron James will actually miss the most extensive time and number of games in his entire career. On the surface the news seems like a devastating blow to a team already on it’s heels moving backwards.
It isn’t entirely clear that this isn’t the case. The Cavs have been struggling and have lost 3 in a row. They now stand only 4 games over .500 with a team many feel is the most talented in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers are entering one of the most challenging stretches in their schedule and will need to face this without their best player.
It is true that most observers might look on this as a huge negative in an already checkered year for the “new look” Cavs. There is another perspective to consider with this news and one that might generate a huge positive for Cleveland. Based on my medical training in similar cases, there is an excellent chance that these injuries are not severe and reasonable recovery is possible. That is what has been reported from Cavalier “sources” to certain national reporters who are not always positive about the Cavs. It also has been reported that MRIs have been done to confirm injuries. No surprises there.
When you add all this up, it appears that LeBron James was trying to play through persistent back and knee problems that would worsen, improve, and worsen again. The Cavs medical staff and management I am sure jointly decided that it was best to give James time to recover to a much higher level then had happened thus far. James may have been informed that this rest and accompanying physical therapy was needed to give him a chance to really recover more fully. If he did not do this, the injuries would almost certainly linger all year. Even with this rest it is possible, but not as likely. It is not surprising that James agreed to this approach.
This might be a completely positive development if it weren’t for a few additional sobering facts. First, is the obvious, Andy is not coming back. So one starter is done for the year. Second, Kyrie Irving is far from 100% and his knee is still bothering him. He is playing through it and I expect him to continue to do so, but it must have at least a little effect on his ability to play aggressively. Third, Kevin Love has not yet been cleared to play after suffering back spasms. One doesn’t need to be a doctor to know that those can hang around and back problems can be a nagging problem. So, with one starter gone, James out, and two All Stars less than 100%; it will be difficult to maintain a high quality of play. Add to that a very difficult schedule and you have all the makings of some consistent losing.
As everyone has seen, when some consistent losing occurs with the Cavs, the negative stories come out and they suddenly have every player planning to leave at the end of the year. It is doubtful that this will stop over this next sequence of tough games. So expect to see more Love to LA and LeBron to Miami/LA/New York/ anywhere but Cleveland. Blatt to be fired, etc. I consider all of this media focus to be understandable but not highly credible. I think any of this talk should be viewed with some skepticism and not influence the way anyone views the Cavs.
To the degree that the Cavs remaining All Stars are healthy, it will be an excellent opportunity for them to become the focal points of the team for a stretch. It will also give a large number of veteran role players a chance to step up and show what they can do for the team. Finally, it might give Joe Harris some more opportunities. All of these things are positives going forward.
I hope people are observing the contribution that is possible from Brendon Haywood. He looks quite good on the court and his minutes have been slowly increased over the past week or so. He hasn’t played every day based on matchups but he should play most games. With all the cries for a rim protector, I think he deserves a chance to show what he has left in the tank. If the Cavs can get 10-15 minutes per game from him, the pressure to make a knee-jerk move to get another big will be reduced. The Cavs need to negotiate from a position of strength if they make a move instead of a position of desperation. Very important that Haywood makes an impact.
I think it is an understatement to say that Mike Miller and, to a lesser extent, James Jones have not given the Cavs the quality minutes that were expected. Primarily because of their inability to shoot consistently, especially in the case of Miller. If someone had told me to expect Miller to shoot 38% from the floor, take no free throws, and score 3 PPG in 17 minutes per game for the Cavs, I would have laughed at them and called them Cavs haters. But that is exactly what has happened. To make matters worse, many of his 3 point attempts have been completely uncontested. James Jones is more efficient with 4 PPG in 10 minutes but is also only shooting 38% from the field (better from 3).
My point in all of this is that the team will have a chance to see what they can do without LeBron and it might give Love a chance to step up into a more integral part of the offense. Cavs observers should recognize, however, that the reason Love has looked so inept lately is simply because he is in a shooting slump. That will happen with great shooters and it usually evens out over time. Lets hope it ends soon because the team will need his offense.
While I welcome all of these “opportunities” for the Cavs to advance as a team without LeBron, I am not silly enough to think this will translate to wins in the short term. As Jason Lloyd pointed out today, look for the Cavaliers record to be near or at .500 when LeBron returns. That will be enough to generate a ton of negative press so Cavalier fans should expect this as pointed out earlier.
But here is the major positive in all of this ………… The Cleveland Cavaliers play in the NBA Eastern Conference. No matter what trials and tribulations the team faces during the regular season, the Cavs are one of the only teams in history, if healthy, who could still win the East even if they start as the 8th seed (which I think is unlikely). Home court is not a critical factor for this Cavs team. Being HEALTHY is a critical factor. I think the team has shown recognition of this simple fact by making the decision to shut James down for 2 weeks. If this move gives James a chance to get reasonably healthy and come back strong, it will be a tremendous positive for Cleveland.
All of the overhyped whaling that will come from the regular season record will seem like a distant memory if they can get to the playoffs healthy. I have confidence in David Blatt. I have confidence in the Cleveland All Stars. I have confidence that the role players will improve and fit in. And I believe that Dion Waiters is developing into a dynamic weapon that is getting better game by game with this new team. Despite all the negative chatter, I still feel the Cavs are a team to be reckoned with in the NBA East. The loss of LeBron James for 2 weeks does not change that in the least.