Before I go further, please remember the basis for the Cleveland Wins Blog, this is ALL commentary and not reporting. I leave the reporting to the other web sites and the regular media. But the commentary is based on over 40 years of close observation and deadly focused fan support of all the Cleveland professional sports teams. I put my observations up against anyone, including the better known media and web sites with younger commentators that have not been through the wars that I have seen. Yes, that includes seeing the 1964 Browns Championship game as a child on TV. And, yes, I remember it well.
And I was also regularly at the Richfield Coliseum to see playoff games with mentally tough teams that were undermanned because of injury. Make no mistake about it, the Cavaliers with Russell and Carr and Smith and Snyder were mentally as tough as they come. And the fans responded. The Cavaliers with Daugherty and Price and Nance and others were also crazy tough but they could never get Price to the playoffs without highly restricting injuries in his legs and Jim Chones injury sank the other generations in the playoffs. So there are many reasons why great teams do not win championships. Some of it based on coaching, some based on personnel, some based on injuries, and some based on lack of mental toughness.
That brings us to the current Cavalier team. A team I am 100% convinced has tons of talent and a great head coach. They have one key injury to a player with truckloads of mental toughness and marginal talent. So I don’t think injuries are an excuse at this point. It is now becoming clear that the lack of mental toughness is the defining characteristic of this enigmatic team that has yet to gel. The players are now acknowledging it and the coach is getting there, but I think does not want to throw the team under the bus on that count. It is a wise move by Blatt. To call his team out on floor balance and sharing the ball and sloppiness with passing and defensive trust is far more palatable than saying they are not tough mentally. Luckily the players are saying it so that does help going forward.
Lets cut through the crap that is the Cleveland Cavalier’s public persona. From LeBron on down they have said that this will be a “process”. That this will take time. That this is going to look bad before it looks good. Everyone has said it. Outwardly they have believed it. But inside, where it really counts, they never believed it. And, to be honest, neither did we.
The funny thing about all of this is that the players who mouthed what they inside did not “feel” and the fans who have said it while they inside said “70 wins” were both right with their public pronouncements! They were wrong with what they actually felt inside and believed in their core.
The problem comes when the inner self believes something and it quickly becomes clear that it is not true, self doubt quickly comes into play. That is true of the team and the fans. So those who are having trouble dealing with 5-7 and some really hideous losses can take comfort in the fact that it is only natural. As it is for the team to begin to question and falter under the pressure of their own egos and outside expectations.
LeBron has explained this over and over but despite his public education campaign had secretly hoped it would not be the same this time. He was hoping because he had learned that it would be different. And the addition of Kevin Love, despite it being a brilliant short term basketball move, caused all of the inner beliefs to be out of sync with the outward statements. If that trade wasn’t made, the inner self would have matched the outward statements (that it would take time, that it was a process) and the Cavs might have had less soul searching to do this early in the season.
Don’t misinterpret that statement!! I would have made the Love trade in a heartbeat once I knew his “heart” was to try and stay beyond this year and build a championship team. That seemed to be his honest feelings coming in and I am convinced they are genuine. Now it is up to the team to adapt to make all of that initial “love” become a reality.
If you look at this Cavs team with an open mind, you will see that it is remarkably similar to the Cavs teams of the last four years. They have talent and, when they exert maximal effort, they are really tough to handle. When they get challenged, they wilt and resort to terrible bad habits that result in scoreless runs of immense proportions and the opponent rolls over them. Even in my more realistic views of this team, I never thought the same Cavalier huge scoreless runs would manifest with this team. They are just too talented. Well, I was wrong. The influence of the old team and rookie presence seemed to have rubbed off on LeBron and the veterans. The opposite should have been true but it has not been.
So, as was suggested by @lullonsports and my daughter (sorry Joe you were not the only one), we may need to make some rather drastic changes in the starting lineup and rotation to alter the mental chemistry. I think Mike Miller is very limited now in his play. He needs help on defense and isn’t getting into the flow of the offense. But, in my view, he will be a critical part of any success this team might have. And he played 82 games last year so I know he has it in him. I think he is better as a starter than as a bench player. He would get more help on D and be more into the flow of the offense. Having Miller in the corner to pop those 3s over Shawn Marion just makes sense.
Maybe Andy needs to go back to the bench and play with the second team. He has become a safety blanket with LeBron and almost all pick and rolls are with him. The problem is that he almost has to roll and LeBron is trying to make pocket passes that are ill advised. If LeBron and Kyrie were forced to run pick and roll with Love, he could roll or pop. That would add a dimension to the offense that we currently don’t have. Plus, it would add energy and more skill to the second team. Dion could take advantage of Andy’s skill set on pick and rolls.
For now, Marion needs to go back to backing up LeBron. There is less of a drop off in defense and he has the skills to be more engaged in the offense. He is kind of out of place as a shooting guard on the first team.
Joe Harris, as much as I love him, is still a rookie and a second round draft pick to boot. He needs to get his minutes now that Delli is out but maybe not quite as extensive as they have been. He is one that is prone to rookie mistakes and missed shots at the most inopportune time. His time will come. I love him as a player. Maybe not quite yet in crunch time.
TT needs to move back to the first team. His offensive skills are much more limited than Andy’s. That makes the bench much more prone to long stretches of no points. However, because of his athleticism and generally smart play (he doesn’t throw as many idiotic passes), he fits well with the offensively gifted group of Kyrie, Miller, LeBron, and Love.
So I would start those 5 and consider adding James Jones to the rotation. Put Dion at the point, Harris at the 2, Jones at the 3, Marion at the 4, and Andy at the 5. Now, of course, I would never put all of those 5 on the court together unless they proved they could ball as a group. My feeling is that some combination of Love, Kyrie and LeBron need to be on the court at all times. Not sure how to rotate all of that, but I think they could play 10 deep and get away with it.
This is just a brainstorming group of ideas but I think that the team will increase it’s mental toughness if they have 3 veterans with winning experience in at all times. Keep the “old Cavs” to a minimum in each rotation. I include Kyrie in the veteran winning group because of how he has played this year and his experience with Team USA that was like playoff experience. Of all the players this year (and that INCLUDES LeBron), Kyrie has played with the most consistent intensity, wilted the least, and never forgotten the defensive side of the ball. I have been super impressed with his advancement over last year.
In summary, keep the faith Cavs fans!! They are mentally weak right now but, once they recognize that (which is already starting – see LeBron’s and Dion’s comments), they will start to grind their way out of it. They need some success and hopefully this home stand will bring some of that. They need to see that, if they play the right way, wins in bunches will follow. Then the “old Cavs” will rise up to become an integral part of the New Cavs. Enjoy the ride. As bumpy as it seems the road is going to smooth out eventually. Do you have the mental toughness to stick with it?? I say yes… :-)..