LeBron James’ return to Cleveland hasn’t been an all-out disaster, but a disappointment? Absolutely.
The Cavaliers (19-20) have lost nine of their last 10 games – albeit without James, for the most part – to drop to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. More concerning, perhaps, is the incident that occurred during Cleveland’s 107-100 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday, when James pushed David Blatt toward the sideline. Blatt was arguing with an official about an offensive foul that had been called against James in the second quarter.
Both James and Blatt downplayed the incident, but some believe the shove was a result of James’ growing frustration with the first-year NBA coach.
“I think that little snapshot isolated by itself is not as big of a deal,” CBSSports.com NBA insider Ken Berger said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “But when you take it into the context and take into account all that is going on around it, I think it’s very fair to interpret that as a sign of some real distress within that team. The only thing that cures distress within a team is winning. They have not figured out – and frankly, David Blatt has not figured out yet – how to put this roster as its constructed now, even with the recent trades, which we haven’t really seen come to their full fruition yet, function as a winning basketball team that looks like it has a chance to win a championship. Its not even close to that.
“So I think any time an incident like that involves LeBron James, (people are going to analyze it),” Berger continued. “Everybody remembers the brush with Erik Spoelstra back in Miami his first season there, but (there were) a couple of clear differences. Of course, that was much earlier in the season. I think it was 16, 17 games into that season. The other key difference is there was a culture that was established in Miami with Pat Riley, and LeBron had to kind of conform to some degree to that culture. My understanding of the culture around the Cavaliers is it was all about getting LeBron back and figuring the rest out later. And now of course they’re finding out that the rest is really the hard part.”
While one might expect the Cavaliers to struggle without James, they still had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who looks like a shell of his former self. Once an all-around offensive juggernaut, Love, 26, is averaging 17.7 points and 10.4 rebounds – his lowest numbers since 2009-10.
“He just looks lost,” Berger said. “He doesn’t look like he fits on this team. He’s turned into a spot-up, stand-alone shooter, just waiting for the ball to come. And whenever you’re standing out there – when you don’t know when you’re going to get your next shot – you squeeze this one just a little bit tighter. That looks like what’s going on with him. They’re not using him the way that, for example, Miami used Chris Bosh in that pick-and-pop game to get him some easy baskets early, just (to) get him in the flow of the offense. Bosh had to sacrifice a lot in his game when he went from being the No. 1 guy in Toronto to being the third wheel in Miami, but Erik Spoelstra always made an effort to get him into the flow. Bosh understood that his numbers were not going to be what they were, but at least he was going to be in the mix. Kevin Love is just on the sideline right now watching from afar.”
With more than half of the season remaining, the Cavaliers have plenty of time to right the ship. The only question is, when will they?
“I think ultimately they will figure out,” Berger said. “When everybody’s healthy and everyone’s together, they’ll figure out how to score enough points. They just have to figure out how to stop people – and they’re not doing that right now, either.”