The Cavaliers have won the Eastern Conference Finals the past three seasons, and for the past three years, were the clear-cut favorite to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. They’ve had remarkable success in the postseason. Even when they were the second seed in the East, everyone knew who the team to beat was.
When LeBron James played with the Miami Heat, they were always first or second in the conference, and again, were the team to beat. However, the James-led Cavs this year are not in the top two spots in the conference. In fact, this is the lowest win percentage by one of James’ teams since 2007. Along with a poorer record than usual, there is well-documented tension within the locker room, swirling trade rumors and coach Tyronn Lue appears to be on the hot seat.
Will the Cavaliers reach the finals this year? What will happen when James hits free agency this offseason? Here are some of the reasons why Cleveland might soon be in panic mode.
The Cavaliers rank dead last in points per possession, and this was a team expected to play better defense with the addition of Jae Crowder and subtraction of Kyrie Irving.
On the flip side, Boston has the best defense per possession, and they hold the lowest opponent field goal percentage (43.3 percent) in the league. The impact of a great coach is noticed in its defense. Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens all have their teams in the top five in opponent field goal percentage. Likewise, the Cavaliers rank 28th in the league with teams shooting 47.5 percent against them.
Jason Kidd was just fired because the Bucks, a team that has lots of capable defenders, are in the bottom tier of opponent field goal percentage. The Cavaliers have more than enough talent to play at a high level on defense, but it’s the coach’s job to build team defense, and Tyronn Lue has not done that.
If the saying, “defense wins championships” is true, the Cavaliers will have no business making it to the finals, let alone winning the finals.
While Isaiah Thomas is still slowly getting back into NBA shape, there is no question he lacks chemistry with the team and has digressed from last year. The 5-foot-9 point guard averaged just under 29 points per game last season, and shot 46.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from deep while finishing fifth in MVP voting.
This year, he’s averaging a mere 15.4 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the floor and 27.6 percent from 3-point range. His numbers and efficiency on offense are extremely down this year. Thomas has always been a below-average defender, partially due to his lack of height. Without him producing on offense, he’ll be unplayable in the playoffs.
If he doesn’t find his groove and get back to the player he was last year, then Cleveland will be in big trouble in the playoffs. The Cavs are 5-5 with Thomas on the court.
Besides the on-court issues, there are reports that Thomas criticized Kevin Love for not playing in a game because of an illness during a team meeting that included lots of finger pointing, and not a lot of solutions. Thomas has been involved with what seems to be subtle jabs back and forth.
It’s worth noting that last year, reporters couldn’t get any information from players on the Cavs, but this year, there has been a player who shares with the media the updates in the locker room. It’s a safe bet that one of the new additions is the one leaking information to the media, and Thomas is likely the player doing so.
After playing other playoff contenders, it’s very apparent that Cleveland needs to make a trade to improve its roster before the playoffs. Essentially every player that could be moved in the NBA is on its radar, because the sense of urgency to make a deal is very high.
There’s been lots of rumors about George Hill and DeAndre Jordan among others being traded, and the Cavaliers desperately need to add talent, yet aren’t willing to part with any players who have value, or the first-round pick from Brooklyn.
Reports have leaked that players on the roster don’t think they can beat Golden State. Without the addition of a quality point guard or center to bolster its lineup, this team could be in for a disappointing postseason.
LeBron James is still playing at a very high level and is likely going to finish within the top three for the MVP voting. However, due to the headache he’s consistently causing his team, is his on-court talent worth the baggage he brings off the court?
James is finally starting to look older on the court, and the years of heavy minutes and playing intense basketball until June is beginning to have an effect on him.
While he’s led the Cavaliers to lots of success in his career, there’s no doubt his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert could be better. Furthermore, the Cavaliers let go of former general manager David Griffin, who James was close friends with, which brings to question how solid of a bond James and the Cavs hold.
With James’ pending free agency, there is a growing belief that he is likely to bolt from the Cavaliers once again and surround himself with better talent as he ages. There’s a good chance this successful relationship between James and the Cavaliers will end soon.
At the end of the day, the Cavaliers have the best player in the league and more playoff experience than any other team in the conference. However, there are other talented teams in the conference, and Boston could be the first team to really challenge Cleveland, especially if Gordon Hayward comes back this season.
It’s unlikely the Cavs can beat the Warriors with the poor chemistry and roster they currently have, and the Eastern Conference has increasingly gotten tougher. It may be time for the Cavs to hit the panic button.
Featured image from Sporting News
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