On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave up a 21 point lead in a loss to the Orlando Magic, the worst team in the NBA, who were playing without their best player in Aaron Gordon.
The loss was the latest calamity for the Cavs in a season that has suddenly become a total disaster. Ever since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, the Cavs have gone through periods of underperformance.
We’ve seen them “cruise” before, only to turn it on when it matters most and end up in the finals. But body language, player performances, and recent bombshell reports seem to indicate this time is different.
The amount of unexplainable things going on with the Cavs franchise right now is unexplainable
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) February 7, 2018
According to multiple reports, from Brian Windhorst at ESPN and Jason Lloyd at The Athletic, the relationship between the Cavs front office and LeBron James has completely collapsed to the point that there is no longer any communication between the two.
After a loss to the flying Houston Rockets on Saturday, Windhorst wrote that if free agency started now, LeBron would likely be off as his contract expires in the summer.
“They aren’t just looking at losing this season, but they are looking at losing LeBron James. If tomorrow were the beginning of free agency, there’s a good chance that would be the case.”
Windhorst further wrote about the form of LeBron James, whose play has fallen off of late after starting the season as an MVP candidate. On Saturday, LeBron scored only 11 points in a weirdly flat performance.
“James (11 points, 3-of-10 from the field) is completely dispirited. Never before in his career has he played like this. Maybe on the occasional midseason evening he has been less than energetic — in the past, he has called it ‘chill mode’ — but never like this.”
The cause of LeBron’s dispirited state at the moment seems to be the degradation of his relationship with Cavs management.
In Lloyd’s piece for The Athletic, he reported on the breakdown between the Cavs and LeBron and how, after losing LeBron once before, Gilbert has done pretty much everything to ensure that happens again.
According to Lloyd, the beef between LeBron and Gilbert is twofold.
“The root of the problems can be traced back to two key issues: David Griffin’s removal as general manager and Kyrie Irving’s subsequent trade to the Boston Celtics.”
David Griffin, who is widely considered to be one of the best general managers in the NBA, didn’t have his contract renewed over the summer. Gilbert promoted assistant GM Koby Altman to the position.
It was Altman who pulled off the Kyrie trade, which was finalized without LeBron’s knowledge, a departure from the days when Griffin and LeBron talked about personnel moves together.
“The [Irving] deal was also completed without consulting James, one source with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Altman called James when it was essentially done and informed him of what was happening… [The trade] had been negotiated entirely without James’ knowledge.
Lloyd further reported on the dynamics between LeBron, Gilbert, and Altman.
“James and Gilbert have no relationship. Neither do James and Altman, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Whereas Griffin would consult with James and keep him informed of major roster decisions, that is no longer happening. James doesn’t trust this front office, and there is no communication now between management and star player.”
The tension is so intense that LeBron reportedly cursed out multiple Cavs executives during a recent team meeting.
“It perhaps played a role in James yelling and cursing at multiple front office executives during the now-famous team meeting a couple of weeks ago that began with players questioning Kevin Love’s absence from a recent practice.”
According to Lloyd, Altman’s hiring was perceived by many to be a power grab from Gilbert. By promoting from within, as opposed to bringing in a high profile hire, Gilbert ensured that he would have final say over personnel moves.
“Six years ago, Altman was an assistant coach in the Ivy League. Now he has vaulted from third chair in the Cavs’ front office last season to the man in charge. While the Cavs insist Altman’s duties are no different from Griffin’s job before him, up and down the roster and throughout the organization, the belief is unanimous that Altman is the front man and Gilbert is in full control.”
With the trade deadline on Thursday, the general perception is that the Cavaliers have to do something big or LeBron will surely bolt this summer. But, with a roster of old players on bad contracts, the team’s options are seriously limited. They do have the highly-coveted Brooklyn Nets pick, acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade, but are hesitant to move a piece that they could use for a rebuild should LeBron end up leaving.
“Looming over all of this is the trade deadline Thursday. Barring something unexpected in these final days, there is nothing out there to fix this team now. They are saddled with a roster of bad contracts nobody wants and a valuable Brooklyn pick with no one worthy of spending it on. Nor are they inclined to trade it, anyway, particularly to patch an aging team that is showing little sign of a potential turnaround.”
This is all bad for the Cavs.
Little thing understandably lost amid LeBron mania: Tristan Thompson not himself yet (or close) on defense. Not protecting rim or impacting the ball up top/staying in front of guards on switches. Bad combo.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 7, 2018
Virtually every important player on the Cavs’ roster is currently underachieving and guys just don’t look happy to be there. Isaiah Thomas, who is coming off a serious hip injury and struggling to find his level from the last couple of seasons, gave a worrying assessment after the loss to the Magic last night.
“When we hit adversity, we go our separate ways. That has to change if we want to be the really good team we want to be.”
Watching the replay of Cavs/Magic because I also enjoy watching NASCAR car wrecks…
After committing a turnover, Thomas yells at his teammates "come on guys, let's go!" Payton just jogs up the court, drives baseline on toreador IT, and then IT commits the lazy foul. pic.twitter.com/6OeQSGfAPz
— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 7, 2018
As for Cavs fans, you just have to look at the comments under a recent post from the Cavs Twitter account wishing Isaiah Thomas a happy birthday to gauge the state of Cleveland supporters at the moment.
When LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014, most people assumed he’d finish out his career with the Cavs. Now, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which he stays.
There’s still time for the Cavs to get it together. LeBron could go into Megatron Mode, Isaiah Thomas could return to his exploits of previous seasons, and Altman could pull of a blockbuster.
We should have learned by now to never write off LeBron James, but it’s increasingly looking like things are very different this time.