There might not be a media member out there that knows more about LeBron James and the Cavaliers than Brian Windhorst. One of Windy's first assignments back when he was at the Akron Beacon Journal was to cover a young, up-and-coming high school phenom named LeBron James. That connection has helped to propel Windhorst to bigger and better things, just like LeBron. Windy has written 2 books about James and now covers the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He does frequent work for ESPN.com as well. In other words, when Windhorst talks about the Cavaliers I listen.
That's why when Windhorst was on ESPNCleveland's WKNR this morning talking about the Cavaliers lackluster performance last night, and LeBron's disappearing act, I listened intently. Windhorst, who knows the finer points of basketball as well, didn't mince words when describing LeBron and the Cavaliers.
When asked about LeBron's attitude and play, Windhorst explained -
"LeBron is a moody person. He is stuck in a bad mood, he is playing in a depressed state."
"Ultimately, LeBron is going out of this series with a whimper - it's something we've never seen before"
"LeBron is facing the first ligitimate tarnishing of his legacy. The only advantage he has is that its not over with."
Windhorst was even more direct when presented with the possibility that LeBron will bolt as a Free Agent after the season.
"If LeBron leaves the team, runs away from what happened, he's leaving himself to be permanently damaged, he'd be branded a quitter. If the Cavs lose this series and he leaves town, Lebron will be branded a quitter."
Seldom do you hear reporters, or fans for that matter, toss out the Q word.
Windhorst does say that LeBron's play has nothing to do with where he is playing next year. I agree with that. LeBron is not thinking about it right now, but there is something going on. As I said in my post-game, there is obviously something going on behind closed doors. Windhorst gave a sample of what it could be in his blog last night -
Let's start with coach Mike Brown, since that is where many of the fans have started. There are several players who are upset with him and how he's handled his rotations during the playoffs, sticking guys in and yanking them out of the lineups.
This came to a bit of a head after Game 4 in Boston, where Shaquille O'Neal was upset that he didn't come back into the game after leaving early in the fourth quarter.
He's also been moving around playing time for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and changing roles of bench players and even starters. During the playoffs, Anthony Parker has played as little as 19 minutes and as many as 42. O'Neal as few as 15 and as many as 28. The players haven't been fully comfortable with those role adjustments.
Ultimately it goes back to the fact that the Cavs didn't have a complete team until the first game of the playoffs. The return of O'Neal forced one odd man out and it destabilized the rotation. The pressure of the playoffs already causes enough back-and-forth and adjustments, but coming into the playoffs blind has taken Brown out of a comfort level and it has carried over to the players.
After nearly a month of it, tempers have flared. There were a number of angry players Sunday in Boston. They were displacing their frustration over the loss on the coach and not on the lacking effort they clearly put forth.
Also, Brown seems to be searching during games without any real plan of what to do. The players can sense this and it undermines him to a certain degree. Very rarely during the playoffs have the Cavs made in-game adjustments that have provided fruit. In between games with practices and film sessions, yes. But not within the game. When the Cavs look like they are going to lose in the first quarter, usually they have lost.
This is either because Brown isn't making proper adjustments or that the team is not executing those commands. Either way, it is a sign of trouble.
Trouble indeed. I said yesterday that Mike Brown could be in serious trouble if the Cavaliers lost this series. Not so much for losing, no, losing you can handle. It is the WAY the Cavaliers are getting beat, the way they are responding to adversity that has Brown, like his team, possibly on the brink.