Let’s get a few things out of the way first. The Cleveland Cavaliers are, in quite a few respects, a first-rate organization. Their in-game entertainment staff, their practice and training facilities, the analytics and scouting departments and communications team all rank among the very best the NBA has to offer. As far as I can tell, employees enjoy working there.
But from the time that LeBron James left Cleveland until the time he fell to the ground celebrating the same town’s first professional championship in over 50 years, it’s been an organization operating in various levels of dysfunction and chaos. No list going through the tumult would be complete, but it might be helpful to go through a few of the ups and downs, in close to chronological order.
- The team lost approximately 94 games in a row the year James left.
- After Kyrie Irving’s sensational rookie season, the team drafted Dion Waiters at the behest of coach Byron Scott, despite the fact that the team hadn’t so much as talked to Waiters prior to draft night. Waiters was a ball-dominant undersized score-first guard, and didn’t mesh with Irving.
- They then fired Byron Scott.
- They then re-hired Mike Brown, who they had fired in a last-ditch attempt to keep LeBron.
- The team doubled down on Waiters with Jarrett Jack, another ball dominant undersized score-first guard.
- They drafted Anthony Bennett first overall.
- They signed Andrew Bynum to a deal.
- They traded for Luol Deng, who had no interest in anything Cleveland had to offer.
- They fired Chris Grant, the general manager, and promoted his subordinate. A Cavs source once told me this time was “painful.” I hear you.
- They won the lottery for the third time, winning the right to select Andrew Wiggins, and trade him for Kevin Love if they so chose.
- LeBron decided to come back after the owner flew to Fort Lauderdale, meanwhile lying about his stealth trip.
- James immediately started undercutting David Blatt, who replaced Mike Brown, which didn’t even merit a bullet point above, but who was fired in large part due to the immaturity and discontent of Irving.
- Kevin Love is traded for and spends the first three years of his time in Cleveland averaging 3,217 trips through the ESPN trade machine per day.
- The Cavs start 18-20 before J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov arrive and right the ship.
- That last sentence is like 90 percent true.
- The Cavs lose Love in the first round of the playoffs right as they are turning into a juggernaut.
- The Cavs lose Irving at the end of the second round of the playoffs, before he returned in the clinching Eastern Conference Finals game. He plays a great Game 1 of the NBA Finals and then breaks his kneecap.
- The Cavs still somehow win their next two games before players literally almost started dying of exhaustion.
- The Cavs come back with the same team and are starting to regain their health when David Blatt is fired. General Manager David Griffin says the team was playing without joy and he was right.
- The team holds approximately 42 players-only meetings. Kevin Love is reminded in half of them that he is, in fact, good at basketball.
- The Warriors win 73 games, and the Cavs still find a way to go into the series overconfident. After falling behind 3-1, they win the title.
AND EVERYONE GOT ALONG. No one was fired. LeBron didn’t really send out any passive-aggressive tweets or Instagram posts. He called out David Griffin over the past year, asking for another playmaker on top of the insanely high tax bill Dan Gilbert was already paying. The team had ups and downs, and wasn’t a great regular season team. If LeBron rested, the team lost. They didn’t seem to care much. There wasn’t much angst. James seemed to go out of his way to praise Irving and build him up. No one really bothered Love, and even though his name came up around the trade deadline it wasn’t anywhere near what it had been in the two years preceding it.
It was really nice. It was as though an NBA title had allowed them to graduate to a new level of maturity and competence. Throughout the year I commented often how much it seemed like the guys really liked one another. Even as they lost in the Finals in 5 games, I wanted the team to be kept together.
Well, that’s probably not going to happen. Griffin was functionally fired after his contract expired and terms on a new deal couldn’t be agreed upon. The team tried to replace him with Chauncey Billups, but he could sense something wasn’t right and ultimately said no; the fact that he was reportedly low-balled may not have helped either.
Now Kyrie Irving wants to leave, and instead of a quick deal to move on, the situation has festered and lingered. Maybe they don’t have great deals on the table right now. Hard to see how they get better over time. Maybe there is something already agreed to. Uncertainty once again looms for the Cavaliers.
I would like to say that the dysfunction is somehow comforting, that getting back to normal is just how it is as a Cavs fan. Maybe if it were Love asking for the trade I’d feel that way. But Irving wanting to leave feels more like the chickens coming home to roost. Irving may have left eventually anyway, and I’ve misread him before, but a lot of this feels like it could have been avoided. A bit more stability. Someone with the credibility to get Irving and James in the same room together.
The Cavs are back to their old ways. The more things change, the more things stay the same.