The Cleveland Cavaliers are as low as they’ve been in the post-LeBron-return era. The defense is a disaster, with the team giving up 148 points to the Thunder on national television on Saturday. The team’s struggles don’t just extend to the defensive end. They’re just bad right now.
Since Christmas, the Cavs have a league-worst -9.6 net rating— Justin Rowan (@Cavsanada) January 21, 2018
As the Cavaliers continue to sink, some have questioned whether Tyronn Lue has lost the team, but Cavs players did not blame their coach.
LeBron James did not appear to be on board with a coaching change, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
“I would hope not,” James said. “But I really don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen with our team. I have no idea what conversations have been going on. Me personally, I’ve been trying to stay as laser-sharp as I can to keep my guys ready to go out and play. Obviously, it hasn’t resulted in wins, but I got to stay as fresh mentally as much I can with the struggles. I can’t worry about job securities and trades and things of that nature. I just stay as focused as I can every night to go out and compete and try to help us win ballgames.”
J.R. Smith correctly noted that the Cavaliers haven’t been executing well enough to know whether the team’s schemes are a problem or not, also via ESPN.com:
“I mean, they can’t go out there and play for us,” Smith told ESPN when asked about the staff’s effectiveness. “If they come up with the schemes and we execute those schemes to a T and we’re still losing at a certain point and time, they can make their adjustments. But we’re just not executing offensively or defensively.”
Kyle Korver defended the fact that Lue has been put in a tough spot with integrating new players while trying to preserve everybody’s rhythm and comfort, also via ESPN.com:
“Ty’s in a tough spot, he really is,” Korver said. “I think he really cares about the spirit of our team and trying to keep guys positive and keep guys rolling in the same direction. I think there’s always speculation any time the team is not winning every game. Change the lineup and this and that. But you’ve seen that go bad, too, when coaches start jerking guys in and out of the lineup and it’s a blame game.”
It’s fair to say that Tyronn Lue has been dealt a tough hand. The roster is full of players that are not currently reaching their potential as players and a bench littered with non-shooters. It’s worth noting that four of the Cavs six most important players for long-term success have probably been net negatives this season in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson.
Thompson and Thomas are both working their way back from injury, so it may be unfair, but from a purely present viewpoint, they’re not helping the team much, if at all.
That’s not easy for Lue. With that said, his schemes don’t seem to be working defensively, as attacking the ball-handler in the pick and roll with two defenders is leaving the Cavaliers playing 4-on-3 all too often for a team that can barely play 5-on-5.
Ultimately, Lue has earned the benefit of the doubt. He’s led the Cavs to their only title in franchise history, and LeBron seems to like him, which matters. What also matters is that it’s not like there’s an easy fix on the staff. Larry Drew would likely be the interim coach. Dreams of David Fizdale sound nice, but there’s little-to-no chance that you’ll get a commitment from Fiz without a commitment from LeBron, which you’re not getting.
For now, the Cavaliers will need to find improvement internally, and ideally, at the trade deadline. It could get really, really ugly if it doesn’t come soon.