The past four years have been filled with more drama than most teams face in a decade. With both potent highs and crushing lows, any level of emotional investment in this team can leave you exhausted.
Few people have had the opportunity to cover LeBron James as closely as Brian Windhorst. After covering him during both Cleveland stints and in Miami, he has seen every stage of his storied career.
As a result of that, he can recognize some of the cycles a team goes through when they have LeBron. In a recent article, he pointed out that the Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be suffering from organizational fatigue:
Like the Miami Heat before them and to a certain extent the last generation’s Cavs, it seems to be a side effect of having James: where the quest for championships combined with a lack of security over keeping James leads to some win-now, pay-later decisions.
Acquire older veterans instead of developing younger players. Sign players to large contracts because they fit with James or because they can’t be replaced if they leave in free agency. Trade draft picks to get veterans or as a way to relieve payroll pressure. Deal with the stress of repeated long playoff runs, endure massive media scrutiny, manage varying degrees of drama.
The players get sick of one another. They get sick of the coach. The coach gets sick of the players. As a group, they lose sight of the process of the season because it becomes monotonous. There are highs -- with James teams there are always highs -- but the baggage everyone is carrying makes the flight that much harder to maintain.
The presence of LeBron James creates a pressure-cooker situation that is incredibly rare in sports. Few players have ever entered the league with the same expectations that were put on James, who amplified it by tattooing a target on his back.
Not only did he meet those expectations, he exceeded them. His only rival has been the history books, so every discussion surrounding him comes through that lens. Failure to give him the tools to win isn’t just frustrating for fans of the team, it disappoints national writers and fans of the history we are witnessing.
In many ways, sports can be like a drug. You use it to escape from life, you go into it understanding that there will be hangovers, but you want the rush. Over the last four years, the highs have diminished and have become harder to maintain. With Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors, you go into a new season understanding your peak high won’t be as high as it used to be.
The side effects are wearing on the team, and the lows are taking their toll. The ride has been worth it, and maybe the team will once again bounce back from this position they’ve put themselves in. But no matter how this season ends, it’s clear that some restructuring will need to take place this summer.
Resentment over the Kyrie Irving situation, the front office issues, the rift between Dan Gilbert and LeBron James, and shaken over pressure and drama have all made this cocktail hard to swallow. Facing a 0-2 hole and the possibility of denying LeBron an eighth straight Finals appearance, there’s a lot riding on the team’s ability to dig down and salvage this season.