If the Cavaliers lose to the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, they’ll break the record for consecutive losses by any team in any of the four major American sporting leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL), surpassing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976-77 who lost 26 in a row over a two-season stretch.
This, of course, is historically embarrassing, and getting worse, with the Washington Wizards, winless on the road so far this season (0-25), scheduled to visit Cleveland on Sunday night in what’s shaping up to be a national spectacle. LeBron James himself opined that Sunday’s game should be nationally televised if the Cavs’ streak is still alive, and Tracy McGrady probably summarized the feelings of the average NBA fan well after his Detroit Pistons beat the Cavs on Wednesday night:
“As crazy as it sounds, I want to see them and Washington play,” McGrady said. “I don’t wish anyone to have a bad losing streak, but I want them to get to Washington, 0-and-whatever they could be, and see whose streak ends. That would be something that would be interesting to watch.”
Woo train wreck! In Cleveland! “You know the river caught on fire there once. Ha. Hey, let’s make a ‘most miserable cities’ list!”
So, yeah, this is embarrassing, but there’s really no point wallowing in it. And at least one upside to any extreme extreme is that they all tend to be especially useful data points. So consider how much better we might feel in Northeast Ohio, how much better we might feel about the best athlete of our generation being one of ours, the kid we all loved so much for so long, and how much better we might feel about watching the upcoming NBA playoffs and so many other things, if we could just feel better about the reasons why LeBron James left the Cavs to join the Miami Heat. A simple honest look at this losing streak has to help here.
Whatever else about this losing streak, it makes it harder to think of LeBron as a “traitor” or as a “quitter,” and easier to think of him as a kid, imperfect like anyone else, who mostly just wanted to win NBA titles, and, right or wrong, was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do that with the Cavaliers (however much LeBron might have misvalued what it would have meant to win just one in Cleveland). Whatever else about this streak, it makes it a lot easier to see LeBron’s performance in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals as a result of his exhaustion and inability to carry his supporting cast than as a result of him having “quit.” And however much LeBron’s impending free agency hampered the Cavaliers’ ability to surround him with better talent, it’s at least easier to understand why LeBron might have doubted their ability to ever get it right.
Seven years, with the stakes as high as could be, and the best second-option LeBron ever had was Mo Williams. The same Mo Williams who this season, according to Brian Windhorst:
didn’t show up to camp in shape for the demanding workouts [Coach Byron] Scott had planned, though the team hasn’t discussed this publicly. He’s missed three weeks with a groin injury, one of a series of upper leg and abdominal muscle strains. Some of the issues may be traceable back to LeBron’s move — Williams has admitted he fell into a bit of a depression over the summer after learning James was leaving.
Scottie Pippen really wasn’t so fragile at all, was he? But we make it so easy for Michael Jordan to gloat about LeBron’s star having fallen.
Whatever else about the losing streak, it makes it at least a little bit easier to understand why LeBron would want to leave an organization led by the same Dan Gilbert who’s presiding over the historic mess the Cavaliers are in now. It didn’t have to get this bad, and it gets right to the difference between a proper willful organizational rebuild and a train wreck that painfully leaves no question that a rebuild is necessary. Instead of anything resembling a nucleus of anything that the Cavs can take into the future (Hickson/Eyenga/Harris really doesn’t cut it), the 2010-11 edition is little more than a mishmash of depressed veteran role players and rookies who might never contribute to a winning NBA team. A season essentially wasted, the franchise a historic embarrassment, how much damage done?, all because Dan Gilbert wanted to prove something. Again, per Windhorst:
Gilbert was truly confident … that this year’s team would make the playoffs, or at least seriously contend for them, and send a message around the NBA about the team’s will and talent level.
In the days after James’ departure, the Cavs had chances to deconstruct their roster further. There were offers for some of the remaining frontline players; not especially good offers, but options to begin a full-scale rebuilding project.
Gilbert, who is a staunch optimist, had no such intentions. And his plan to compete right away seemed to make sense when the Cavs, fueled by emotion, played fairly well early in the season — they beat the Celtics in their opener and stood at a respectable 7-9 record after the season’s first month.
Then their grand hopes crashed.
During training camp coach Byron Scott did smell a little trouble, but he rationalized the situation by saying the Cavs had more talent than the past two coaching jobs he’d walked in to. That was a 26-win New Jersey team in 2000-01 and an 18-64 New Orleans team in 2004-05. Scott, like Gilbert, didn’t see this coming.
The common reaction these days is that James certainly must have been more valuable than anyone realized.
“Staunch optimist” is one way to put it. If the offers that the Cavs received for “some of the various frontline players” weren’t “especially good,” there was plenty of reason to believe they’d never get any better. And if Scott is right about the Cavs having more talent than the last two teams he’d walked into, it just shows that talent doesn’t get very far when it isn’t organized properly. It’s easy enough to assume that the players themselves have understood this all along: “This is dumb. This thing isn’t going anywhere. Let it go, Dan. Crap. Get me the hell out of here.”
It’s like Kelly Dwyer said earlier this week about the Ferrari on the scrap heap and a real leader: There’s no basis for assuming that another organization wouldn’t have reacted much differently to all of this. That Gilbert’s Cavs didn’t, and that it’s resulted in the Cavs’ historically embarrassing position today, is some significant evidence that there were some good reasons behind LeBron’s decision to leave.
It’s not at all to say LeBron is blameless in this mess. Just that that the historic embarrassment of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers makes it at least a little bit easier to stop demonizing the hometown kid, the hometown kid who’s made it as big as any. And the historic embarrassment of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers makes it at least a little bit easier to stop lionizing the billionaire mortgagee from Detroit, the one who bought LeBron and the Cavs with housing bubble blood money.
It’s really not the worst thing in the world.