The 2013-2014 Cavaliers are a silly team. Their silliness oscillates between comical and sinister at unhealthy speeds. One month, Andrew Bynum is acting like a full-on Wes Anderson villain and indeterminately throwing objects, and the next month Anthony Bennett is teasing DeMarcus Cousins, the first post-LeBron four game winning streak has everyone smiling, and Kyrie is starting an all-star game this weekend. This season is entertaining in the same way that eating three bags of cheetos in one sitting is entertaining: fun in the moment, but it might leave you with a body ache afterwards.
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The Cavaliers probably had something to prove after a particularly tumultuous weekend. There are reports that the roster is headed for detonation, that new all-star on the block Luol Deng can’t believe how laissez-faire the whole team is, and that the team is generally swamped by darkness. How a team responds to diversity and negativity is a big indicator of their potential. Reporters have called the Durant-Westbrook relationship into question before, but it always seems like they respond with a defiant show of togetherness. Against the Mavericks, the Cavaliers played the most average Cavs game I’ve seen from them. They weren’t horrible, but there was a lack of urgency. The Mavericks maintained a steady lead over Cleveland all game and the Cavs yawned themselves to death.
This started as a fun experiment. It became progressively more painful.
Wednesday night, I emailed fellow TrueHoop bloggers, representing 18 NBA teams, explaining an article idea consisting of trading Kyrie, Dion, and Tristan. Fire Chris Grant and Coach Brown, too. The Cavs had just embarrassed themselves against Phoenix and New Orleans, and the Luol Deng trade, instead of a rescue boat, looked like a rearranging of chairs on the Titanic. Instead of parsing out who was most to blame, who should stay and who should go, the team would start fresh, including shipping out their biggest trade chip, Mr. Irving, for a large return. The goal was to see what new team could be put together, as well as gauging the trade value of the youngsters.
What ensued over the next few days in Cavalier-dom was farcical, resulting in my endeavor being almost perversely comical, and probably embarrassing for myself in the process.
Every year there are teams that disappoint.
Sometimes it’s because of injuries. Last year’s Philadelphia 76ers organization thought they’d built themselves something (marginally to very) competitive, until Andrew Bynum’s knees said otherwise. This year, injuries to Derrick Rose and, to a lesser extent, Russell Westbrook have altered what NBA fans thought they were in for when they re-upped for the 2013-14 season.
Sometimes it’s because of off the court issues. In 2010, Gilbert Arenas, fresh off a season lost to injury and only a year removed from signing a massive $111 million six-year contract with the Wizards, was suspended, along with Javaris Crittenton, for the remainder of the season for bringing handguns into the team’s locker room. The suspensions caused the Wizards to officially write off the rest of what had already been a disappointing season. It was already disappointing because the team had just traded the sixth pick in the 2009 draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye (rather than have a chance to select Steph Curry … which, don’t worry, the T-Wolves didn’t take advantage of either) to make a (final?) run at playoff success with their Arenas / Antawn Jamison core. Arenas still scored (over 22 points a game) that year, but his efficiency had been eviscerated. In 2010, Wizards fans saw a team who no longer could function on a winning level, then they saw the suspensions, then they saw the team trade Jamison to the Cavs for Zydrunas Ilgauskas (only to, then, see the Cavs get Ilgauskus back … and watch Jamison get torched by Kevin Garnett … and – well, you know the story) and they finished in full-blown tear down mode and a 26-56 record.
Sometimes it’s because of on court issues. In 2004-05, the Indiana Pacers rode the “Malice at the Palace” from a legitimate shot at the championship to 128 total games suspended for Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal. That team was still able to ride Reggie Miller’s final league go-around to 44 wins and a playoff spot, but was never again (until now, anyway) the threat to win it all that it was when 04-05 tipped off.
And sometimes teams just aren’t as good as NBA fans and pundits alike thought (or hoped) they would be. This year’s Pistons, for example, have yet to figure out how their collection of disparate pieces can work. Right now (surprise!) they don’t. And, of course, this year’s Cavaliers, for many of the same reasons.
Kyrie Irving is a 2014 all-star. He was a 2013 all-star. These two actualities are equal, but the thrill is gone this year. While all-star status always imbues a certain prestige or legitimacy on a player’s season, this go-round it has come on the back of a war of attrition rather than a pyroclastic announcement of intent. Kyrie Irving and the Cavs are sputtering around aimlessly, similar to last year, but trajectory and expectations have created a different environment. With Kyrie at the center of the team, his all-star selection served as a natural jumping in point for writers to consider the intertwined struggles of Irving and the Cavs.
Most prominent was Jason Lloyd’s scorching referendum at the Akron Beacon-Journal. In the piece he takes Irving to task for being overly concerned with his brand and image at the expense of improvement. He calls Kyrie immature and details how he acts as if he is above the team and thus shielded from rational criticism, which could theoretically help the Cavs unmire themselves. Irving deflects, blaming his struggles on team defense or entropy but Lloyd does have a valid point. Kyrie has been aloof for a while.
The game was tied at 96 with 2:31 left. The Blazers were looking forward to the start of a road trip and the Cavs were eager to end theirs. It felt like the game had set the table for another classic finish between these two odd rivals, but then the other shoe, which had been levitating conspicuously near the Moda center’s jumobtron fell with a thud. LaMarcus Aldridge went off and the Blazers ended the game on a 12-0 run, a run which the Cavs were powerless to stop. The Blazers seemed stifled the whole game, more by themselves than by Cleveland, but after the official timeout when it was tied, they played like their mental block had been lifted and they torched the Cavs.
Tristan Thompson splits a pair of free throws with 9.3 seconds left. The Lakers charge down the court, miss a three, but it’s straight into the waiting hands of Pau Gasol! Gasol only has to dunk to beat the buzzer, which he does! What an ending!
Fortunately for Cavs fans, the buzzer beater was inconsequential and only served to make the win look tighter than it was. Despite playing silly basketball on the defensive end for much of the night, the Cavaliers were just good enough down the stretch to beat the Lakers to move to 2-1 on this road trip. Anderson Varejao was the player of the game for the Cavs, grabbing 18 rebounds to go along with 18 points and six assists. He also kept the Cavs in the game during a horrible second quarter with facilitation and timely thumps on a few Lakers big men. Luol Deng shot 5-5 from three to punctuate his efficient 27 points, by far his best game as a Cavalier thus far. The team shot 13-17 overall, good for 77%.
Editor’s Note: Comments were accidentally turned off for this article, earlier. They’ve been re-enabled.
As gets mentioned around here a tad, Nate, Tom and I, in addition to the esteemed Randall Cooper (@laughingcavs), started another website, gotbuckets, largely devoted to Adjusted Plus Minus (APM) and Regularized APM (RAPM). For a brief discussion of APM, check here. Yesterday, the first update of 2-year APM to incorporate 2013 – 2014 play was posted. With that, let’s discuss what the results may mean for the 2013 – 2014 Cavs. Keep in mind that these results include all games from 02/14/2012 through 01/06/2014 (not exactly two years due to strike shortened season), so it’s much more than just this season. Using reasonably large sample sizes is important for APM though.
The game clock wasn’t functioning for the first four seconds of this afternoon’s game. The refs quickly stopped the game and basically started over from scratch, running the elapsed time off the clock. Maybe, in the alternate universe where that Kings possession continues uninterrupted, the Cavs play coherent basketball and push hard for longer than a quarter and change. Maybe the stoppage dammed their energy and they were unable to get it flowing again. Maybe the team was swapped out for very convincing lookalikes in the first quarter when my TV died for five minutes, because Cleveland was run out of the worst gym in the NBA by one of the worst teams in the NBA.