While the Cleveland Cavaliers are still on course to finish first in the Eastern Conference and it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t think they’ll make the NBA finals, but there’s an obvious burden with LeBron James, who is the team’s best player, but also someone who can’t seem to keep his ego in check, and doesn’t seem to realize or worse, care about what his actions do to the team.
The Cavaliers rested James (or he decided to do it himself) as they lost 106-100 to the Houston Rockets. According to Tyronn Lue, it’s part of the plan to give key players rest as they get closer to the playoffs and have a 2.5 game lead over the Toronto Raptors, with Cleveland having 8 games left to play and Toronto with 9. Both teams have won six of their last 10 games and lost their most recent one, the Raptors getting blown out at home by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But bigger than the loss itself for Cleveland was the footage of James acting like the head coach on the sidelines. It’s one thing to point out certain stuff to teammates like how to box out or certain passing lanes or defensive assignments they should pay attention to. But it looked like James was coaching over Lue’s head at times, which isn’t just counterproductive, but pretty much affirms everything that’s been said about James this season, and especially since David Blatt was fired.
When all the things add up – James weird social media interactions and references, his comments about teammates he’d like to be with and some of the things he did on their most recent Miami trip, it’s hard to ignore that James isn’t just unhappy in Cleveland, he seems to be on his way out, and promises be damned. It’ll also mean a mega hit to his image, which he really cares about, but unless everyone is misreading what is becoming a more and more obvious situation, this doesn’t look like a team that’s too happy to play with each other. James is the best player on there, but his presence has been causing more and more problems. The talk Lue gave him about being more careful with what he says and does hasn’t been too helpful.
And it’s not like the Cavaliers are better without him. They had a 20-point lead early in the third quarter which disappeared. Their offensive stagnation which erupts from time to time with what can only be described as defensive apathy made its way to the surface again. Kyrie Irving finished with 31 points, but he shot just 9-for-23 from the field and the Cavaliers as a team made only 36% of their shots. Against a bad defensive team like the Rockets, it’s even worse than it sounds.
It’s hard to say where the Cavaliers go from here. It’s not like there’s time for a massive change. LeBron James loves talking about clicking and coming together, but these aren’t players new to each other. Most of them are playing together for the second consecutive season. Firing Blatt hasn’t cleansed the locker room or improved their basketball. It got worse, and while the talent could be enough to carry them into the finals, this is probably the weakest LeBron James led team since he left the Cavs in 2010, with the least impressive team chemistry, which means warning signs all across the board as they head into the playoffs.