by Anthony Lima
Listen to Anthony Lima on The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima weekday mornings from 6 am-10 am
The first four months of the Cavs regular season championship defense has left Cleveland fans acting like they haven’t been there before – and for 52 years previously, they hadn’t.
From the banner unveiling, to the ring ceremony, to 99% of your friends posting their commemorative ring photos to Instagram, the fans have been doing everything they could to prolong the celebration. The unintended consequence in the aftermath of the title was a general malaise that beset the fan base.
Maybe you can even call it a “chill” mode.
Home games this season have been more about last year’s destination, and not this year’s journey, with the urgency — and buzz that comes along with it — virtually gone from the arena.
LeBron James’ comments after Monday’s loss to the Pelicans might just change all of that. When the best player on the planet sounds off that this Cavs team has taken a step back, maybe it’s time the fans listen and realize this year’s title will be tougher to “earn” than last year’s historic version.
LeBron was pretty adamant in his impromptu press conference that the organization better be “all in” if they want to think about producing back-to-back titles. As we have seen in the past with the ‘Chosen One,’ he chooses his words wisely. There’s almost no such thing as “impromptu” when it comes to the King of sending messages.
And that’s exactly what LeBron did on Monday night. He sent a message.
“I just hope that we’re not satisfied as an organization…I just hope we’re not satisfied.”
That’s code for, “I don’t care if you spent $130 million on this year’s roster — the second highest payroll in NBA history. Fill out the roster, yes, every single spot. And get me a backup point guard that looks like he belongs in the NBA.”
“We’re not better than last year,” he said, “from a personnel standpoint.”
What he’s really saying, “It took a near miracle for us to get to take the 73-win Warriors to a seventh game, where I had to summon my other-worldly talents in the 47th minute to leap into the rafters and deliver arguably the greatest defensive play in NBA history to win the title. Since then, that same team added the second best player on the planet and we lost our backup point guard and top rim protector. They got better, we got worse. Apparently $130 million doesn’t buy what it used to. “
LeBron added, “We’re a top-heavy team. … It’s me, [Kyrie Irving], [Kevin Love]. It’s top-heavy.”
In reality, “It’s the big three, and everyone else on this team right now. And the everyone else doesn’t resemble the makeup of an actual NBA champion.”
“We need a f—ing playmaker. I’m not saying you can just go find one, like you can go outside and see trees. I didn’t say that.”
Translation, “Get someone who can handle the ball so that it’s not just me and Kyrie dribbling the ball for 48 minutes every single game against defenses that are designed solely to make life difficult on us dribbling the ball.”
He then compared his Cavs depleted roster with the two contending teams that got the best of him and his team in the last two weeks.
“They’ve got bodies. For the most part, all championship-contending teams has got guys that are ready to step in. Knock on wood, what if Ky goes down? For two weeks. Let’s say two. What if I went down for three weeks?”
In summation, “The Spurs and the Warriors have like 20 guys each they trust, no matter the situation, no matter the injury. My team? Well God forbid we sustain another injury, we’ll be lucky to field a starting five if I go down. And we all know how bad we are when I don’t play? What is it, 4-19 with me on the sidelines? But who’s counting?”
In all fairness to LeBron and the Cavs, this is the third straight year there’s been some sort of drama surrounding the team before the All-Star break. Two years ago the team was flat-lining so bad the team shook up the core with a massive deal that retooled the entire roster. That team went to the NBA Finals and won two games without two of the “Big Three.”
Last year, the internal strife led to the mid-season ouster of David Blatt. The rest is history. We know how that move ended up working.
This year? Even LeBron knows that no matter what happens the rest of the way, regardless of the additions and whether or not LeBron’s demands are satiated, the defending champs will be the underdogs if they meet a healthy Warriors team in the Finals. The Warriors will have home-court advantage and a team with more bodies, more playmakers, and something they didn’t have last season: A guy in Kevin Durant who can darn near play LeBron to a draw.
They say repeating is always the hardest thing to do in sports. Apparently even harder than ending a 52-year drought. Despite their greatness over two decades, the Spurs never could do it.
The Celtics never even did it with Larry Bird.
It’s championship or bust for this Cavs team and LeBron’s legacy will continue to be shaped by how this organization deals with his final years. There’s less than a half a season to go for the this year’s team to start resembling a championship team.
Just don’t let anyone fool you, these regular season games are more than an exhibition. It may not have looked that way when they when they surrendered 70 points in the first half to the Pelicans, but surely LeBron felt otherwise when he went to the NBA world talking about where his team has fallen short.
Think about how the last two years have been molded by some of the similar early-season miscues. Those games mattered, and these last 39 games will matter too.
The Cavs’ title hopes depend on it.