- Hannah Foslien/Getty
- Nine games into their first season without LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have fallen to 1-8, the worst record in the league, while internal conflicts have arisen.
- According to a report, there are disagreements about the team’s direction between the front office and coaching staff.
- Veteran players are upset about playing time, with some wanting to be traded.
- Some of the Cavs veterans are also not impressed with the team’s younger players currently getting playing time, including rookie Collin Sexton.
- The Cavs thought they could compete this season while developing young talent, but it increasingly appears their best path forward will be blowing it up.
For the second time this decade, LeBron James has left the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the team has seemingly collapsed in on itself.
James’ departure for the Miami Heat in 2010, of course, left the team in dire straights as they toiled in the NBA’s abyss, collecting lottery picks and racking up 20-win seasons until James returned in 2014.
From the looks of things, James’ latest departure isn’t any different. Through nine games, the Cavs are an NBA-worst 1-8, with the worst point differential in the league.
As The Athletic’s Joe Vardon revealed in a damning report, there are systemic issues on the team that paint an even uglier picture of the post-LeBron landscape.
At the heart of the issue, according to Vardon, seems to be organizational disagreement about the direction of the team. According to Vardon, when James left, some of the veteran Cavs players were under the impression they would be moved to different teams so the Cavs could start a rebuild. However, despite James moving, the team decided they wanted to stay competitive and fight for the playoffs.
Vardon reported that veteran wing Kyle Korver signed with the Cavs under the premise that if James left, he would be moved elsewhere. From Vardon:
“The first player Altman ever signed to a contract as GM was Kyle Korver. It was a three-year, $22 million deal inked in July of 2017, but it came with an understanding: If LeBron were to leave, the Cavs would either trade Korver or buy him out of the deal so he could move his family to his next team during the summer. So when LeBron left July 1 for the Lakers, Korver asked for the Cavs to move him. They refused because, they told him, they wanted him to play and for the team to try and win.”
The decision to compete for the playoffs, sans LeBron, seems to have created issues on the roster, namely in acquiring young players to kick-start a rebuild around the team’s veterans.
The Cavs used the eighth pick in the draft to take 19-year-old point guard Collin Sexton. Their biggest free agency moves included signing young, talented players like David Nwaba and Sam Dekker in hopes of giving them chances to improve.
According to Vardon, after two losses to start the season, head coach Tyronn Lue sat his veterans, who he preferred, to play younger players. But when the team still didn’t win, Lue turned back to his veterans, going against the wishes of GM Koby Altman and the front office. The move still didn’t result in wins, so with Lue and Altman at odds, Lue was fired.
That has only opened up new cans of worms.
Interim head coach Larry Drew has pushed back against the label of “interim” head coach, requesting more money and job security for himself and his coaching staff. Drew has made his requests public, and Vardon reported that players don’t feel Drew has the proper command of the locker room because he doesn’t have any long-term security.
While that tug-of-war continues, Smith has publicly requested a trade, upset about him playing time. Meanwhile, Kevin Love, fresh off signing a four-year, $120 million extension, had to undergo foot surgery that could keep him out for over a month.
There’s more! According to Vardon, Cavs players have also become disenchanted with Sexton, one of the young players the front office wants to devote more playing time.
According to Vardon, some players increasingly believe he can’t play, questioning his ability to run an offense, score efficiently, set up teammates, then play defense on the other end. Vardon reported that the issues don’t have much to do with Sexton as a person, and his teammates understand he’s only 19, but that his performances have not won many people over.
Increasingly, it looks like the Cavs’ best path is to blow it up – exactly what they decided not to do when James left.
There are real benefits to that plan. The Cavs owe their 2019 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks unless it lands in the top-10. Currently, the Cavs are on pace to keep that pick, but it wouldn’t hurt to trade off some of their veteran players.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe has reported that the Cavs signed Love to such a big extension to make it easier to trade him – the contract security that comes with an extension is more enticing than trading for Love before he hits free agency. It’s unclear what the Cavs could get in return for Love now, but perhaps they could land another asset or young player to continue their rebuild.
Issues within the organization were only thinly veiled in recent years, even with James on the roster. The Cavs went all-in to build around him, and the aftermath was always going to be ugly. But at least in recent years, the winning masked some issues.
Now the team appears to be heading back toward the NBA’s doldrums, and it’s hard to imagine the present situation continuing. The Cavs thought they could smoothly transition between eras – remaining competitive with a veteran roster built around Love while their young players slowly developed and took center stage.
Instead, it appears their only path forward it to begin anew and usher in an entirely new era.