Since the return of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have dominated the Eastern Conference, making three straight NBA Finals, and winning the title back in 2016. After losing to the Golden State Warriors last year, disaster struck in the offseason when starting point guard Kyrie Irving demanded a trade. Irving subsequently got traded, and the Cavaliers received Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first round pick from the Boston Celtics. In addition, they also were able to sign Dwyane Wade to a one-year deal after he was bought out of his contract with the Chicago Bulls. Even with the talent and the King being there, the Cavs are out to a sluggish 3-5 start and major questions looming.
After beating the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks to start the season, Cleveland has struggled mightily, losing five out of their last six games, including a blowout home loss to the hands of the Orlando Magic. They then suffered a series of losses against the rebuilding Chicago Bulls, the woeful Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, and the Indiana Pacers.
So far this season the Cavs have no identity. Dwyane Wade hasn’t found his role on the team. JR Smith has been upset about playing time ever since he didn’t start the season opener. And Jae Crowder has looked like the shell of himself, not even close to the two-way player that Cleveland traded for from Boston.
When speaking to ESPN staff writer Dave McMenamin, head coach Tyronn Lue told McMenamin that the Cavs are not having fun right now, “Off the court, we’ve got great chemistry, great bound. Just, on the court, we just got to be better, like talking, communicating, enjoying the game together. Having fun. Right now guys are not having fun,” Lue said. It’s also worthy to note that this has been the worst start for LeBron since his rookie year in 2004 when the Cavaliers started 2-5.
There are a plethora of areas the Cavaliers have been struggling at, but the biggest issue has been on the defensive end. Cleveland is giving up 1.015 PPP (points per possession) and issuing a 113.2 DRtg – both of those areas rank dead last in the NBA. But this extends further though, where the Cavaliers are allowing teams to shoot 45 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from three (giving up 13.7 3PM’s per game). Part of the issue on the defensive end is the lack of aggressiveness, where Cleveland ranks 28th in steals at 5.4 per game, and have committed the least amount of fouls in the NBA this season.
LeBron James is enjoying his prototypical stat-line, averaging 24.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 8.6 assists. Unfortunately, no one has produced behind him. Smith is shooting 21 percent from the field during his slump, Wade is only averaging 8.2 points so far this season. As a team without LeBron, the Cavs are only shooting 41 percent, which would put the Cavs in the bottom of the rankings in field goal percentage.
As of right now, the Cavs are a dysfunctional organization. They will still be without Isaiah Thomas until January. Don’t be surprised to see the Cavaliers making some moves to try to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference. Any team as of now would beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in a seven-game series (let’s also remember it’s November). One question has been going around right now. Is it the chemistry with a completely new roster, or is it fatigue from making three straight finals? Only time will tell but it’s clear that the Cleveland Cavaliers have several questions to answer.