Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why aren't we mad?

"Decision" night in Cleveland wasn't pretty.

For Cavaliers fans, the tenor of the 2011 NBA All-Star break as compared to last year is what Beethoven’s 5th symphony performed by the Cleveland Orchestra is to a Cannibal Corpse song strangled to inharmonious death by your neighbor’s delinquent son’s garage band.

Last year we had exciting thoughts of the conference-leading Cavs trading for that one last piece that would jettison them into heights heretofore unknown while also keeping a certain soon-to-be free agent in town after he lifted the club to its first ever championship.

Twelve months later and we’re staring dumbly into the still smoking ruin of what has become one of the worst franchises in modern professional sports. Instead of talking about post-season runs and big ticket trades, we’re weighing the possibility of the Cavs acquiring expiring contracts and draft picks as a third party in the hot-again Carmelo Anthony trade talks. Things are so bad that a regular season win against the Lakers is treated like Game 7 of a playoff series.

This reversal of fortune, as catastrophic as it’s become, is missing one key ingredient: anger. And I’m not just talking about from the players, who outside of two nights this season (Boston and LA) have barely registered as being in the building physically much less mentally.

My question is: Why aren’t Cleveland fans righteously pissed?

Sure, there was certainly some sense of cheated resentment after the kissy-fest of That Guy in Miami’s (TGIM) humbling Q comeback; a game the fans rose up for en masse but the sycophantically smiling Cavaliers treated like a charity pick-up game.

Still, that collective rage seemed to simmer quickly, and as the losses piled up in record breaking numbers recently the pot never reached the boiling point again. What gives?

The pat answer is that Cleveland is not a basketball town. What kind of firestorm would there be if the Browns went from Super Bowl contender to 1-15 over the course of a season? That circumstance is one better imagined than described.

Cleveland’s subdued reaction over the state of the Cavs may run a bit deeper than the tired “This is Browns town” response. One local sports pundit suggested that fans distraught over That Guy’s departure have “no more tears to cry” for a franchise in shambles.

While that explanation is a little country song sappy for my taste, it’s likely true that most fans are at their post-Decision endpoint of the five stages of grief and have entered the tranquil waters of acceptance regarding the team’s woes.

In my case at least, any latent anger and depression I carried over The Decision evaporated on Dec. 2. The build-up to the Miami game and the subsequent Demon Drop-like letdown was deflating to say the least. The injuries to Cavs’ veterans and the lack of any true rebuilding pieces further eroded any raw emotion I had toward this team's wholesale implosion.

The 26-game losing streak hence became a novelty instead of a sore point, and while I was annoyed by the attention the streak brought out in the form of gleeful national media coverage, I can’t say I’m angry over how bad the situation has gotten.

The nature of the NBA means the Cavs need to be bad to get better. I’d imagine the core nucleus of fans still following the Cavs accept the idea of a few years of stockpiling draft picks to build a better team than the one that couldn’t quite get it done with the league most dynamic player.

The danger, of course, is how patient people are willing to be with the process. The team’s No. 3 ranking in paid attendance this year - thanks to early season ticket renewals from last season – will likely take a drastic hit next year, while the seeming acceptance of the club’s much needed reconstruction could turn into the apathy and derision that the Indians now face.

Indifference is the franchise killer than outright anger is not. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.