Thursday, February 10, 2011

Will it ever end?

This is typically the time of the year when national sports analysts and hosts come down off their nauseating Superbowl high. Weeks of over-saturated, beaten-like-a-dead-horse football talk transitions into America's red-headed step child of sport - basketball. The NCAA Tournament is just around the corner and NBA teams are distinguishing themselves as pretenders or contenders. During the last few years, it meant it was time to talk about the Cavaliers, their league leading record, their MVP superstar, and their chance to finally break the curse. This year, just one year later, the Cavs are making headlines for a completely different and disastrous reason. Heading into Wednesday's home game against the Detroit Pistons, they had already broken the record for most consecutive losses in an NBA season, which by the way was owned by a previous Cavaliers bunch (only in Cleveland). And after a disinterested loss to those Pistons, the losing streak reached 26 and they have now tied the record for most consecutive losses by ANY professional sports team... ever... matching the infamous 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record.

Amazingly, the Cavaliers have won one stinkin' game since November 27th (they beat the N.Y. Knicks on December 18th). Since starting 7-9, the Cavs are 1-35. Think about that for a second - Thanksgiving was November 25th. They've won one game since Thanksgiving weekend. Considering the Browns lost their last four games of the season (last winning on December 5th against the Miami Dolphins), Cleveland fans have celebrated ONE  professional sports win since the first week of December. Ouch!

In comparison, here are some numbers to consider since December 5th:
  • 17 - wins by The Ohio State men's baskeball team
  • 1 - win by The Ohio State football team
  • 11 - wins (cumulative) in the NFL playoffs including the Superbowl (the NFL playoffs started January 18th, therefore the entire NFL postseason was started and completed during this time)
  • 4 - playoff wins (including the Superbowl) for the Green Bay Packers
  • 24 - wins by the Miami Heat (26 since that dreadful December 2nd game against the Cavs)
  • 5 - wins by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team with the second worst record (next to the Cavs) in the NBA (one of those wins since Dec. 5th was against the Cavs and they beat Cleveland on December 4th as well. The 'Wolves have 11 total wins... 2 are against the Cavs)
  • 2 - wins for the retired WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry "The King" Lawler on Raw.
Thanksgiving was a LONG time ago. Since then, we've celebrated Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years, Martin Luther King Day, The Royal Rumble, and The Superbowl. That's mind-boggling, even for Cleveland sports.

But what's what even more aggravating is Kelly Dwyer's take on the Cavaliers current situation in his blog, Ball Don't Lie , which, frustratingly, is shared by many national pundits who have watched as many Cavaliers games as my five year old son (I've tried but he'd rather watch Dino Dan and SpongeBob). Dwyer (who prior to the season, predicted the Cavs would win 12 games - kudos for that) blames Dan Gilbert for the woes of the franchise. And while Gilbert isn't without fault, Dwyer shows his complete lack of understanding of the events leading to this embarrassing state. Let's pick apart some of Dwyer's naive and misinformed statements:
Athletes are supposed to have egos. They're men in their 20s and early 30s who have to pump themselves up 90 times a year to play a kid's game, so you have to go into each of those evenings with the mindset that, holy cow, this really, really matters.
Owners? They need to be competitive as well, staying ahead of other teams in finding ways to create new revenue streams and fielding the best 10-man rotation their money can buy. But at some point, they're also supposed to know better. And because Dan Gilbert didn't know better during his time with LeBron James, his angry night following James' departure for Miami, and the season that followed, the Cavaliers are in this mess.
First of all, how did Gilbert's "angry night" (his letter to the fans) have anything to do with how the team is performing on the court? They were words. Dwyer continues:
...anyone thought a core of 6-2 shooting guards, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao  and 34-year-old Antawn Jamison would be a smart thing to work with moving forward ("but we have that trade exception!") is beyond me. Cavalier backers and employees can point all they want to the team's massive injury woes, but a healthy Cavs team lost 14 of 15 games in December, beating only the Knicks at home in a close one. This team is awful, and it's not the team's fault. It's the fault of Dan Gilbert, whose hubris and ego led him to believe that he could coddle James and get away with it for years, believing that the narcissistic superstar would give Cleveland the hometown discount in preferring Mo Williams over Dwyane Wade. When James declined, Gilbert's ego led him to believe that the team that James (and Danny Ferry and Mike Brown) left behind would be worth anything on its own.
Sure, in hindsight, Gilbert coddled James and it backfired. But there isn't an owner or president of any team that wouldn't have done the same. That includes Miami Heat President Pat Riley. Riley can now control James because has all the cards (i.e. a long term contract). James never afforded the Cavs that opportunity. Dwyer also implies that Gilbert believed James would give a "hometown discount in preferring Mo Williams over Dwyane Wade". I don't think Gilbert or anyone believed that, especially the part about Wade, but again, Gilbert did what he had to. We all know Cleveland isn't the most attractive NBA city. Gilbert had to go above and beyond to impress James. Using some of the most profound analogies to ever grace the social media world, Dwyer adds:

Somehow, Dan Gilbert has overshadowed "The Decision." In real basketball terms, he's made the situation 10 times worse because his ego couldn't handle a proper reaction to losing an MVP for no return. James' Hummer may have cut Gilbert's Ferrari off in traffic, a jerk move if we ever saw one, rendering Gilbert's roadster to the scrap heap. But a real leader walks to the service station after that. He doesn't get back behind the wheel, making "vroom, vroom" noises as he tries to get the engine to turn over, and expect to get back up to 65 miles an hour. Or 65 wins, in this regard.
Very creative Kelly, except your argument is ridiculous. Dan Gilbert overshadowed "The Decision"? In who's world? Apparently only yours. "In real basketball terms, he's made the situation 10 times worse because his ego couldn't handle a proper reaction to losing an MVP for no return." Again, what did you want Gilbert to do? Trade LeBron during the season? Ego had nothing to do with it... except LeBron's. James gave the Cavs no real opportunity to react. No flexibility. He held the Cavs hostage for three years. During the summer, James refused to talk to Gilbert. Had he been up front with the owner, who, as you said, gave The King and his friends the keys to the castle, perhaps Gilbert would have driven to that service station instead of making "vroom", "vroom" noises... or however that stupid analogy went. One thing Dwyer got partially correct:
And we're left with Antawn Jamison, perhaps the NBA's classiest act, having to suffer an indignity he hopes no other NBA player should ever have to go through. And even with LeBron's sucker punch, it didn't have to be this way.
He's right - it didn't have to be this way. The Cavs have Jamison because of James' lack of commitment to the organization. Instead of building the best team and attracting top tier free agents, the Cavs were forced to plug in misfitting parts, settling for the "next-best-thing", instead of that true second star. Gilbert (and GM Danny Ferry) went for it all and should have. They played all their cards. They went all-in. Who can blame them when they had the best player in the league and the best record. Gilbert can't be blamed for that.

It drives me bananas when the misinformed say "the current losing streak justifies LeBron leaving. They surrounded him with nothing." That line of thinking is so wrong it's sickening. The Cavaliers won over 60 games two straight years. Will Miami do that? James has all-stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to go with him. So if that's the case, then how bad could the rest of the Cavs have been?

The Cavaliers losing streak is an abomination. But the team that is playing right now is not the team James left behind or the team Gilbert envisioned that "angry night". Not even close. Injuries have reduced them from below average to historically inept. Two of their best three players are out. A team with a healthy Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Jamison might not be a playoff team, but they aren't losing 35 of 36 games. But you'd never know that listening to the national guys. Instead you'd think LeBron left and this is what he had to work with as a Cavalier. Sorry... not that simple.

Wins in Cleveland these days are as hard to come by as sunshine. But as far as the Cavaliers go, let's be realistic with who and where we place the blame. This sucks... but fear not... Cleveland's Superbowl, otherwise known as the NFL draft, will be here soon (in April). Hopefully that's not before the Cavaliers' next win.