Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hard Truths about David Blatt, LeBron, & the Cavs

David Blatt's most infamous and defining public moment, unfairly or not, was just a turn of a referee's head from becoming Northeast Ohio's next mammoth sports disaster. Coach, the Cavaliers and, most of all, Cleveland caught an uncharacteristic break last Mother's Day when no official noticed Blatt signaling for a timeout that didn't exist. He followed his good fortune by pushing his luck- drawing up the final shot of the game for someone not named LeBron. This time, Coach Blatt was saved by the very superstar he unintentionally attempted to snub. See, this was the NBA playoffs in 2015. Blatt might be Israel's answer to Phil Jackson, but there would be no J.R. Smith-as-Toni Kukoc-moment. LeBron is many things in this life, but he is not a decoy. So he would call his own play, bury three points from a small pocket of the United Center, and then boast to the media about how it all went down. For all intents and purposes, Bron's trey was three-fold: it won the game, essentially the series, and, ironically, it bought Blatt another eight months in a job that the Cavs and King James never wanted him to have.

This is not an indictment of owner Dan Gilbert's choice of Blatt in June, 2014. Most fans supported the hire, and the organization had failed so miserably in player development that we welcomed the thought of an NBA coach telling his squad to "shut the %*@# up" in a huddle. Of course, everything changed when LeBron (and his potentially, never-ending string of one-year contracts) entered the room. What could Blatt, of European-checkers fame, offer an eleven-year grandmaster of chess? What kind of influence could Blatt wield when Klutch Sports holds the entire town hostage? Blatt became a patzer and a mascot the moment LeBron's "Coming Home" essay hit Twitter. In a perfect world, 'Bron makes his decision earlier, the Cavs conduct their coaching search accordingly, and we avoid the charade of the last season and a half. You know, the whole song and dance about how Ty Lue's presence in no way undermined Blatt's ability to act authoritative. And Blatt's impromptu California bowling trip somehow magically bonded the team to their rookie coach. While 'Bron burned through shot clocks and made his own substitutions, there was still the Fred McLeod-type of narrative that Blatt attained some sort of mutual respect with LeBron by kissing the King's ass. Finally, GM David Griffin had enough of those fantasies.

At CST, we're never shy about facing the harshest of realities, and that's the crux of this column. We've written a gazillion words on the eternal buffoonery of the Browns, but the Cavs offer their own brand of longstanding incompetence. If you scrolled the dark alleys of the internet about fifteen years ago, you could always find a rumor about the irrelevant Cavs relocating to St. Louis or, worse, Baltimore. In 2011, when Cleveland was the league's laughingstock, the talk was the "Seattle Cavaliers" or, even, contractionAny sniffle of success over the past two decades is directly due to #23. In fact, LeBron saved us twice. First, from moving, when the Gund ownership had pro hoops in The Land bordering on extinction. Second, from the horrendous ineptitude of Gilbert and Chris Grant. It's not exactly far-fetched to say the front office did absolutely nothing right in the post-LeBron era. It was simply lottery luck that brought LBJ home; it's the challenge of reversing the curse and the chance at immortality that will keep him here. But, while we're leveling with ourselves, it's more than fair to suggest James is no longer the world's top talent. Also, it probably wasn't a coincidence that the Cavs' most soulful performances during last year's playoff run were born, minus Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, from the mettle of role players. Despite their offensive gifts, it's unrealistic to believe Love and Irving, moody and aloof as they are, can exhibit the tenacity necessary to take four games from the western champion. That leaves us with the saddest truth of them all: David Blatt's 2014-15 Cavs may have come as close to the Larry O'Brien trophy as our city ever gets.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cavs blow out Blatt. What's next?

Four days after an embarrassing loss to the defending champs on home court, second-year Cavaliers coach David Blatt is paying for that humiliation with his job. 

David, I hardly knew ye...

At least that will be a major part of the narrative in the days ahead as fans and local media try to deconstruct Blatt's deep-sixing by team brass this afternoon. If anything, the evisceration by the Golden State Warriors may have been the fatal blow in a coaching tenure that had been bleeding for some time.

According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Cavs players were not convinced Blatt could take this team to a championship level. Early word from beat writer Brian Windhorst claims LeBron James was not consulted on the decision, a bit of lip service so egregious as to be comical.  

Regardless, the Cavs have even more pressure on them now to bring this title-starved city a summertime parade, with assistant coach Tyronn Lue taking the hot seat. The Blatt-led Cavs' gaudy record masked some problems, no doubt, namely an offense where ball rotation was shunted aside for one-on-one hero ball.

Whether that's on Blatt or the players is a question. Both sides are to blame, most likely. However, it's apparent these players didn't respect Blatt, and that was an issue that could not be ignored. Blame the diva-licious NBA era we live in if you will, but as a prisoner of the moment, at least, it's evident Blatt would have been canned at season's end barring a title run.

It sucks, but them's the breaks on a team built to win immediately. After today's controversial move, Cleveland fans can do nothing but hope the gamble pays off big time. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Curbstomping by the Warriors will leave a bad taste in Cavs' mouth for months--if not forever

What can you say about Monday night's abomination? What every Cavaliers' observer knew was a huge game on the schedule--the final regular season meeting between the Warriors and Cavs after a very nice road trip which saw only a close loss to San Antonio--turns out to be an absolute disaster.

The Cavaliers were absolutely humiliated at home, 132-98, in a game that wasn't even that close. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were non-factors, and LeBron James put up a -35 plus/minus, the worst of his career.

No need to go through the specific issues in the game, except for that the game plan, execution, and staffing all seemed to be woefully inadequate, and Steph Curry and Co. punked the crap out of the team in front of a sell out crowd that felt like a Browns mid-December crowd by the third quarter.

The Kevin Love Vine that will live in infamy does the job nicely. 

What is worth talking about is what this will do to the Cavaliers the rest of the season. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Monday beatdown could destroy the team, leading to finger pointing and infighting that the team can never recover from. In fact, there was minor hints of that Monday evening, with LeBron discussing the inexperience of some players, and Kevin Love nodding toward James as he talked about the team having to check the mirror, starting with their leader.

But maybe it will pull the team together, making Kevin Love a true focal point of the offense and not some guy who makes one shot and can't play defense. Making JR Smith accountable for his boneheadedness to go along with his offensive gifts. Maybe it's the fire that had to be lit under a team that was probably feeling pretty good after blowing out Houston on the road just days earlier.

All we know is that there is nothing--NOTHING--that can remove this bad taste from the team's mouth beside beating the Warriors--or another Western Conference team--in a seven game series commonly known as the Finals. So from now until June, the team just has to suck it up and own the fact that they got their asses kicked on national television.

If they don't want it to happen again, something has to change.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The screams, the humiliation, the fact that it wasn't the Browns!

Mere moments after the Cincinnati Bengals humiliating playoff loss to their cross-state rivals, the ever watchful Internet of Memes went to work. 

Sorry not sorry

The Michael Jordan crying face was superimposed over the Bengals logo and replaced the heads of various Cincinnati players and fans. Meanwhile, this heartbroken young woman was immortalized in gif form, doomed to weep over her team's failures in a loop forever.

Not surprisingly, Cleveland was dragged into this depressing conversation, thanks to shared geography and a recent history of gridiron ineptitude. Bengals fan and ex-boybander Nick Lachey gave Cleveland its dubious props with this woebegone tweet :

The Tweet of God, always subtle as a kick to the sweetmeats in His holy Cleveland-bashing, had this to report:

I was rooting for the Bengals, mainly because I wanted them to beat the Steelers. However, here in the post-humiliation aftermath I don't exactly feel bad for Cincy's devastated fanbase, either. It's actually kind of nice to have the improbable, embarrassing, grasping-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory moment thrust upon another city.

This is an uncharitable thought so devoid of empathy as to be borderline sociopathic. What are you gonna do, though? I can't help it. It's not a matter of schadenfreude, it's more a sense of relief that the shit is hitting someone else's fan(s), for once.

Let another city hand-wring over what could have been. Let them parse that one play that could have turned soul-deadening defeat into the first post-season win in two decades. (Personally, I'd be more haunted by the Jeremy Hill fourth-quarter fumble than Vontaze Burfict and former TNA World Tag Team Champion Adam Jones losing their respective minds. See, I'm not a monster!)

If nothing else, the Bengals' meltdown can take our minds off the latest "smartest guy in the room" shenanigans taking place in Berea. We  have a former lawyer with no personnel experience making roster decisions. What could go wrong? Thanks to Cincinnati's agony-inducing incompetence last night, that's one rhetorical question we don't have to examine for at least a day or two.

Thank you, Bengals!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Right now, Browns new boss is the same as the old boss

The Browns ended another season today like they have so many before; losing to the Steelers at home as a crowd of happy yinzers waved their Terrible Towels in triumph. Hellish familiarity is going to be part of the upcoming off-season as well, with owner Jimmy Haslam deep-sixing Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer just about any second now.  

Do you trust this man?

The next few months will cover the usual stopovers on the Browns Train of Doom: Coach search, GM search, NFL combine, draft preparation and so on. We've seen this process play out before under numerous front office iterations. Question is, do you trust the man in charge to actually hire the right people this time? Furthermore, can you believe we're actually having this conversation about yet another owner?

Haslam was the one who was supposed to change the franchise's fortunes following the half-hearted stewardship of Randy Lerner. He came from a respected, orderly organization in Pittsburgh, where you'd think he would have learned something about football operations from the rock-solid Rooneys.

Instead, Haslam's three-plus years of ownership have resulted in one FBI investigation, two head coaches and, if the latest reports are accurate, three front offices. It's hard to believe Browns fans - as always the most painfully put-upon victims of the team's travails - are worse off than they were with Lerner, but here we are.

With substantial changes once more in the offing, the fanbase's lone hope may be Haslam seeking outside assistance in finding a new coach and general manager. There were rumors about retired Green Bay Packers executive bringing his gridiron smarts to Berea, but Wolf himself recently denied those reports.

Sadly, Browns backers are again peering through dark clouds for the scantest ray of light, as long as it's not named Ray. But with Haslam calling the shots, the future of the worst-run franchise in professional sports remains as ominous as ever. 

What CST thinks about Browns-Steelers today

Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
January 3, 2016

Steelers 31, Browns 10

It would seem the sideshow that is the Browns--coach and GM reported to be fired, QB out partying in Vegas with a concussion unless he wasn't, complete joke of an organization--would be the lowest possible point. But it has been here so many times before, often ending with a Steelers loss and a complete reboot.

                                            Steelers 48, Browns 3

The Steelers embarrass the Browns. The stadium will be full of Terrible Towels, which will make the game tough to stomach. Change is coming at some point today. With Mike Pettine willingly throwing the front office, his coaching staff, and anyone else under the bus, should make for an interesting "sources say" article later in the week. I wish all the skeletons would just come out so we can start clean. I'm hopeful they hire someone with LEGIT experience. I'm done with the 1st time GM/coach route which has not worked. After the debacle of a coaching search last time the pool for the Browns job seems pretty shallow.

Steelers 27, Browns 6

Third-string quarterback starting in the last game in a sure-to-be loss against the would-be division rivals, on the eve of the entire front office getting blown out of the airlock. There will come a day when this scenario changes, but this humble Browns fan cannot envision when that day will come.

Steelers 30, Browns 13

If elected, Donald Trump will build a wall around First Energy Stadium to keep out the Pittsburgh rapists! Trump/Haslam 2016!

Steelers 31, Browns 10

System failure...reboot.

Could Johnny Manziel really have lied again about partying?

What a freaking joke this Cleveland Browns organization is. I'm a supporter of Johnny Manziel as a possible solution for the Browns at QB. I like his game. But it seems obvious that Manziel has some issues, which no armchair psychologist like me should try to diagnose. The fact that he recently lied to the face of his coaches about "partying" after being named starter--given a chance to lead an NFL franchise, makes his character very suspect.

And then Saturday night--the night before the season finale, and just days after Manziel was diagnosed with a concussion and ruled out of said game, USA Today, using "employees and patrons" as their sources, said Manziel was spotted in Vegas.

Then this ridiculous social media exchange happened. Manziel "denied" it by sorta posting that he was home with his dog in Avon, Ohio. An the Planet Hollywood casino totally played along, trolling Manziel with expertise. 
A photo posted by Johnny Manziel (@jmanziel2) on

For one, I really doubt that Manziel would have gone gambling (and likely drinking) in Vegas now, on the eve of a game, after everything that he has been criticized over the last weeks months years. But that said, nothing surprised me any more. If it comes out that he went to Vegas, without permission, and then used Instagram to lie about it? Then forget about him, he can't be trusted any more. Cut bait Monday morning. But I'm really hoping that's not true, and he's starting next September, with the Browns draft picks filling in the substantial gaps around him.

Friday, January 1, 2016

What CST thinks about Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl today

The Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
January 1, 2016

Buckeyes 45, Fighting Irish 17

A decade later and it's Ohio State over Notre Dame again. OSU redeems the B1G after Sparty embarrassed themselves.

Buckeyes 34, Fighting Irish 21

As a fan, it's difficult to get up for this non-playoff, non-Rose Bowl contest. However, the Buckeyes should be motivated and talented enough to take care of business in Scottsdale.
Buckeyes 37, Fighting Irish 17

The Buckeyes are one of the best teams the country and will show that today. Too bad they didn't show that all year.

Buckeyes 42, Fighting Irish 17

I'm sort of salty that CST forces me to predict glorified exhibition games. Gimme a bottle of anything and dat 8-team playoff.

Buckeyes 35, Fighting Irish 21

Hoping Braxton Miller has a nice game. Dude deserves it.

Buckeyes 38, Fighting Irish 21

The Trump Train rolls into 2016 with unstoppable momentum. Go, Donald, go!