Contrary to popular opinion, LeBron James is human after all, and though his run of seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals might make him seem otherworldly, it doesn't make him invincible. This season more than ever, it feels like Cleveland is surviving rather than thriving. At some point, someone in the East is going to beat them. And after Cleveland's 118-108 home loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors last night, we might've officially reached that point.
According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, there is growing discontent and a strong sense of concern within the Cleveland locker room. The Cavs are 26-17 with only three wins in their last 12 games. They got blown out by a combined 62 points against Toronto and Minnesota last week. They might have the worst defense in the entire NBA, and they've slid so far that many of the team's veterans now doubt whether they can fix their problems this season.
Age. One-dimensional role players. Defensive-issues that go far beyond fundamentals. Several prominent players told ESPN, Cleveland.com, and The Athletic that the team's problems won't go away simply by getting healthy.
The Cavs transition defense is terrible. But there’s nothing even Lebron can do about this KD attack pic.twitter.com/vZLI2TxNlE— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) January 16, 2018
This is not the first time we've heard grumblings coming out of Cleveland this season. Just last week, Yahoo! Sports reported there were complaints in the locker room about "personal agendas" getting in the way of success. Some Cavs players thought LeBron was chasing assists in an effort to win one final MVP award. Others didn't like coach Tyronn Lue's rotations. The bickering reeks of familiarity, like a family that's been living together far too long.
In past years during their inevitable regular season lapses, the team could lean on Kyrie Irving. But Irving is gone, and his replacement is a 28-year-old, 5'9" defensive problem who may or may not ever be the same after returning from a major hip injury.
LeBron has to know all of this. He also knows Cleveland holds the rights to Brooklyn's first-round pick next summer—and that there are several names potentially available on the market. That pick and this year's trade deadline might be Cleveland's final chance to position themselves for one last run at a title. Among the NBA's contenders, they have the least to lose and the most to gain by making a deal.
Can they get DeAndre Jordan? Do they have a better deal looming that no one sees yet? Whatever it is Cleveland HAS to swing big to give itself every chance to convince LeBron to stay ...— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) January 16, 2018
Let's say Lebron leaves. Cavs could have all the draft picks in the world. No free agents are gonna come play in Cleveland. No free agents are gonna take less to come play in Cle. So exactly what future are you planning for?? 🤷🏽♂️— 73-9 and they LIED (@CuffsTheLegend) January 16, 2018
No one ever expects a run to end before it does. Miami's Big Three era faded with a whimper, getting blitzed by 14 points per game against San Antonio in the 2014 Finals. Kobe's Lakers collapsed in a surprising sweep in 2011, burnt out and exhausted. Before that, it was Shaq and the Lakers getting old before our eyes and even before that, it was Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon getting run into the ground by Seattle and the Detroit Bad Boys wilting under the athleticism of Jordan's Bulls.
Is this Cleveland's moment of reckoning? If it is, it shouldn't surprise anyone.