After toppling the favored Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked set for another year of success and potential back-to-back championships. But after an injury to J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova walking in free agency, the Cavs find themselves struggling a bit.
I emphasize a bit because Cleveland is still 30-13 and sitting three games ahead of the second-place Toronto Raptors in the East. But after losing five out of their last seven games, including the most-recent one to the lowly New Orleans Pelicans (w/o Anthony Davis), the defending champs are experiencing a mid-season slump.
Following the loss to the Pelicans, LeBron James let his frustrations be known. Speaking on how the Cavaliers Big Three (James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love) combined for 97 of the team’s 122 points in a 124-122 loss, James strongly implied that the team needs to bolster their bench.
“We’re not better than last year, from a personnel standpoint … we’re a top-heavy team. I just hope that we’re not satisfied as an organization,” James said, via quotes provided by the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd. “I just hope we not satisfied. How hard it was to do that s***. I just hope we’re not satisfied.”
James continued by saying, “It’s like when you don’t have bodies. It’s tough. The f***ing grind of the regular season. We’re a top-heavy team. We have a top-heavy team. We top-heavy as s***. It’s me, [Irving], [Love]. It’s top-heavy.”
Two players that LeBron identified as ones who could’ve helped the team are Milwaukee Bucks forward Michael Beasley and L.A. Clippers guard Raymond Felton, both of whom are playing on minimum veteran contracts.
While attempting not to throw young players Kay Felder and DeAndre Liggins under the bus, James discussed how both have been thrust into prominent roles that they’re not ready for.
“No disrespect to DeAndre and to Kay, you think we can rely on them to help us win a playoff game right now? And it’s no disrespect to them. But it’s like, it’s not fair to them. It’s tough for coach [Tyronn Lue] because we’re in the process of trying to win a f***ing championship.
“It would’ve been unfair to [Matthew Dellavedova] to ask him his rookie year to play on a championship-level team. So that’s why you got guys in front of him that allows him to [grow]. We telling Kay to be a backup point guard to a f***ing superstar right now, instead of being a backup point guard to a guy that’s proven in the league. You know what I’m saying?”
James Says He Doesn’t Have a Problem with Cavs’ Front Office
Another thing that James is unhappy about is Cleveland’s lack of a rim-protecting center. He watched Golden State sign JaVale McGee, and the San Antonio Spurs sign Dewayne Dedmon for cheap contracts.
Cleveland did sign Chris “Birdman” Anderson in the offseason, who’s known for his shot-blocking abilities. But Anderson is out for the season with a torn ACL. Tristan Thompson leads the team in blocks with 1.21 per game, while James is a distant second with 0.55 blocks.
“I ain’t got no problems with the front office,” said James. “I told (Griffin) to his face, so it ain’t like I’m telling y’all to put it on record. I see Griff all the time. One thing about me, if I got something to say, I’m going to tell it to your face. We need a f***ing playmaker. I’m not saying you can just go find one, like you can go outside and see trees. I didn’t say that.”
“For the most part, all championship-contending teams has got guys that are ready to step in. Knock on wood, what if Ky goes down? For two weeks. Let’s say two. What if I went down for three weeks?”
James clarified his thoughts further with this tweet:
I not mad or upset at management cause Griff and staff have done a great job, I just feel we still need to improve in order to repeat…
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 24, 2017
if that's what we wanna do.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 24, 2017
Does Cleveland Have Anything to Offer Other Teams?
While it’s great that LeBron is so passionate about improving, the problem is that the team doesn’t have many more assets to trade, and there aren’t many veteran contributors floating around right now.
They recently got Kyle Korver from the Hawks in exchange for a draft pick and Mike Dunleavy. They’ve also maxed out the salary cap thanks to big deals for Thompson, Smith, James, Irving, and Love.
The only potential trades that Cleveland might have to offer would be Felder, who wouldn’t net much right now, and Shumpert, who’s part of the rotation.
“I don’t know what we got to offer,” LeBron said. “I just know me, personally? I don’t got no time to waste. I’ll be 33 in the winter, and I ain’t got time to waste. That’s what I’m talking about. Listen, when I feel like physically and mentally, me personally, can’t compete for a championship no more or I feel like I can’t do it, then I won’t have this problem.”
Nate Robinson Offers His Services to the Cavs
As USA Today points out, Nate Robinson would love to fill Cleveland’s need for a backup point guard. He wrote the following on Instagram:
“Do I gotta put my number on ig @kingjames ??? Cause I will until you call me lol #holdat”
Robinson also commented on the situation last month when speaking to HYPEBEAST.
The last time that Robinson played in the NBA was two games for the Pelicans last season. The 5’9” guard also played in Israel in 2016 to keep sharp in case any NBA suitors are interested.
In the 2014-15 season, he split 42 games between the Clippers and Denver Nuggets, shooting just 34% from the field.
Now 32, Robinson hasn’t been able to attract any serious attention, even from the guard-hungry Cavs. But as you can see in his Instagram post, he’s in excellent shape if Cleveland does come calling.
The Robinson matter aside, James obviously feels that Cleveland needs another veteran backcourt player until Smith returns. And if the losing continues, he won’t be happy until that happens.