NBA Handicapping: Cleveland Cavs a Drain on Bettors' Bankrolls
by Trevor Whenham - 1/13/2015
What a freaking mess. The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to be dominating the world and taking prisoners right now. LeBron was supposed to be the king of his city again, and he and the Big 3 were supposed to be redefining what we thought we knew about basketball. Instead, they have limped to a .500 record, have lost eight of nine, are banged up, and seem to be way, way off track. It's pathetic, really.
The question for bettors is when - and if - things are going to get back on track. For a long time now we have assumed that things would come around quickly and this team would be as good as they were supposed to be. There is still plenty of time for that to happen, but with each passing day it gets harder to believe that the team the public loved in futures betting before the season is going to materialize.
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Here are five factors to consider when trying to see into the crystal ball about this team's future:
LeBron is not LeBron: The King has been hurt, so lately we have seen how hopeless this team is without him. The fact of the matter is, though, that they haven't been great with him. The biggest reason for this is simple - James has been a shadow of himself this year. He's not scoring or shooting like we are used to, but that's only a symptom. He's not as big physically. He is playing with much more caution and reserve than ever before. He is less patient and seemingly less hungry. He gets frustrated more often, but doesn't seem to have the patience or desire to improve things rapidly. In short, he has looked old. Now, it's not time to write him off yet - far from it. He has played a whole lot of basketball, though, and the combination of heavy minutes and long postseason runs is adding up. Don't get me wrong - he is still an incredibly good player. He just hasn't played like the best player on the planet by a wide margin - and that is what we have been used to for the last several years. At the very least, the team can't reasonably expect to ride him all the way through the season if they want to maximize their postseason. We are in a new era with LeBron, and our job now is to figure out what that means.
Chemistry has been a huge issue: I'll say it because it needs to be said - LeBron is being a dick. He has put himself on this pedestal instead of getting down into the trenches and working with his teammates. In Love and Irving he has great teammates, but he has done nothing to make them comfortable and to maximize their input - and he has done even less for the bit players on the team. This team looks stiff and out of sorts largely because their superstar isn't doing anything to change that. Teams that have great chemistry can do great things - look at Golden State or Atlanta for reference. Given the real challenges this team has had playing nicely together already, it's hard to get really excited about the bright future that is supposed to be ahead after the trades they have made. That being said, what they were doing wasn't working, so there is no real risk in making the moves.
No reason to panic: I've been very negative up to this point, so it is only logical to balance that with some perspective. The team is still at .500 despite their current woes. LeBron is almost back in action - perhaps as soon as Tuesday night. They are all but a lock to make the playoffs - they would really have to crater not to do that. They are 6.5 games out of a first-round home series, so that won't happen unless they really find their form soon, but in the East there isn't a matchup that has to terrify them if they find their form, so that's not a real concern. They haven't yet played half of their games, so they are still infants in the scheme of things this season, and they have plenty of time to figure things out. If we are seeing these same issues by March then panic might be warranted, but for now we just need to show more patience than the superstar has. Be concerned, but don't panic.
They are, on paper, better: They were essentially forced into the two trades they made - Dion Waiters wasn't fitting the system, and injuries forced them to find a center like Timofey Mozgov. Given that they were desperate, they did a very good job. The value out of Waiters was solid all things considered, and Mozgov is a solid player who should be able to contribute significantly - and who has a relationship with coach David Blatt. It certainly would have been possible to make worse deals given where they were at.
Blatt: This is a challenging situation to assess. Blatt was hired to coach a very different team than he is coaching - he was brought on before LeBron made his decision. He's been a very successful coach in Europe, so he obviously knows basketball. He is really struggling with the transition to the American game and American players, though, and has done himself no favors with the media, either. It has made for a very difficult situation. It's very tough to imagine him coming back for a second year, and at this point it's getting tough to imagine him finishing the season. What's frustrating about this is that if LeBron had endorsed him strongly from the start and had stayed behind him then we would probably be in a different place. Blatt doesn't seem to have his key players as allies, though, and that's a real problem. Things are bleak on the coaching front.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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