The Cleveland Cavaliers fell to 19-19 Sunday night in a 103-84 blowout loss to the Sacramento Kings.
It was Cleveland’s fifth-straight loss and their eighth loss in nine games, eight of which have been without the injured LeBron James.
Even with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in the lineup, the Cavs are getting destroyed without LeBron.
Their defence remains extremely poor, and now they’re underperforming on offence. In the eight games without LeBron, they have scored 100 points or more just once, and their offensive rating has been 26th in the NBA.
The Cavs players are aware how bad they have been without James. Love said after the loss to the Kings:
“It’s very disappointing. We hoped that we would be able to go at least .500 with him out. We feel like we have enough talent. But we just had a tough go without him. Obviously he brings so much to the table, but we just need to find a way to play without him… but we just don’t want to put a lot of pressure on him thinking that if he’s out or if he gets in foul trouble that we can’t win a basketball game.”
Irving added, “Regardless of what happens, whoever is out there when LeBron comes back, you just still got to be a basketball player.”
When asked why the Cavs are still struggling with two max-level players in the lineup, head coach David Blatt took a strange, almost veiled criticism of Love by saying, “Well, Kev’s not a max player yet, is he?”
It’s technically true (Love’s contract is one year and a few million dollars short of being a “max” contract under NBA rules), but it’s still a weird thing to say.
All of this is bad news for the future of the Cavaliers.
Love, who has been disappointing this season, is an unrestricted free agent next summer, and could leave Cleveland after they surrendered two No. 1 draft picks (including Andrew Wiggins) to get him. In 2016, James will also be a free agent, and there’s already murmurs of him leaving if Cleveland doesn’t improve.
The Cavs are also capped out because of the salaries of James, Love, Irving, and Anderson Varejao. They can’t get much better through free agency beyond adding cheap veterans. In addition, two of the Cavs’ younger players with room to grow, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson, are restricted free agents this summer, and the Cavs could be forced to match big contracts for them or lose them.
As mentioned, Cleveland gave up two. No. 1 picks in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett for Love, and they also recently traded two future first-rounders for Timofey Mozgov. They can’t get better through free agency because of their salary cap situation, and they can’t get better through he draft because they traded a bunch of picks for Love, Mozgov, Shumpert, and J.R. Smith.
This team has put all of its stock into the LeBron-Kyrie-Love triumvirate, and it could become a very messy situation if things don’t go according to plan on the court. The fact that this is a below average NBA team when you take LeBron out of the equation suggests that they’re further from championship contention than anyone realised.
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