CLEVELAND — With time running out on another lost season and another embarrassing defeat behind them, the Cavaliers have to ask themselves some serious questions.
Namely, how badly do they want to keep this thing together?
How long do they want to play for coach Byron Scott?
How much suffering are they willing to endure themselves?
And how little do they care about the fans, the people who pay their hefty salaries to give them an opportunity to do what they love?
Following their shameful effort in Wednesday’s 113-95 loss to the visiting Brooklyn Nets, these questions are not unfair. The only reason the Cavs didn’t lose by 50 is because the Nets showed some mercy and quit playing, too.
The Cavs, on the other hand, never really started.
It’s true that the Cavs were again without starting shooting guard Dion Waiters and, of course, starting center Anderson Varejao. But Varejao hasn’t played since Dec. 18 — and the Cavs went 7-5 in February without him.
Now, they’ve just quit. They’ll deny that, but we know what we’re seeing out there. And it’s the opposite of energy, effort, sharing the ball and buckling down on defense.
It’s the opposite of wanting to win.
The Cavs (22-52) aren’t purposely throwing games. But they sure look like they can’t be bothered with what it takes to avoid such an outcome.
This isn’t something that can be fixed with a couple of first-round draft picks, either. So quit all that nonsense about the Cavs getting another ping-pong ball in the hopper or the Lakers making the playoffs.
Quit all that nonsense about signing a fancy free agent. No one worth the stinky sneakers on his feet would want to come to this situation — not players, not coaches, not fans.
Scott, on the other hand, wants to be here.
He wants a chance to see this thing through. The Cavs started this so-called process with the idea that Scott would be the man in charge when it gets turned around.
Well, here’s a newsflash: Nothing gets turned around via utter loafing. Nothing gets easier when it comes to grown-up life.
Perhaps more than anything, the young Cavs need to realize that.
“Nowadays, playing hard seems to be a skill,” Scott said.
There was a time when that was just assumed. You made it to the NBA because you worked harder than guys with similar ability, right? Right.
In order to actually win games in the NBA, you need to keep that mentality. Even that’s sometimes not enough.
Sometimes, you’re too young. Sometimes, you’re too injured. Sometimes, the other guy is just better.
And the Nets (43-31) are better than the Cavs. But they’re not 212 points better. The Cavs just made it feel that way.
Change of heart, and more
So, where do the Cavs go from here?
You can’t pin it all on Scott, that’s for darn sure. You can’t pin it all on the players, either.
This is an organization-wide collapse, a nightmare that’s resulted in 10 straight losses and the need for another off-season of wondering who actually fits.
That’s three straight years of no progress. You can spin it however you want — but it’s troubling. It needs to end, and it needs to end right here, right now.
The Cavs need a season in which the key guys play through pain, in which they listen to their coach, in which they play hard for entire games, in which they make a major run at the playoffs.
They need that all to happen next season, too.
As for the remaining seven games this year, the Cavs can show they’re willing to do the little (and big) things it takes to get themselves where they say they’re going.
They can get behind their coach, get behind their teammates, get behind the idea that they’re ready to be grown-ups.
They can accept the idea that no matter how much talent they think they have, nothing about grown-up life is easy.
Without that realization, without the all-out and sometimes-difficult effort it requires, it won’t matter that Kyrie Irving is on the team. It won’t matter that Tristan Thompson is making strides. It won’t matter if they get another top-five draft pick.
It will just be more of the same, and this group will be remembered as nothing more than a bunch of guys who were flat-out unwilling to be the best they can be.
They don’t need to wait until next season to make that decision. In fact, they can’t afford to wait another minute.