Top to bottom: Cavaliers fall into NBA’s basement
Fanning out a stack of tickets like a magician performing a card
trick, a member of the Cavalier Girls dance team stopped by
Cleveland’s locker room about an hour before tipoff for Wednesday
night’s game against Phoenix.
”Y’all know anybody who wants to come to the game?” she asked,
No takers today. Maybe some other season, definitely not this
Only months after owning the NBA’s best record for the second
straight year, the Cavaliers have fallen – shockingly fast and far.
Now on a 14-game losing streak, the Cavaliers, who started 7-9,
have dropped 24 of 25 and haven’t shaken a hangover that began with
LeBron James’ summer announcement that he was migrating to
At 8-33, with a long list of injured players and a shocked fan
base in withdrawal, the Cavaliers have gone from first to worst.
They’ve lost their elite status, and it may be years before they
get it back.
”For us, whatever happened here the past seven or eight years
is out the window,” said veteran forward Antawn Jamison, who
arrived last season via a trade with Washington. ”There’s nothing
we can do about it. We knew coming in to this season that a lot of
teams were going to get payback. It’s tough, but nobody’s going to
feel sorry for us.”
That became apparent on Cleveland’s recent road trip. During
stops at Golden State, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Utah and Denver, the
Cavaliers channeled their inner Washington Generals against
everyone else’s Harlem Globetrotters. They were barely
Showing no pity, the two-time defending champion Lakers were
merciless in a 55-point drubbing. It was an epic loss – the worst
in Cleveland’s 41-year history – and one that triggered James’
”karma” tweet directed at Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, his former
Keep in mind, this is a team that was on the doorstep of an NBA
title with James and a seemingly loaded roster. And now, the talk
is not only about losing, but losing by an average of 16.5 points
in your last 24 defeats.
Coach Byron Scott – who took the New Jersey Nets, of all teams,
to the NBA Finals twice – never dreamed it would get to this.
Arriving just before James’ departure, Scott, a three-time
champion as a player on the Lakers’ ”Showtime” teams, came to
Cleveland believing he had inherited a roster with enough talent
and depth to absorb James’ loss.
And although he can be considered a glass-is-half-full type, the
losses have even tempered his optimism.
”Yeah, it gets me down,” Scott acknowledged during Cleveland’s
trip. ”I don’t like losing. I’ve been in the position on a number
of occasions where I’ve had to deal with losing, but I’m a winner,
period. That’s what I’m used to. It’s tough after some of the
losses we’ve had. But the next day when I wake up, I look at it as
another opportunity to get better, from a coaching standpoint and a
Injuries, though, continue to hamper any progress.
In an ironic and cruel twist, center Anderson Varejao, whose
career has been defined by floor burns and all-out hustle, suffered
a season-ending ankle injury during a non-contact running drill at
practice. He’s expected to have surgery this week. Also, starting
guard Mo Williams is out indefinitely with a groin injury initially
sustained just before training camp.
Those are the two most notable injuries, but there are more. So
many more, in fact, that Scott, 49, was forced to lace up his
sneakers and scrimmage this week because there weren’t enough
players to practice.
”I’ve been in situations where we had injuries before, but not
five or six guys at one time,” said Scott, who also coached New
Orleans. ”This is new to me.”
It’s all painfully new and yet hauntingly familiar to Cleveland
fans. With James, the kid from nearby Akron leading them, the
Cavaliers enjoyed their greatest stretch. Cleveland, just 17-65 in
the season before James, won two division titles, a conference
crown and made its only trip to the Finals in 2007.
They won more than 60 games the past two seasons. This year,
they’ll be lucky to reach 20.
”It’s not the first time that it’s happened, but it has
happened fast,” said Phoenix forward Grant Hill, after the Suns’
106-98 win extended Cleveland’s slide to 14. ”Franchises go
through that. You have teams that are championship caliber and then
you bottom out. You figure it out through free agency or trades or
the draft and it appears that they’re going through that process
”They lost LeBron. It is what it is.”
It is a major rebuilding project for general manager Chris
Grant. The injuries, combined with a long-term vision, has led to
extended minutes for rookies Manny Harris, Samardo Samuels,
Christian Eyenga and Alonzo Gee, the D-League’s top rookie last
season. And they may not be done tweaking the roster.
Cleveland has had trade talks with Charlotte about forward
Gerald Wallace, who has two years and about $22 million left on his
contract. The Cavaliers also have a $14.5 million trade exception
obtained from Miami in the deal for James, and it’s likely the team
will shop the 34-year-old Jamison before the Feb. 24 trade
In the meantime, the losses multiply.
After hosting Milwaukee on Friday, Cleveland will face only one
more team – New Jersey – with a losing record in its final six
games this month. The NBA record for consecutive losses is 23, and
if they’re not careful, the Cavaliers may start February on the
cusp of unimagined history.
”It’s a difficult challenge for those guys and hopefully things
turn around for them,” James said. ”Some of your friends, you
don’t want to see them lose. I have a few on that team and I know
how competitive they are. It’s definitely difficult for those guys
to be going through that.
”But I feel like they’re strong enough. They’ll figure it
He left them with no choice.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this