Well, here we go again.
The last time LeBron James left Cleveland, in 2010, the Cavs’ starting lineup the next season was Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Ramon Sessions, Anthony Parker and the exquisitely-named Jamario Moon.
That team finished with a record of 19-63, a .232 winning percentage, fourth-worst in franchise history. The highlight of that Cavs season was a lowlight: an NBA-record 26-game losing streak, which was part of a bigger streak in which, from Dec. 20 to Feb. 9, the Cavs’ record was a Hue Jacksonesque 1-36. That’s a winning percentage of .027.
The next season, 2011-12, the Cavs were 21-45 (.318), and the season after that: 24-58 (.293).
That was the Alonzo Gee/Jeremy Pargo Era.
Ah, the memories!
LeBron, as you may have heard, has left again. That means The Q isn’t the only thing currently under construction. The team that plays there is, too. The Cavs, of course, would dispute that. They still fancy themselves as playoff contenders. That’s fine. It’s their team and they can frame themselves however they wish.
But as the great social philosopher Mike Tyson once observed, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The Cavs’ season starts tonight in Toronto. Nobody wishes ill for anyone’s mouth, so let’s just say, figuratively speaking, that hopefully the Cavs have a nice new, trauma-reducing mouthpiece.
Because in the coming season, there will be haymakers. And the Cavs are looking like haymakers.
They can dunk, but can they duck?
But enough about suggested slogans for this post-LeBron Cavs season.
By now, we’re all familiar with the ground rules in the AAU-ized NBA. If you don’t have two, preferably three, ideally four superstars on your roster you have no chance of having a parade. The Cavs aren’t swimming with those fishes anymore. They are down to one big fish in an evaporating pond.
His name is Kevin Love, the lone surviving member of the late, great Big Three, two of whom made The Big Flee.
Always the loyal soldier, Love will finally get his opportunity to shine his brightest in Cleveland as the first option, lone All-Star, face-of-the-franchise and all-around swell guy. He’ll likely put up his biggest numbers since joining the Cavs.
Unfortunately, they will be largely empty numbers because they aren’t likely to lead the Cavs anywhere but to — best-case scenario — middle-of-the-pack, just-another-team status.
That’s more than a little ominous because, again, in today’s NBA, teams should aspire to be really good or really bad. Because being really mediocre is a competitive death sentence.
Nobody remembers the Nos. 7 or 8 seeds every year. Nobody should. That’s Palookaville. There are only so many superstars to go around. What the smart have-not teams do is they maneuver themselves into position to get first crack at the new stars, available once a year, but only at the top of the first round of the draft.
How do you do that?
Well, for starters, try going 19-63, which the Cavs did when LeBron left the first time. That timely flat tire, plus a couple of lucky pingpong ball bounces, netted the Cavs Kyrie Irving. Five years later the Cavs had themselves a parade. Oh, sure, the return of LeBron had a little something to do with it as well. But you can’t have a Big Three until you have a Big Two.
Right now, the Cavs only have a Big One. Kevin Love. LeBron is gone, leaving his adoring fans little choice but to accept the fact that, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the Love you’re with.
That should get everyone through Christmas.
But then it’s time for the Cavs to examine all their options. By Christmas, the trade deadline will be within sight, contenders will have two months-worth of shakedown games, giving them a better idea of what they need, who might have it, and who’s willing to talk.
The Cavs will be sitting there, in the cat bird’s seat, with one of the most attractive potential trade chips in the league, an under-contract 30-year-old center who can rebound and shoot threes.
Let’s not call it “tanking” because “tanking” has such a “tanky,” “tacky” connotation to it. The popular perception is that a tanking team is trying to lose, when nothing could be further from the truth. A tanking team is trying to win — as quickly as possible.
Instead of “tanking” let’s call it being “competitively flexible.” It’s how the game is now played (see “Sixers, Philadelphia”). By losing prodigiously, you get to draft advantageously, where the best players are.
It’s the same principle, different field, that was so sweetly enunciated by the famous criminal Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks, replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”
I’m not saying the Cavs should be (nudge-nudge) competitively flexible after the holidays. Only that they shouldn’t rule it out.
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