At what point will somebody care? Care enough to try? Care enough to give effort? Care enough to look — or at least pretend — like winning a game actually means something?
When will they show some professionalism? To act and play like adults, instead of pouting, spoiled children?
This isn’t a slump. This is competitive apathy, trending toward outright surrender.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers.
At the start of play Wednesday, they were only two losses better than the Philadelphia 76ers, who sit in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, which is one spot away from being on the wrong side of the playoff tracks.
How embarrassing would that be? World champions in 2016, missing the playoffs — with LeBron James on the roster — in 2018.
It can’t happen, you say? That’s not what the Cavs’ lack of effort and conga line of double-digit losses says. Since Christmas the Cavs lead the league in losses and finger-pointing. We’ve seen this January funk before, but nothing like this.
Losing is one thing. Looking emotionally vacant is another. It’s a team without a pulse. A team without a purpose. A team — as more than one network analyst has mentioned when doing its games — that is not having fun, as if the players don’t like each other.
Maybe they don’t.
At one point in the San Antonio game Kevin Love got knocked to the floor. Instead of the usual rush of teammates to help him up, Cavs players turned their backs and walked away.
Universal whipping boy Love was in the eye of Hurricane Apathy over the weekend. He left a game with illness, then didn’t show up for practice the following day. That apparently infuriated his teammates, even though they didn’t show up for the Oklahoma City game, as evidenced by the 148 points allowed by the league’s most invisible defense.
That led to what was reportedly a rancorous team meeting in which the players did lots of heated, closed-door finger-pointing — as opposed to the on-court finger-pointing that follows the endless parade of opposing players dribbling down the lane for uncontested layups, while disinterested Cavs shrug and give it the palms-up, “I thought you had him” gesture.
If the Cavs competed as passionately as they yell at each other in team meetings, maybe it wouldn’t have been nearly six weeks since they last won two games in a row.
But this collapse isn’t solely on the players. Tyronn Lue, who at times must feel like coaching this cast of drama queens is like trying to parallel park an 18-wheeler, is not blameless.
Only now is he conceding some lineup changes are needed, while the play of J.R. Smith and Jae Crowder, speaking of no-shows, has screamed it for weeks.
Tristan Thompson, an effort player on a team devoid of it, has been mysteriously marginalized into irrelevancy. When the Cavs went on that 18-1 run, Channing Frye played in every game. Since then Frye has only played in seven of 15 games. The Cavs are 4-11 in that stretch, and — just saying — Frye played in two of the four wins.
The front office, led by rookie general manager Koby Altman, has done Lue no favors by saddling him with a mismatched roster that is old, slow, soft, fragile and defensively destitute.
Last summer the Cavs were unable to close the deal on a trade for Paul George, which would have dramatically improved the team, especially defensively. Owner Dan Gilbert’s decision, made at the worst possible time on the NBA calendar, to not bring back GM David Griffin breached the organizational continuity at an inopportune time, especially given the uncertain future of the LeBron James-Cavs marriage.
Then there’s the inescapable irony of the Cavs’ loss in San Antonio. Even on a night when LeBron joined the historic and exclusive 30,000-point club, the Cavs managed to throw cold water on it by going through the motions in a listless loss to a Spurs team missing several key players.
It should be noted, however, that LeBron also shoulders some culpability for the mess. As the leader of the team, he has not led.
With the Cavs losing six of their last seven games, LeBron’s per-game averages in points (22.4), rebounds (6.3), assists (6.1), 3-point field goal shooting (17 percent), free throw shooting (57 percent) and turnovers (4.4) are not exactly leader-like.
Maybe LeBron is trying to lead, and nobody’s interested. Or maybe he’s done trying to lead because he’s decided to leave after this discombobulated season is finally over.
Maybe a trade will accomplish what nationwide derision hasn’t: get the Cavs to give a bleep.
Because in the end, it always comes back to effort. Play hard and lose? You can live with that. Play like you don’t care and lose?
Somewhere Kyrie Irving is laughing.
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