Monday 21 August 2017 / 02:55 PM

‘BELIEVELAND’ HAS FALLEN

Irving trade demand is only icing on cake of Cavs’ awful offseason

It’s insane to think that the Cleveland Cavaliers, armed with the best player in the world, fresh off their third straight finals appearance and only 14 months removed from an NBA championship, could be in meltdown.

But somehow, that’s exactly how we find them after a disastrous offseason. It’s not as though the second LeBron-era has been smooth sailing — drama has been about the only consistent element over the past three years — but the unforeseen chaos that has unfolded over the past month has continue to peel away layers and highlight the fragile inner workings of a franchise operating on tenuous ground. And now it is falling beneath them.

It all began to unfold on the heels of the finals loss. We’re all aware of the dynastic juggernaut in Golden State, but along as you have LeBron James, you attempt to compete. The weak competition in the East helps that cause plenty. Naturally, their first inclination was to search for a trade, specifically for Kevin Love. I wrote this piece fresh off the finals and reading it back now feels like a cautionary tale.

Searching for a trade made sense: the Cavs are capped-out and the cupboard is bare after some short-sighted win-now trades that sent picks away. Problem is, whilst Kevin Love still has value as an offensive player, his trade value has plummeted, partly because of his inconsistent play, but also the knowledge of the Cavs trying to trade him at every given chance.

Cleveland need defensive talent, so talks of Jimmy Butler or Paul George were encouraging. But players of that calibre command high returns, and without either team interested in Love, it seemed that the asking price would be too high.

Oh, how wrong we were — PG was flipped for role players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis whilst the package for Butler was centred around the second coming of Andrea Bargnani. What became blatantly apparent was that it was the Cavs, not the asking price, that stood in the way of a deal getting done. If Sam Presti or Tom Thibodeau (the GM’s who got the trades done) were in charge of the Cavs, you could fairly assume they would have moved heaven and earth to get it done. Look at the wild manoeuvring Darryl Morey pulled off for the Rockets to acquire Chris Paul from thin air when half a chance presented itself.

So why couldn’t the Cavs’ general manager get the job done? Well, believe it or not, they didn’t have one.

Yeah, thats right, a team attempting to gear up to challenge for an NBA title with the looming threat of James bouncing town yet again failed to hire a GM in time for the Draft or free agency. Wild right? They then, in the midst of all this, continue to play hardball with top candidate, former All-

Star Chauncey Billups, reportedly low-balling the offer multiple times over a span of weeks before he formally declined. Owner Dan Gilbert has shown he places no value in the GM position, having not re-signed any of the four he’s employed during his 12-year tenure, but this is next level.

David Griffin is far from the best GM in the league, his rating helped severely by the return of James (an event that was nearly sabotaged by Gilbert’s brainless actions), and who knows how Billups would have settled into the role? But to have no one running the show is moronic. And no surprises, the decisions that were made between that point and the appointment of assistant Koby Altman in the lead role were curious to say the least. When the parents aren’t home, the kids play up.

After failing to land any of their targets, Cleveland opted to simply run it back and build through free agency. Without money to spend, the results weren’t pretty. First was Jose Cauldron, a washed-up 35 -year-old point guard who hasn’t beaten anyone off the dribble in four years and remained unsigned for much of the last season. They then re-signed 36-year-old Kyle Korver to a guaranteed three-year deal that will pay him $7 million at age 39 (Korver was acquired with a first-round pick and remains a deadly shooter, so whilst the deal was premature and overpay, that is defendable).

Cleveland then became the newest owners of the annual ‘fool-yourself-into-Jeff-Green’ award, handing him a one-year deal. Green was once an interesting piece, but hasn’t played even borderline NBA level basketball in years, and has fallen out of favour fast at each of his last three destinations.

To top it all off, former league-MVP Derrick Rose linked up on a one-year deal. Sure, Rose can still contribute as a scorer on the second unit, but his tactless mindset and scoring mentality remains unchanged from his pre-injury days. There’s a reason his market has all but dried up, and a player expecting a max deal was left seeking the veterans’ minimum.

Somehow, after making clear their intentions to upgrade, the Cavs failed to address a single one of their desperate needs whilst adding guys who fit the mould of what they already had — old, declining and poor defensively. A quick glance and you would think, “only a team without a GM would make these moves”, and you would be right.

And, for the cherry on top of the Sunday, after all that, news breaks that All-Star sidekick Kyrie Irving wants out, no long interested in playing Robin to LeBron’s Batman. And can you really blame him? Yeah, his reasoning was misconstrued, and his list of destinations doesn’t sync up with what he claims his intentions are out of the demand, but as the front office continues to display its ineptitude and the fear of having to ride solo yet again, Irving is just exercising his leverage by wanting out.

How long the Cavs have been aware of this is anyone’s guess with multiple conflicting reports, but undoubtedly this is the biggest failure of their many mistakes. Sources have confirmed Indiana offered George for Irving multiple times, and Kyrie is a far superior return to what landed Paul and Butler. Instead, they’re left with the option of Carmelo Anthony, which doesn’t make any sense unless they somehow acquire a point guard and find a suitor for Love (like they haven’t tried) or a package from Phoenix that is 50 cents on the dollar to say the least. LeBron’s connection with Eric Bledsloe, and word that they’ve begun working out together, makes this the most likely scenario, although the Suns have made clear that new draft pick Josh Jackson is off the table, complicating proceedings yet again.

The haul from the Suns would leave the Cavs with a competent roster, but one far from the ‘superteam’ they hoped to assemble. In the context of the NBA hierarchy, this makes their offseason a monumental failure — the Celtics added Hayward, the Warriors smartly retooled and both the Rockets and Thunder added a second star, whilst Cleveland continued their petty in-fighting and displayed a lack of any coherent vision, adding pieces that do nothing to move the needle.

Worst of all, the repercussions may be more severe, with every chance this is the final straw that sees James once again skip town for greener pastures. With this, the ‘Believeland’-era Cavaliers’ best days may be behind them.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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