In the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers getting their head handed to them Monday by the Golden State Warriors, this has been the conventional wisdom:
The Cavaliers have the remaining three months of the regular season, plus the first three rounds of the playoffs, to figure out their problems — how to defend the pick-and-roll, how to better utilize Kevin Love, how to get improved play out of the bench, and a list of other issues that keep them from challenging the two transcendent teams in the league right now. They have all that time because the Cavaliers are clear and away the best team in the East and are destined to get back to the NBA Finals. It’s then, starting June 4, when they need answers for the challenges that Golden State or San Antonio present.
LeBron James says to back off that idea — the Cavaliers have no guarantees of making the Finals again or being elite. Here are the quotes, via Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.
“When I [talk about] us playing at a championship level, that doesn’t automatically guarantee us [playing] until June,” he said. “It’s all about the habits; I preach the habits more than anything. For me to look and say that we’re going to represent the East in the Finals would be absurd. I don’t really talk like that. That’s not what I’m about.
“I think we’re a good team,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re a great team right now. We’ve got to continue to get better. I really think it’s absurd to think about May and June; it’s not guaranteed, man. If we continue to win and put ourselves in position and we do make the playoffs, then we give ourselves a chance. … But that doesn’t guarantee you anything. One shot here, one shot there, a turnover here, a turnover there, can change a series. So for me, to focus on down that road when tomorrow isn’t promised, I think, is absurd.”
He sounds like someone who learned from Pat Riley — trust the process, build good habits, get better every day and by the playoffs and Finals you can be where you want to be. LeBron has said before his goal is to bring some of that culture to Cleveland, and this is where he needs to do so.
He’s right, nothing is guaranteed — but the Cavs making the Finals out of the East is about as close to a guarantee as you can get in sports. They are clear and away the most talented team in their conference. The problem is their real competition is in the other conference, and a couple of January benchmark games have shown Cleveland is not yet at that level. They are not elite.
There’s a lot of pressure on coach David Blatt to come up with the defensive and offensive strategies that better utilize the Cavs’ personnel — his job may well be on the line. However, the second part of Blatt coming up with those strategies is for LeBron to buy in, and get the rest of the team to buy in as well. There has been resistance in the past to what Blatt wanted to do, but at some point the Cavs need to do things — get Love the ball at the elbow with cutters and shooters around him, for example — to take advantage of their strengths.
It’s going to be interesting to watch this process for the next three months.