We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.
Tristan Thompson missed the first practice because he hadn’t come to contract terms. LeBron James, who shares an agent with Thompson, publicly lobbied the Cavs to pay Thompson. Once play began, LeBron stepped over a fallen Kevin Love without helping him up. A report emerged that Love frustrated LeBron the prior season by arriving out of shape. LeBron called out the Cavs for looking less hungry than the Warriors. J.R. Smith was accused of choking a high schooler who mocked his trade from the Knicks. LeBron called a players-only meeting following a loss to the Raptors. Cleveland nearly fired coach David Blatt around Christmas. Love fell to the floor and had to wait a long time before any of his teammates noticed to help him up. After a 34-point home loss to Golden State, Love said the Cavaliers needed to look themselves in a mirror – starting with LeBron. The Cavs fired Blatt, a historic change amid so much winning. A report emerged that no Cleveland veterans liked Blatt. Replacement coach Tyronn Lue said Love and Kyrie Irving must focus less on their brands and more on winning. Trade rumors swirled around Love. Irving was rumored to be unhappy in Cleveland. LeBron and Irving publicly bemoaned the Cavs’ lack of an enforcer. LeBron repeatedly sent cryptic tweets. LeBron’s associates reportedly insisted he could again leave the Cavaliers in free agency. Irving’s teammates reportedly grew tired of his lack of passing. LeBron said he’d take a pay cut to play with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. LeBron openly showed his disgust with his teammates’ defense. Irving got caught up in a public saga of “who did what to whom when?” with his former girlfriend and a famous rapper. A rumor spread about the circumstances in which LeBron would leave the Cavs.
And that was in a season Cleveland won a championship.
In parts silly, significant and self-imposed, the controversy surrounding the Cavaliers ceased only when they advanced deep in the playoffs. Perhaps, that brief pause in drama helped the Cavs regain focus despite falling behind 3-1 to the Warriors in the Finals. In theory, Cleveland’s historic comeback should only lengthen this era of calm. Winning quiets most outside noise.
But luring LeBron back home brought massive amounts of attention, an environment LeBron seems to actively – and passive-aggressively – invite. If there’s a team that won’t get a championship pass, it’s this one.
Already, storms are brewing. Smith remains unsigned. Mo Williams is reportedly contemplating retirement without speaking to management about it. Cavaliers coaches are grumbling about their contract situations.
There’s plenty of time to solve those issues. If Smith re-signs before training camp, the exact date will be trivial. The Cavs should already be contemplating another backup point guard to insure rookie Kay Felder, whether Williams retires or not. Though the assistant-coach contracts are already causing angst, it won’t spread to players if handled soon.
But what’s next? It seems something always waits around the corner for this team – and if nothing emerges, LeBron will create something.
The championship will help. There can be no more questions about whether Love is too meek, Irving too self-centered, LeBron too domineering to win a title in Cleveland. The formula might never work again, but you can’t call it unworkable. It just worked.
LeBron, Irving and Love not being in contract years helps. So does Cleveland having a coach the players seem to like.
Especially with Kevin Durant turning the Warriors into villains, the Cavs have become a darling team.
Will they ride this wave through the upcoming season? Or will they find new troubles?
Everything looks stable now, a few contract questions aside. But that’s what the offseason is for. Assuming the Cavaliers handle Smith, Williams and their assistant coaches, will all be well?
This team has just spent so little time just contently going about its business – for internal and external reasons – it’s hard to feel confident the championship afterglow will last long.