Somewhere, wherever he is, Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr. must be looking down at the plume of smoke emanating from Cleveland, Ohio with a smile on his face. For those who don’t know, the late American aerospace engineer is regarded as the man behind one of the most common expressions in the English language. We’ve probably said or heard it at some point in our lives.
“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Murphy’s Law isn’t an actual law in scientific terms, but it's an appropriate way to describe the messy state of affairs that is the Cleveland Cavaliers. In a span of 19 months, the Cavaliers went from a team that capped off the greatest NBA Finals comeback in history to a team that’s capping its own knees every chance it gets. All the goodwill it generated from its Undertaker-esque rise from the dead against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals has been reduced to rubble, or at least in this case, the plume of smoke Edward Murphy, Jr. is seeing from up in the heavens.
There’s no going around what our eyes can see. There are no illusions here. The Cavs are close to collapsing under the weight of organizational dysfunction the likes of which we haven’t seen since the last legs of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers dynasty.
The team, from the top to bottom, is in complete disarray. Owner Dan Gilbert is on a Narcissistic power trip binge that would make Vince McMahon look like a saint. Numerous reports have stated that he’s now the ultimate decision-maker of the franchise, usurping the role he gave to neophyte general manager Koby Altman, who was put in that role only after Gilbert let go of David Griffin, the architect of Cleveland’s title-winning team.
It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if history didn’t take too kindly to owners meddling in front office affairs. But Gilbert can do what he wants because he owns the team, at least for the time being because there are also whispers that Gilbert is actually planning to sell the Cavs if a certain superstar decides to bolt The Land for the second time in eight years.
Speaking of said superstar, LeBron James is as much to blame for the mess the Cavs are in right now. You know all those jokes about James being the team’s de facto decision-maker all these years?
No one from the Cavs will admit it, least of all Bron himself, but his hands are all over the Cavs’ current roster. Kyrie Irving has all but said that LeBron’s shadow and influence with the Cavs was one of the main reasons why he wanted out of Cleveland as soon as possible.
Guys like JR Smith and Tristan Thompson got paid because of their close relationship to the ringleader. Thompson is even a client of Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, the sports agency that was financed by James himself. Smith and Thompson were instrumental figure during Cleveland’s title run, but the absurd contracts they received—four-year, $57 million and 5-year $82 million—were handed out at the behest of James. Now they’re coming back to bite the team’s salary cap.
The insatiable thirst to “win-now” has been one of the defining factor of James’ second run with the Cavs. It worked to some extent because the team has the hardware to show for it, but this mentality also came at the cost of long-term planning. The contracts Smith and Thompson received are the perfect examples of that. Throw Iman Shumpert in there, too.
Every argument and subsequent decision the team made in the last four years has been all about answering today’s questions as opposed to preparing for a future that nobody cared about as long as the team can compete in the present. It certainly didn’t help that the Cavs kept fooling themselves into thinking that they could compete against a Golden State Warriors team that built itself the right way, made decisions the right way, and lucked into once-in-a-generation talents at the right time.
Everything the Warriors did right, the Cavs thought they could duplicate. Except that they haven’t, and we’re seeing that flawed idea manifest itself before our very eyes.
The optimists in us still think that Cleveland will right this ship when it’s time. There’s a precedent for that, too. But that precedent also comes with Irving in a Cavs uniform. When shit hit the fan in year’s past, the team always rallied around James and Irving, and everything straightened itself out.
It’s different with this current team. There’s a psychological fragility looming over the franchise that has never been there in the past. Irving’s departure has a lot to do with that, but so does the dramatic decline of Smith, Shumpert, and Jae Crowder, one of the main pieces Cleveland received from the Irving trade.
The other key piece from that trade, Isaiah Thomas, is still rounding himself into basketball shape. Derrick Rose has been an abysmal signing. Dwyane Wade has been solid in spurts, but he’s not the D-Wade of old. Even LeBron himself has, on occasion, looked like a man who’s counting his days in a Cleveland uniform. The sense of passion and urgency that the team rode to the 2016 title has been replaced by an uncertain future that the team never planned for in the first place. And from the looks of things, nobody in a Cavs uniform wants to be a part of that future.
There’s still time for the Cavs to turn the season around, but the longer this dysfunction festers, the shorter the season becomes.
The clock is ticking on The Land.