At halftime Sunday, I was starting to think the Cavaliers might be — I’ve covered this team long enough to emphasize “might be” — on the verge of finally starting to turn a corner.
Instead, they made a U-turn in an epic collapse against the Phoenix Suns, causing me to now believe they will likely continue to drive around in a circle, going nowhere fast.
It’s not the six-point, 2-for-22 shooting in a third quarter where the Cavs got outscored by 19 points that has me feeling this way.
It’s not the disastrous 38-9 run the Suns went on in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
It’s not even the abominable defense that gave up 59 second-half points — and would have surrendered 70-plus had the Suns not missed at least a half-dozen relatively easy shots.
It’s the lack of commitment, focus and professionalism.
It’s the refusal to do everything necessary, consistently, to be a successful NBA team.
Though they say the right things, it’s the apparent me-first attitude of some very key players that are supposed to be very key parts of this organization’s future.
Are these things fixable? I don’t know.
It all starts with Kyrie Irving, a remarkably gifted and talented player who right now seems much more concerned with what he calls his “brand,” NBA All-Star Games and Olympic gold medals than helping the Cavs succeed.
Dion Waiters has unbelievable skills as well, but one night he’s great and the next his head is in the clouds. Sometimes, this occurs on a quarter-by-quarter or even possession-by-possession basis. It would not surprise me at all if his inconsistency is someone else’s problem by this time next month.
Strictly from a basketball standpoint, Tristan Thompson plays and works hard and is making progress, but how many nights do the Cavs honestly have an advantage at the starting power forward spot?
Jarrett Jack is still an above-average backup guard, but he’s much, much closer to the end of his career than the beginning — and he has three more seasons on his contract after this one.
Even Luol Deng, a consummate professional, doesn’t look nearly as quick and agile as he did, say, two seasons ago. Deng is still producing because he’s smart and knows how to play, but is this a guy you want to pay $52-54 million for the next four seasons?
Then there’s second-stint head coach Mike Brown, who is a genuinely nice man, a very solid defensive teacher (with willing players, that is) and a better overall coach, regardless of what many people think, than predecessor — and successor — Byron Scott.
Brown isn’t a great offensive coach — anyone who has watched the Cavs try to inbound the ball in the closing seconds of a close game knows that — but much more troubling is that this isn’t really about X’s and O’s.
For all his preaching, Brown has yet to reach this group, which shows flashes of brilliance one night — or even one half or one quarter — and then has a complete meltdown.
Why this is (still) happening is anyone’s guess, but that it is (still) happening is indisputable.
Friday night after the Cavs routed a very bad Milwaukee team, Irving talked at length about defense being the key. The 21-year-old then went out Sunday and played extremely hard at that end of the court against the Suns — for a half.
Then the third quarter started and the old Irving surfaced. He guarded no one. He dribbled through his legs three times. He dominated the basketball. And after the game, he took responsibility — at least verbally — and said it was on him.
Thompson added that the Cavs have to respond, that they have to take it personally, that they have to play harder, that they have to learn from the experience and fix things.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
All the talk is getting real old, real quick.
Clearly, changes must be made.
But what changes?
Sure, the Cavs can follow the Browns’ lead and fire Brown after one season. But if the same key players are around with the same attitude next season, the new coach will get the same (lack of) effort Scott and Brown got.
Sure, owner Dan Gilbert can — and just may, with a ton of justification — fire general manager Chris Grant, the man who drafted Waiters in 2012 and gave us Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix in 2013.
That the 16-28 Cavs are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot in the sad-sack Eastern Conference is an absolute joke. The worst thing that could happen is for them to sneak into the postseason, for the organization to seriously view that as significant
progress and for no major changes to be made with the current roster.
Do that and the same problems will almost certainly be around next season — unless some individual and overall attitudes and approaches change drastically.
At the moment, there’s no solid reason to believe that will happen. The better bet is that on many nights this group will continue to display a lack of energy, heart, backbone, professionalism, commitment, unselfishness or whatever else you want to call it.
And that the Cavs will continue to go in circles.