Our NBA journey is completed. The playoffs are over, as sixteen teams vied for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, with the Golden State Warriors prevailing. Fifteen teams joined the other fourteen non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We continue with the fifteenth and final team eliminated from the 2018 postseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Record: 50-32, 4th Seed, Eastern Conference
Head Coach: LeBron James via Tyronn Lue
Playoff Result: Lost NBA Finals, 4-0, to the Golden State Warriors. (Not even immortality can stave off the inevitable.)
Here we are again. It appears whatever turmoil the Cleveland Cavaliers endured since LeBron James returned to them does not keep him from his destined place in the Finals. Even the term 'turmoil' seems like an understatement for this season. From Kyrie Irving demanding a trade and being traded to injuries to shoddy defensive woes to sending most of the role players away in favor of younger, inexperienced ones, the Cavaliers suffered through nearly everything a team could possibly go through – save for a coach firing – and still won the Eastern Conference crown for a fourth straight year.
I won't go deep into how magical LeBron's season was. That deserves its own post. But he is the epitome of what a superstar is to his team. He covers so many of the Cavaliers' mistakes, including his own, that deodorant companies should have a grade of product stronger than clinical protection in his honor. LeBron James arguably had the best season of his career in year 15. As remarkable as that is, a team with a man playing that well still won the East, but only because said man was having his best year ever.
Once again, the Cavaliers did not win the NBA championship. So how do they fix it?
The Safe Fix
The Make-up Song: The Isley Brothers - "Make Me Say It Again"
It does not appear James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. So they should just treat this as a breakup, even if it's just with the most important player of this generation and in the franchise's history.
But let's say he does, through some divine intervention, return to Cleveland. The Cavaliers will still be favored in the East, despite the team having an increasing number of shortcomings. The best solution with LeBron there is to do whatever it takes to have at least three All-Star caliber players on the team. (For the record, I am including Kevin Love, unless Kevin Love could be given up and would be replaced by a player better than him.) Cleveland does not build its roster to conquer the Eastern Conference. As this season showed, LeBron can win the East with nearly any group of serviceable players. The Cavaliers made those two trades in hopes the team was in better condition to beat the Golden State Warriors. Instead, they put together the worst team since LeBron's return, and were rudely dismantled in four games in the Finals.
Cleveland desperately needs to get more athletic in the backcourt. They do not have a set of guards who provide the outside offensive capabilities needed in today's NBA. As far as the defensive end goes, they do not communicate in rotations, nor do they have an interior or perimeter defensive stopper. It's impossible to shut NBA players down, but a team must be capable of playing consistently good defense.
There is also a third option. Beg LeBron to stay. Do whatever it takes as a franchise. Turn on the best R&B. Stand outside his window. Do something, because if LeBron leaves, well, we remember what that was like. Cleveland must fully adopt their motto from the season and do 'Whatever It Takes' to keep LeBron.
The Extreme Fix
The Breakup Song: Ideal - "Get Gone"
Since LeBron is probably not returning to Cleveland, the franchise may need to put on the guise of being better without him in the future, even if it's outrageously untrue. For whatever reason, even with this iteration of LeBron James, Cleveland did not win the championship. As egregious as this perspective is, it must be considered: they cannot win the championship with LeBron on the team. What I mean by that is not even James is impervious to the notion that a superstar will always be an untouchable piece to a franchise. The San Francisco 49ers traded Joe Montana. Anyone can be let go for the right price, even if that price is nothing in return.
So how do the Cavaliers improve without the best player to ever play?
Sometimes, someone can be very good, but not good for a person or situation. James has been invaluable both times he was a member of his close-to-hometown NBA team. However, as I've stated in previous entries in this series, the ultimate goal in team sports is a championship. Not only have the Cavaliers lost the last two Finals, they've gotten worse as a team since winning in 2016. James has been on the team through all the turmoil and has done more with less than any superstar ever before. But maybe its time for both sides to part ways, and both sides have valid reasons to do so.
Should the Cavaliers walk this path without LeBron again, they must do whatever they can to yield as many positive resources as possible. It will be very difficult to get players to sign there, as their front office is dysfunctional at best. But maybe LeBron will show mercy like in 2010 and do a sign-and-trade rather than leave outright. Yes, mercy to a team with an owner who has demonstrated unethical behavior before and would ironically have to count on ethics to help his franchise. But similar disliked men have had fortune favor them, so anything is possible.
I don't have the solution, with or without LeBron James, for Cleveland that will have them in the Finals for a fifth straight year, but something must change. Happy NBA, folks. Enjoy the offseason.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.