Despite the fact that they are the odds-on favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as has been the case throughout this run, appear to have some team turmoil brewing.
The last three seasons have been rocky, to say the least, with LeBron James returning in the summer of 2014 and not immediately hitting it off with head coach, David Platt, injuries to top stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love derailing what could have been a victory in the 2015 NBA Finals, a coaching change halfway through the next season, being on the brink of elimination during the 2016 NBA Finals, only to have the Warriors falter (had Draymond Green not gotten himself suspended and Andrew Bogut not gotten injured, the Warriors would have likely closed the Cavaliers out after taking a three games-to-one lead). Last season’s behind the scenes issues between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, which were not brought to light until the offseason, did not keep the team from making it back to the big show either.
Will this season be different?
For Cleveland, the season appears to be starting off the same way as the previous three. The Cavaliers have done a good job steadying the ship the last three years and will need to do the same again this year if they do indeed make a fourth trip to the Finals.
Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue announced Monday that Dwyane Wade, who recently joined the team after coming to a contract buyout agreement with his hometown Bulls, who he only spent one season with, will be the starting shooting guard. J.R. Smith, who started for Cleveland at that position the past three seasons, will move to a reserve role.
Wade will join two other offseason additions in Cleveland’s revamped starting lineup. Derrick Rose will play point guard, at least until Isaiah Thomas, another addition, returns from injury, and Jae Crowder will play power forward.
J.R. Smith had all but conceded the starting spot to Dwayne Wade two weeks ago. He tried to put a positive spin on everything then, talking about how the addition of Wade would prolong his career because he won’t have to carry as heavy a load offensively or defensively.
Smith spoke with an entirely different tune yesterday, saying he was “absolutely” frustrated that he had lost his starting job to the 12-time all-star.
“Was working hard all summer and then coming in and not even really having a chance to earn my spot, but it’s all right,” Smith said. “It is what it is.”
Smith has spoken to fellow former starter Tristan Thompson, who also lost his starting gig this year, about how they plan on handling it.
“We talked about it. It wasn’t the most positive conversation, but we talked about it and we’ll get through it together.”
Lue did not explain his reasoning for making Wade a starter at shooting guard after the latter had been playing primarily as the Cavs’ point guard for the second unit, simply telling reporters at the team’s practice facility, “I just wanted to do it.”
Lue did speak highly of Derrick Rose, who signed with Cleveland as a free agent after spending last season with the Knicks and performed in a recent stint as the backup point guard.
“I think having him on the second unit, along with the first unit, him and Bron can always push the pace because we want to play with pace, play fast.”
As for Smith, the coach did sympathize with his situation but acknowledged that if the team is to have a successful season, sacrifices need to be made.
“It’s tough. You’ve been in position where you went to three straight Finals and you’ve been the starting two-guard. But like I said, it’s about sacrifice if you want to win. J.R. was great about it. Just knows he has to have a different role right now so we’ll see how it works.”
The 2016-17 season was a tough one for Smith, as he missed 41 games due to injury and finished with an average of just 8.6 points per game, which was his lowest average since 2005-06.
Despite his disappointment, Smith admitted that he would enjoy being part of the Cavs’ second unit.
“I actually like playing on the second unit better; I’m more of a playmaker and distributor and I handle the ball a little bit more instead of just running to the corner.”
The Cavs will need Smith to maintain his positive attitude, and health, if they are to play into June this upcoming season. How he handles his role in the long run could be a big deciding factor in terms of how far they go. However, as has been customary the last three years, there will likely be no end to the drama for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2017-18 season.
[Featured Image by Tony Dejak/AP Images]