The beginning of this season was filled with cautious anticipation and bridled enthusiasm for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans.
The team was eager to adapt a new system, a new culture and a new beginning.
The fans were eager to embrace this team in a different manner than in years past—not to say they weren't fully appreciative and supportive during the LeBron James era, but for the sake of the city's pride, they wanted this team to be successful and show the nation that they were more than a one-man town.
At the same time, there was a dark cloud that loomed over both the organization and the city of Cleveland. And when (or if) things ever started to go south, that cloud would slowly turn into a torrential downpour that would potentially drown the Cavaliers franchise and turn them into just another obsolete, lottery-bound NBA team that struggles to turn a consistent annual profit.
Hinged on almost pure emotion and will, the Cavs came out of the gate rather strong. They rallied from a double-digit deficit against mighty Boston at home on opening night and willed themselves to a victory.
They took advantage (kind of) of a weak early-season schedule to get themselves to .500 in mid-November. At one point, they even sat atop the Central Division—granted,they were just 4-3 at the time, but it seemed to be a step in the right direction.
There were still some glaring issues: They couldn't stop anyone on defense, they couldn't keep opponents off the glass, the starters were struggling to put up points and they didn't have one guy who could consistently create shots for himself or others.
A much tougher stretch between the end of November and the beginning of January (15 games against teams that either made the playoffs last year or appear well on their way to making a postseason appearance in '11, including two showdowns against LeBron James' new squad) was sure to define this team.
So far, the Cavs have fallen flat on their face in the midst of this difficult run. And those storm clouds have resurfaced—now the team is slowly sinking into irrelevance.
We can say that LeBron's return may have been the beginning of the end for this team, but it looks more like the Heat put the nail in the coffin on that December night.
After being lambasted in the national media for their seemingly warm reception of James and basically rolling over against the Heat, the Cavs look like they're already counting this season as a lost cause. They look like a group of 12 guys randomly selected for a pick-up game...and after a few rough outings they're ready to pack it in and come back tomorrow, hoping to land on a better team.
Fans know that rebuilding is a process that doesn't happen in a year. Especially in such a unique case like this, where players that were signed or acquired to fulfill a certain duty are suddenly thrust into new roles that may be outside of their comfort zone.
But Cleveland was still hoping to restore some credibility. Obviously they didn't want to become a laughing-stock and be forced to get rid of a majority of their players in an effort to rebuild for the future.
Unfortunately, given the dismal lack of effort and fire displayed by the team in the last two weeks, it's now a matter of when, not if, the Cavs start to systematically dismantle their roster.
Other than a surprisingly strong game at home against the Bulls last Wednesday, the results have been atrocious.
They gave up 348 points on a three-game road trip against Minnesota, Detroit and Philadelphia, teams with a then-combined record of 16-43. During this eight-game slide, opponents are scoring nearly 110 points per game.
Byron Scott made countless changes in the rotation. He moved Joey Graham to the starting lineup a few weeks ago and placed Jamario Moon is a reserve role.
He then took his two bench players, Daniel Gibson and Antawn Jamison, and moved them into the starting lineup while delegating J.J. Hickson to the bench.
The shake-ups just helped masquerade the Cavaliers problems, not solve them. Instead of having a second unit that almost routinely outscores the starters, it's now the bench that is blowing leads or allowing relatively close games to slip out of reach.
The schedule only gets tougher. They once again face the Miami Heat on Wednesday and travel to Indiana on Friday. They return home for games against the surging Knicks and Jazz. And following those four games, they face Atlanta, Minnesota (beat Cleveland by 34 this year), Orlando, Charlotte, Chicago and Dallas.
Given the way things have gone recently, it's conceivable that the Cavs will be bringing a 13-game losing streak into Christmas.
So where do Dan Gilbert, Chris Grant and the rest of the organization go from here?
They can look for possible trades, but they might not be thrilled with the varying interest from other teams. Other than Anderson Varejao, the team's most valuable trade asset, it's difficult to see teams giving up anything substantial for anyone on the roster.
Mo Williams is a notoriously streaky player, but this is by far the worst he's looked in a Cavalier uniform. And with the way point guards are dominating the league, it's doubtful there are many teams willing to take on a jump-shooting, score-first point guard who struggles mightily on defense.
Antawn Jamison looks like a new man since becoming a starter, but isn't it possible that at this point in his career he's nothing more than a guy who puts up good stats on bad teams? He wasn't nearly as effective last year with the ball barely in his hands, and contending teams looking for a sixth man like 'Tawn will undoubtedly take note of how he struggled last year.
Instead of making a leap, J.J. Hickson has seemingly regressed as the year has advanced. Defenses know what he wants to do on offense, and he mentally checks out of game if he can't get to his spots.
Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Leon Powe all look a few years older and slower than their age suggests and what the team expected when they inked these guys in '09.
And as for players the team could acquire? Andre Iguodala has been a name mentioned for years but, even though he's a big upgrade in terms of talent, the Cavs would essentially turn into the Sixers for the next three years—not exactly an ideal scenario.
Rumors are quickly escalating about the availability of O.J. Mayo. He'd be a nice fit on the Cavs, but what could the team realistically offer Memphis in return?
The Cavalier faithful can expect this to unravel like a game of dominoes—once one piece falls, the rest will be sure to follow.
How the front office handles this rebuilding process in the next few months will go a long way in determining how quickly the franchise can become competitive again. But with this roster, expect drastic changes to occur sooner rather than later.
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