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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers panicking?

A look at the Warriors’ not-rival’s recent slump, and how they might try and break out of it.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans
LeBron James is frustrated with his team’s recent direction.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans, who were without Anthony Davis. LeBron James was not happy: the forward took to the airwaves to publicly voice his frustration over the Cavaliers roster, and repeat his desire to add another “playmaker.”

Wednesday night, the Cavs lost at home to the Sacramento Kings in overtime, as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love each missed critical free throws to win the game in regulation. James insisted that his team is too “top-heavy,” and that it was on management to spend more in order to win a championship. To wit, the Cavaliers have an open roster spot, and several significant trade exceptions that could bring in talent — and James has run out of patience waiting for ownership to use those assets.

As anyone who has ever seen My Super Sweet Sixteen will tell you, LeBron often gets what LeBron wants. But which player could help put the Cavaliers over the top? And more importantly — should the Warriors and the rest of the league be concerned?

Acting All Cavalier

Well, technically, yes: folks should always be concerned, because the Cavs are threatening to improve their roster. But the team is cratering right now for other reasons, and the public posturing and politicking can’t be helping matters inside the locker room.

With JR Smith sidelined, and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both bouncing back from illness, Cleveland could be excused for hitting a bit of a skid. But the team’s problems appear to be bigger than that on the defensive side of the ball; the search for a “playmaker,” a backup point guard who can create offensively for the second unit, misses the point.

The Cavaliers’ defense has been trending the wrong way since the Kyle Korver trade. In the past 10 games, the Cavaliers’ defense has allowed 110.1 points per 100 possessions. That mark, if it held up for the season, would stick the Cavs at 29th in the NBA (just ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers at 110.3). Compare these numbers to a year ago, when the Cavs finished with a much stronger defensive efficiency of 102.3. A team relying on the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for major minutes would seemingly understand the sometimes necessary trade-off between great offense and terrible defense, but the Kyle Korver-Cavaliers have not been good enough to contend so far.

Some fans will get snarky and remark that LeBron only has himself to blame — he’s the GM, after all. But it’s tough to see how letting Tristan Thompson walk would have made the Cavs better right now (they were already over the cap when he re-signed). It’s even tougher to see how not trading for Mike Dunleavy (and then dealing him for Korver) would’ve made this team better compared to a year ago. The Cavaliers, or more accurately, LeBron James himself, may have just come to the sad realization that most of the world arrived at circa July 4, 2016: the Warriors are simply more talented than the Cavaliers. And LBJ isn’t ready to concede that, which is why he’s blaming ownership for not spending enough while Cleveland has the highest roster salary in the NBA.

LeBron the Veteranophile

LeBron James leads the NBA in minutes per game at 32 years old, which is probably not a good idea for his long term durability. And Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving -- two guys who historically need no help catching injuries — are similarly overworked. So there is merit to the thought that the Cavaliers should seek out an able-bodied contributor. But there is no available player who will be able to join the Cavs at mid-season, take minutes from any of the aforementioned players, and make the team better in time for these playoffs. The Cavs would simply be protecting themselves against injury, but they’d still have critical defensive issues and they’d still be losing home games to the Kings.

There’s a number of rumors tying Cleveland to all sorts of past-their-prime point guards, and most of the options (given the above) are not likely to move the O’Brien trophy needle this season. tied the Cavs to Chicago’s Rajon Rondo, Dallas’ Deron Williams and Denver’s Jameer Nelson. Meanwhile, the Knicks tried to jump in with a Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love swap (which the Cavs quickly refused). Right now, ESPN Trade Machine users are dreaming up ways to get Chris Paul or Dwyane Wade to Cleveland (don’t count on it).

The Cavaliers must hope that their current roster can win games against a favored opponent, just as they did a year ago. Cavaliers management, meanwhile, should continue to do the opposite of LeBron James: not panic, and instead continue to search for ways to improve the roster.

LeBron James, meanwhile, should continue to give his all on the court, and stop alienating his lesser teammates off the court.

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