By the time the visitor’s locker room opened inside the United Center following another loss — Cleveland’s fifth in the last seven games and 10th during a pitiful March — Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Deron Williams and James Jones were the only players remaining. That’s because the team meeting, which Kyrie Irving hinted at, had already taken place. “Every journey’s different,” Irving said. “When you’re in it, it absolutely sucks, when you’re in a rut like this. We’re taking steps forward. After the game we took a step forward.”
When asked to clarify what he meant by that, Irving declined to share details. "Just in a way that a team should take a step forward when we're in a rut," he said. "I'll leave it at that."
Jason Lloyd: LeBron is in no mood tonight. No postgame icing session, beat Ty Lue out of locker room to address reporters. That's a first
The Cavs' slide continues, and the best anyone can say about them right now is March is almost over. Cleveland fell to the Chicago Bulls 99-93 on Thursday night in a game in which LeBron James passed Shaquille O'Neal (28,596 points) for seventh place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Now is not a time for the Cavs to celebrate personal accolades. James said the milestone "means absolutely nothing right now." It's time to put out a dumpster fire that consumed them this month.
Chuck Garfien: LeBron said Rondo kept breaking down their D. Part of the Cavs gameplan was to take Mirotic out of his comfort zone. "We didn't do it."
After the Cavs lost their ninth game in 15 tries Monday against the Spurs, 14-year vet James Jones spoke in the locker room, asking rhetorically what the players really wanted out of this season, a source told cleveland.com. These kinds of speeches are not unusual, especially at this point in the season with the playoffs fast approaching, but this kind of losing in March is rare for the Cavs. And it's not what one would expect from a defending champion with this kind of talent.
Neither LeBron James nor Kyrie Irving barked at teammates in the locker room, the source said, though the source confirmed what Irving said Monday -- that the losing and the travel have frayed nerves. And yet, as the Cavs get set to play the Chicago Bulls tonight, they find themselves tied for first with the Celtics, who lost Wednesday to Milwaukee.
Ramona Shelburne: Kyrie: "There's definitely been some ups and downs and disagreements. But as adults and professionals we just have to figure it out."
Ramona Shelburne: Kyrie on his shooting cleanse: "I had to face it, had to face the music. I just wasn't doing enough. I need to demand more out of myself."
"It's a delicate time right now for our team," James said after Monday's loss. "A lot of people talking ... guys in the locker room. I'm not saying it's for the bad. We've got a couple guys that's shown leadership, some guys that's been in the fray before that's giving their opinions. I've learned over the season there's a time and place for it. Certain situations. I kind of wait for the right time ... So my time will come."
Tyronn Lue said the controversy surrounding the Cavs was a distraction and "I hate it." "I gotta come and deal with you guys every time it happens," Lue said after practice Thursday. His team has lost six of eight and his star player, LeBron James, and the front office are at odds over the roster.
"Just a lot of distractions," Lue said. "We gotta focus on basketball, getting back to winning. We're the third-best team in the NBA right now. We're a great team, we're the champs, so we just got to get back to playing championship basketball. That's it."
ESPN Cleveland: Brian Windhorst: "LeBron is saying the Cavs aren't as committed to winning a championship as he is. That inflamed people in the organization."
Tension between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers' leadership is centered on payroll spending, multiple sources told ESPN.
James and team owner Dan Gilbert have different viewpoints on the issue, and it has been straining the relationship, sources said. The matter has been exacerbated by the team's struggles on the court; the Cavs lost for the sixth time in eight games, 116-112 to the Sacramento Kings in overtime, on Wednesday night.
When James was considering a return to the Cavs in 2014, he pressed Gilbert on if he'd be willing to spend unconditionally on talent, regardless of the luxury-tax cost, sources said. Over the course of several meetings with James and his representatives, Gilbert agreed, and James subsequently signed with the team.
The comments angered Gilbert, sources said, because James appeared to imply it was an organizational choice whether to improve or not. This was seen by some as a reference to further spending.
While one team source told ESPN there was amazed disbelief that James could question the Cavs' pledge to repeat as champions -- considering owner Dan Gilbert is on the hook for the largest payroll in league history at more than $127 million, plus luxury tax -- another source within the Cleveland front office told ESPN that the timing of James' words was "brilliant," as the Cavs have thrived in adversity the past several seasons and this chaos that James created could jolt the team out of its current malaise.
Griffin would not disclose the details of his talk with James -- "I'm going to keep that in house but it was a good conversation," he said. "I think we both needed it, I'm happy it happened" -- nor would he say whether James expressed any remorse.
Griffin, a team source told ESPN, expressed his disappointment in James for the manner in which he shared his thoughts on the roster. "It wouldn't have been my preferred method," Griffin told reporters. "It certainly wasn't appropriate from a teammate perspective. But, it is what it is."
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin on LeBron James' critical comments: "It certainly wasn't appropriate from a teammate perspective." #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin: "The comment about the organization being complacent is really misguided." #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin: "Its hard to say we're dealing with (too much) adversity because we're first in the East." #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin: "We can absolutely increase payroll if it's the right piece at the right time." #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin: "If we were 100 percent healthy, I feel good about our chances in any (playoff) series." #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin: "The team we have needs to get better from within. A lack of identity on the defensive end has been hard." #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers GM David Griffin: "I think we have enough (talent) if we play significantly better." #NBA
Joe Vardon: Tyronn Lue said the Cavs talked about LeBron's comments as a team and Griff and Bron spoke privately
Folks within the Cavs laughed during this playoff run about how they functioned best when the situation around them seemed so dysfunctional. So with the building on fire and the team in a 3-1 hole, the Cavs remained perfectly calm. And James delivered.
Richard Jefferson: In my 15 years in the league, and all the basketball I’ve played in my life, I’ve thought a lot about team chemistry. How do you come together at the right time? I’ve been on Finals teams and I’ve been on teams that had no chance to make the playoffs by midseason. To me, this season — and our team — comes down to narratives. All year long we heard about chemistry issues. LeBron and Kevin. Narrative. Kyrie’s injury. Narrative. We got a new coach. Narrative. Oh, we’re not getting along. Based on what? Who was telling our story? Not us. We obviously had a high-profile coaching change. We had slumps. We had injuries — Kyrie missed the first 24 games of the season, so he’s only just now getting to playing the type of MVP-level ball he’s capable of. We clawed our way to 56 wins just trying to find our rhythm.
Richard Jefferson: It’s O.K. for others to speculate, but those narratives didn’t show us as we really were. And for most of the season, that was fine with us. We ignored it and tried to get our groove. Which is why the timing of Lil Kev is interesting. It coincided with the end of the regular season, when something was starting to happen with our team. The change really took off at a dinner at LeBron’s house right before the first round. The change really took off at a dinner at LeBron’s house right before the first round. We were 15 guys sitting around his big dining room table. In the middle of the meal, he stood up and addressed each guy in the room. He pointed out something that each player brought to the team, and explained how it was going to be vital if we wanted to win a championship. And he gave each one of us a memento, a little gift. I won’t share what exactly it was because it was a team thing. But it wasn’t anything big. I think it just struck us all in that moment how special a position we were in. Bron was saying to us, “We can only do this if we do it together. That’s all that matters.” He’s won championships before. We wanted to listen.
Both in the public eye and behind-the-scenes, there’s generally a lot of noise about the inner-workings of each NBA team. But in Cleveland? These days it’s like sitting front row at a Metallica concert. I have a client in Cleveland, and am continually struck by the unparalleled ebbs and flows that swirl around this group since LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers. It’s been a rocky road over the past two years that hasn’t exactly made for an easy work environment. And with the NBA Finals headed back to Cleveland and the Cavs two losses away from being swept, believe me when I say it’s going to be a long 72 hours for that group.
It seemed like from the time he signed he wanted to take stock of the organization as a whole, to assess everyone else before opening himself up to anyone. While the entire team got together to work out in the offseason, LeBron would show up… but only work out by himself, with his own trainers, after the other players had finished. As you can imagine, it created a sense of separation that felt like it stuck throughout last season.
An example of this I always come back to involves Cleveland’s former No. 3 pick, Dion Waiters. LeBron immediately zeroed in on Waiters upon his return. Before the start of the 2014-15 season, as most NBA teams do each September, all of the players under contract to the Cavs got together to work out—except Waiters. LeBron noticed this and instead of addressing it personally with Dion, he made a show of it every time he came into the gym. “Where’s Dion? Dion isn’t here? Anyone seen Dion today?” It became a running joke of sorts. Everyone around the team understood his point, but no one ever actually took action. Everyone also knew that Dion’s leash in Cleveland was going to be very short— anything less than a career year would make him expendable. Two months later, he was traded.
When LeBron came back to Cleveland two years ago, I got the impression that it caught everyone from day-to-day staffers to ownership off guard. With LeBron on the roster, the Cavs instantly went from being a club incapable of drawing a great deal of national interest to the most heavily scrutinized team in the NBA. And it didn’t feel like they had the processes and protocols in place to handle that attention. You could see it right away. On media day last season, over 300 people showed up. From a security and logistics perspective, the team wasn’t prepared and small security issues persisted in the early part of the year. It may seem like a minor detail, but those things tend to be strong indications of how a club operates. Instead of anticipating what was to come, the Cavs played catch-up all year, and that included LeBron himself, who had to play his way into shape during the season.
“The tweets, well, everybody is like, ‘LeBron’s being passive-aggressive.’ LeBron James isn’t passive-aggressive, he’s aggressive-aggressive,” Griffin said. “You know exactly where he stands as a teammate and a leader. Nobody on our team thought those tweets were directed at him. Nobody on our team took that in a negative way. But because the world at large isn’t in our locker room, they think, well, that would really bother them. I don’t care what you think if you’re not in that room. “LeBron enjoys and thrives in controversy and he really is comfortable in that space. I think he’s always going to parry with the media. I think he’s going to enjoy that throughout his career. It had no bearing on our locker room.”
Griffin saw those tweets from James differently than the “fit in, fit out” one during the 2014-15 season that James directed at Kevin Love. “When LeBron went at Kevin last year, it was a language that everyone knew was directed at Kevin, including Kevin. It wasn’t a situation where he’s hiding anything,” Griffin said.
Griffin downplayed James’ self-generated controversy and said all are motivated daily to help James fulfill his self-appointed mission of delivering Cleveland a championship, last won by the Browns in 1964. But Griffin acknowledged that locker room additions in 2016 have helped. He called the arrival of 10-year veteran Channing Frye in a Feb. 18 trade with the Orlando Magic “a breath of fresh air.”
That internal struggle feels more urgent as two superteams without apparent weaknesses prepare to defeat you in the NBA Finals. It has created obvious turmoil, especially with James. He lashed out at teammates during a players-only meeting after the Cavs fired David Blatt in January, sources have told ESPN.com, and his social media droppings have been inscrutable.
September 25, 2022 | 7:41 pm EDT Update
Russell Westbrook was wearing a bucket hat, flip-flops and a smile inside the conference room in his Avenue of the Stars offices. Trade talks stalled, training camp on the cusp and Westbrook hardly had to consider the question: Do you feel wanted by the Los Angeles Lakers? “I don’t need to,” Westbrook told ESPN recently. “I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete.”
Westbrook spoke of getting back to work in the gym sooner in the past offseason than he has ever done in his career, about a summer full of conversations with Lakers coach Darvin Ham, about a “connection” and “trust” with Ham’s vision to utilize him in a way that impacts winning on these Lakers. Maybe that’s as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”
He sure isn’t here to tell you that his and the Lakers’ debacle of a season caused him to have to fight to keep his confidence. “No, I didn’t have to fight that,” Westbrook said. “I had to fight my response on how it affects the people close to me. To me, that was the important part. Confidence is not something I lack. Yes, there were times last season that I wanted to play better — that I should’ve played better — but my confidence never wavers. Having bad games is part of the NBA, and I understand that. The only thing it affected for me was the impact that it had on the people closest to me — my mom, dad, wife, brother, close friends. We’ve never had to deal with that as a family. That was the most difficult thing — being booed in the arena and having my kids there.”
Shams Charania: Sources: The Lakers plan to sign G/F Matt Ryan on a non-guaranteed deal. Four-year NBA veteran Dwayne Bacon is also working toward training camp deal with the Lakers. Ryan was with the Celtics on a two-way last season.