Storyline: Cleveland Cavaliers Turmoil?

274 rumors in this storyline

The blame game has already started. In the past few days, it was reported that LeBron and Tyronn Lue never wanted to trade Kyrie Irving even if the Nets pick were included (in August, a league sourced told me that James and Lue “cooled” on the deal after learning the extent of Isaiah Thomas’s health concerns), and that LeBron wanted the Cavs to acquire DeAndre Jordan, not the collection of misfits they ended up acquiring at the trade deadline.

More Rumors in this Storyline

3 months ago via ESPN

Cleveland was getting a three-time champion, a future first ballot Basketball Hall of Famer, a shooting guard who could fill in some of the scoring void created after the Kyrie Irving trade — for the low, low price of a veteran’s minimum contract worth $2.3 million. For a luxury tax-laden team like the Cavs, it felt like divine intervention. But the blessed union took a turn for the worse almost immediately, according to sources. First, when bringing on Wade meant needing to trade away popular locker room presence Richard Jefferson to create an open roster spot. Then, when Wade balked at Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue’s plan to bring him off the bench. Wade, insisting he was more comfortable playing the starting role he had filled his entire 15-year NBA career, started the Cavs’ first three games and struggled mightily, shooting 7-for-25 from the field. After a blowout loss to the Orlando Magic in the third game, Wade approached Lue about coming off the bench, as Lue initially suggested. JR Smith, displaced by Wade’s addition, was plugged back into the starting unit, but the damage was done: The demotion affected Smith mentally, and his on-court production dipped.

The injuries are a worthy excuse, as everyone from five-time All-Star Kevin Love (left hand; expected back later this month) to new addition Rodney Hood (back; day to day), Cedi Osman (left hip; two weeks) and Tristan Thompson (right ankle; multiple games) remain out. It’s the kind of ill-timed rash of injuries that muddies these all-important waters, with James fully admitting that conclusions about the revamped Cavs are hard to reach in times like these. “Listen, at the end of the day you’ve got to (play with) whoever you’ve got out on the floor,” James said afterward. “You want to get the most out of whoever’s playing, but sometimes you just can’t overcome this many injuries that we have.” James was then asked if it’s hard to figure out if the Cavs are heading in the right direction. “You don’t know,” he answered. “I mean, you don’t know.”
3 months ago via ESPN

The same stubborn side to which [Isaiah Thomas] owed his success worked against him at times, sources said, when he would question workouts or want to push harder rather than follow the program. After Thomas finally played his first game with the Cavs on Jan. 2 and entered the postgame locker room at Quicken Loans Arena, the team presented the game ball to Cavs physical therapist George Sibel — and not to Thomas — in a tongue-in-cheek gesture of appreciation for managing Thomas through his rehab. A significant part of Sibel’s time with Thomas became handling the guard’s sometimes-prickly personality as much as strengthening the injured hip.
3 months ago via ESPN

The Cavs were aware of the challenge when they made the trade. Not that Irving was without warts — this was a guy who between playoff rounds last spring became so distant from teammates he wouldn’t engage in conversation at practice, according to sources, leaving team officials perplexed as to what could be bothering him. The book on Thomas was that at times he grated on teammates and coaches. There was a reason the Cavs were Thomas’ fourth team in seven years. Not that this is unusual in the NBA. But Thomas consistently has been an overachiever and consistently outplayed his contracts, two typically desired attributes in a league in which talent trumps all. Yet teams kept moving on from him.
3 months ago via ESPN

And the struggles became more acute as Irving and the Celtics excelled. The grumbling got louder as the Cavs’ losses piled up. James privately began to complain about how other all-time greats in the tail end of their primes played for franchises that added Hall of Fame-level talent to support their championship aspirations. The Chicago Bulls got Dennis Rodman for Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers got Pau Gasol for Kobe Bryant. The San Antonio Spurs got Kawhi Leonard for Tim Duncan. The All-Star whom the Cavs got for James wasn’t impressing him. Or other players on the team. As one team source put it, when asked about Thomas in the week leading up to the trade deadline: “I’m all for an underdog story, but you usually expect some humility to be a part of that story.”

LeBron James has nearly 36 million followers on Instagram, so there is a fair chance you saw his footage of him on roller skates Sunday, skating along with Jeff Green. […] In Green’s case, he will miss his third game out of the last four tonight because of lower back soreness. He was held out of Saturday’s loss to Denver and on Saturday was also ruled out for tonight’s game against the Pistons. In between, he went skating?

Cavs staff, in talking with cleveland.com, said while the appearance of Green on roller skates at a time when he can’t play because of a back injury is not a great look, the team’s intent was to keep Green out of games for a period of five days to rest his body from the rigors of NBA court battles. Roller skating should not be equated with the pounding the body takes during a game, they said. Green’s back is improving — he was moving and shooting well during the team’s shootaround this morning.

Without knowing many details, it’s worth noting Jones certainly talks enough to irritate people. Kevin Love joked (I think) during All-Star weekend that he’d love nothing more than for the Heat’s Wayne Ellington to this year break Jones’ Miami franchise record for 3-pointers in a single season. “I don’t know if there is anybody who likes to listen to his own voice more than Damon Jones,” Love joked (I think) in Los Angeles. “I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite guy to talk about, and I’ll just leave it at that.”

Even if Love was (maybe) joking, it’s clear just from being around this team that Jones has a tendency to aggravate. That isn’t to excuse Smith, but to try to paint the entire picture without details of the incident. Regardless, the Cavs have already acted as judge and jury and handed out their sentence. Jones and Tyronn Lue are extremely close, and Lue has helped launch Jones’ coaching career by bringing him on staff and permitting him to coach the Cavs’ summer league team in Las Vegas.
4 months ago via ESPN

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Koby Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN. It was a big difference from David Griffin, who was in constant communication with James in their three seasons in Cleveland together. Altman had his reasons, however. For one, he and his fiancée welcomed the birth of their first child, who experienced health complications, and Altman was there for his family as a father. Also, unlike in years past, the Cavs had two first-round draft picks to prepare for in the 2018 NBA draft. Altman’s scouting duties were more involved than Griffin’s were in the past. The fact that Altman went to James prior to the trade deadline for a sit-down meeting to loop in his superstar about the potential deals the Cavs would swing, as earlier reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, was seen as progress.
4 months ago via ESPN

Kevin Love left the arena early after feeling sick during an embarrassing 148-124 loss to the Thunder on ABC’s Saturday prime-time game on Jan. 20, and missed practice the following day. That led to a tumultuous team meeting when the Cavs convened for practice the following Monday, prompted by Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade — two teammates Love was playing with for the first time. The confrontation began after Tyronn Lue brought the team in to start practice and Love didn’t offer up anything about his status. Several team sources told ESPN they believe the meeting never would have occurred the way it did had Love provided an explanation. There were still lingering feelings, sources told ESPN, from how Love handled a loss in Chicago last March when he fouled out midway through the fourth quarter and immediately retreated to the locker room, rather than remain on the bench in support of his team. Jefferson ran to the back to bring him back out, but the damage was done.
4 months ago via ESPN

Kevin Love, a week removed from Cleveland’s overhaul with several weeks left in his recovery from a broken hand, says the Cavaliers have found “joy” again and that his return won’t pose a problem with the team’s newfound chemistry. “We have a lot of selfless guys added, young guys who are playing extremely hard,” Love said Friday in an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump. “I think you’ve seen that in the last two games in wins over Boston and OKC. So we just to continue to keep playing hard.”
4 months ago via ESPN

“Finding an identity with our team — we never found that,” Love said. “And even with guys coming back from injury or inserting different guys into the lineup and finding different lineups that work together on the floor. We never quite found that. So we feel like the new players … it’s going to take a little bit of time. But hopefully as in years past — you know, we’ve had a little bit of chaos every time the new year comes around; we thrive under chaos — but we’ll find a way to make it work once April rolls around and hopefully have a big run.”

As things started heading south for the Cavs in January, Dwyane Wade was an instigator in the infamous team meeting Jan. 22, hours before they flew to San Antonio. Yes, Thomas was upset that Kevin Love went home with an illness before a 24-point loss to Oklahoma City had concluded on Jan. 20, and that he was not at practice the following day. But, sources said, it was Wade who first made an issue of it on Monday, challenging Lue to disclose where Love had been. Numerous players verbally attacked Love, who eventually explained his absence as part of a wide-ranging, heated discussion in which virtually no one was immune from criticism.

Did Isaiah Thomas inspire this move with his outspoken ways in these past few weeks? Amick: In a word, yes. The locker room dynamic was not healthy, and Thomas’ penchant for speaking his mind about the inner turmoil only made matters worse. Add in the fact that he struggled during his 15-game stay and the Cavs were more than happy to send him to the exits. There is a strong sense from Thomas’ side that James was among those who wanted to see him go – a claim that is refuted by James’ associates. Either way, Thomas now gets a better pathway to his own free agency this summer while the Cavs can get to work repairing their well-chronicled chemistry problems.
4 months ago via ESPN

Coach Tyronn Lue was succinct and direct in his rebuttal to point guard Isaiah Thomas’ critique that the Cleveland Cavaliers are suffering this season because of their failure to execute in-game adjustments effectively. “That’s not true,” Lue said before Cleveland’s 140-138 overtime win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. When a reporter repeated that it was Thomas’ words he was quoting, not his own, Lue doubled down. “Yeah,” he said. “Well, that’s not true.”
4 months ago via ESPN

Following yet another disheartening loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 116-98 to an Orlando Magic team tied for the worst record in the Eastern Conference, LeBron James said he will not waive his no-trade clause ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. “I’m here for the long haul,” James said. “I’m here for this season right now, [to] try to figure out ways we can still compete. I couldn’t give up on my teammates like that. I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t do it. We put too much into the game every single day. We go out and prepare. Win, lose or draw, at the end of the day, we’re all brothers, and we understand that. I owe it to my teammates to finish this season out no matter how it ends up. I would never waive my no-trade clause.”

The gap between LeBron James and the Cavaliers is widening. As the losses mount and the team’s uninspired efforts persist, July 1 and the start of free agency hangs over this franchise as a day of reckoning. How did we get here? How did James’ storybook return to Cleveland spoil so quickly? Less than four years ago, James was proclaiming “I’m back!” to a packed football stadium on the University of Akron’s campus as fireworks illuminated the night sky. Now this union is in danger of collapsing again. The root of the problems can be traced back to two key issues: David Griffin’s removal as general manager and Kyrie Irving’s subsequent trade to the Boston Celtics.

James recruited Jamal Crawford last summer to come to Cleveland, but instead they ignored him and signed rookie Cedi Osman. James told the Cavs not to trade Irving regardless of how disgruntled he appeared. Irving was under team control for two more years, and James was adamant he had no leverage. “Bring him to camp,” James told the Cavs. He was confident he could repair whatever damage Irving felt was done to their relationship. But Irving made clear to Gilbert and the Cavaliers he wanted out of Cleveland because he did not want to play another minute with James, one source told The Athletic. Given how close Irving and James were to the ends of their contracts, the Cavs chose to move Irving while they believed he still had peak value.

The pivot away from James’ wishes has been noticeable, particularly since this is a franchise that since losing him in 2010 has been willing to do — and spend — whatever was necessary to get him back and keep him happy. James and Gilbert have no relationship. Neither do James and Altman, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Whereas Griffin would consult with James and keep him informed of major roster decisions, that is no longer happening. James doesn’t trust this front office, and there is no communication now between management and star player. It perhaps played a role in James yelling and cursing at multiple front office executives during the now-famous team meeting a couple of weeks ago that began with players questioning Kevin Love’s absence from a recent practice. Multiple sources confirmed James cursed toward at least two team executives during the heated meeting.

Derrick Williams on the Cavs: They’re just missing the toughness. They’re missing energy and excitement. LeBron will bring that but he can’t do it all himself. There will always be five men on the court. That was a little bit of what I brought to the team last season. I brought energy, effort, efficiency. Right now it feels like there is a little bit of coasting, to be honest. It’s a long season but you can’t get bored of winning. LeBron will never get that way but you never know with other players.

This probably shouldn’t be surprising given the history between LeBron James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, but it is nonetheless notable as the Cavs try to find their way out of a dark place. In a Monday appearance on the Lowe Post, ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski said that he believes the root of all of Cleveland’s dysfunction is the dysfunctional relationship between LeBron and Gilbert. And that that has amplified all of their existing problems, causing cliques to form that divide what’s supposed to be a united locker room.

Adrian Wojnarowski: “I think the LeBron James dynamic with Dan Gilbert issues sort of set the tone in the organization for others to square off. When the two most powerful people in the organization (do it), I think it opens the door for others to have that. The best player and the owner, that sets a tone. I think it only serves to amplify the other issues there. You have a lot of taking of sides, you have a lot of cliques. The guys who’ve been there, the guys who just came in. Certainly what’s gone on with players and coaches and there being a disconnect there. I think it goes back to the Kyrie-LeBron summer and nobody’s ever really done that to LeBron. Nobody’s ever said ‘I don’t want to play with him.’ And somebody said it, did it, acted on it and got out. I think Kyrie said I’m not going to let LeBron dictate my future. Organizations, whether it was Cleveland the first time or in Miami, everybody in the league has had to wait for LeBron to dictate terms. A player said I’m going to dictate it and the team acquiesced and traded him. I think that set the stage for this.”

Now in their fourth season since James returned, is mental fatigue taking a toll on the Cavs? Sam Amick: It’s a whole lot more complicated than the fatigue factor, and it has everything to do with the layers of dysfunction that the Cavs are battling. Cavs general manager Koby Altman is trying hard to shed the contracts of Tristan Thompson (two years, $36 million remaining) and J.R. Smith ($14.7 million next season, team option worth $15.6 million in 2019-20 with $3.8 million guaranteed), two players who were re-signed in large part because of LeBron’s omnipresent influence. They’re all represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who built the agency with a huge assist from James. As it pertains to the Cavs’ interest in the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, a person with knowledge of that situation said Cleveland continues to offer only its own first-round pick and this kind of unwanted money in those stalled negotiations. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
5 months ago via ESPN

It’s dangerous in the NBA to overreact; it gets people fired and it costs people wins, respect and money. The season is long, and that makes it forgiving, which is why anyone who has much experience preaches patience. But the Cleveland Cavaliers are out of time. It’s preposterous to say that in February for a team with a history of turning things around and doing it when they have to. However, they are in a preposterous situation. They aren’t just looking at losing this season, but they are looking at losing LeBron James. If tomorrow were the beginning of free agency, there’s a good chance that would be the case.
5 months ago via ESPN

The Cavs’ players do not trust each other. It appears as if some of them don’t like each other. Two of them — Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye — were told they’d probably get traded two weeks ago but then weren’t. Their coach has been hesitant to shake up the lineup as he has failed to motivate his veteran team. Tyronn Lue’s performance has been questioned in recent weeks. His fidelity to playing certain lineups while abandoning others that previously were highly successful is so mystifying that it has launched conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, he is not at the center of the storm. This is all a whirlwind around LeBron James vs. the Cavs’ front office, which is to say it’s about James vs. owner Dan Gilbert.
5 months ago via ESPN

LeBron James (11 points, 3-of-10 from the field) is completely dispirited. Never before in his career has he played like this. Maybe on the occasional midseason evening he has been less than energetic — in the past, he has called it “chill mode” — but never like this. Looking through his eyes, you can understand why he’s frustrated. You can understand why he sometimes feels like the organization hasn’t kept the pedal down. When he sees Isaiah Thomas struggling, trying so hard to fight through a devastating injury but having to go so slow that he’s hindering the Cavs instead of helping them, he wonders why they traded Irving at all. And why they took the deal with the Boston Celtics, even though they had a chance to back out. James must wonder: If the organization won’t go all-in to try to keep the best team around him, would he want to be elsewhere? Would he want to waive his no-trade clause? Instead, he stews.
5 months ago via ESPN

In the games since, LeBron James’ defensive effort has further wilted. His aggression has waned. His frustration has grown. And his leadership, which at times has been controversial in its style but never questioned in its intent, has faded. He is absolutely culpable; his past month has been one of the worst of his NBA life. This comes after the first two months of the season in which he was a leading candidate for MVP. Which makes his erosion all the more clear. And the Cavs are culpable for allowing the trust and the relationship with management to crack. The Cavs know crisis better than anyone — they’ve been immersed in it on and off for four years. But this is a different situation. Everyone can feel it.

Chris Paul scored 22 points with 11 assists, Ryan Anderson added 21 points and the long-range Rockets became the latest team to manhandle the Cavaliers on national TV. “They should take us off every nationally televised game for the rest of the season,” said James, who spoke softly with a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. “We haven’t played good at all and we get our butts kicked every time we play on national television, so I’m at a loss for words.”

But for one of your All-Stars to be sent home during a game with an illness without telling the rest of the team what was going on? That’s…incredible. “They were frustrated that they didn’t know about it,” said a person familiar with the team’s dynamics who corroborated Thomas’ account. “It wasn’t that Kevin left. It was that nobody addressed the team and said, ‘Look, Kevin’s not going to be here tomorrow, and this is what’s going on.’ It’s disarray.”

Brian Windhorst of the atmosphere around the Cavs: “[After the championship], I think David Griffin got to smile for maybe two days [and] maybe even less for Dan Gilbert. There is an organizational fatigue. I saw this in Miami too, for sure. By the end of that four-year run, the organization was absolutely, completely devoid of energy. I’ll never forget the NBA Finals loss against the Spurs after Game 5 back in 2014. That’s when [San Antonio] had their revenge series and won, 4-1. Typically the locker room after losing the NBA Finals, it’s a very depressing place. Not only are the players completely gassed, but it’s a huge defeat – a defeat that sits on their permanent record. But that locker room [in 2014], I’ll never forget it, because there was such a sense of relief in there. It almost felt like the last day of school.”

“You called out Kevin this week” “To be real, I didn’t call him out,” Thomas said. “I asked him why wasn’t he at the game during the game supporting his teammates. And then after the game, I didn’t ask him because he wasn’t there. So I was seeing where he was. So I didn’t call him out any. So those reports that whoever is saying that, there’s no bad blood between me and him. We go back to fifth and sixth grade. I asked him a question where he was and it was never clarified. And that’s all it was.
5 months ago via ESPN

“To be real, I didn’t call him out,” Thomas said of Love. “I asked him why wasn’t he at the game during the game supporting his teammates. And then after the game, I didn’t [get to] ask him because he wasn’t there. So I was seeing where he was. So I didn’t call him out any. So those reports that whoever is saying that, there’s no bad blood between me and him. We go back to fifth and sixth grade [as AAU teammates]. I asked him a question where he was, and it was never clarified. And that’s all it was. …”

Now, it’s Isaiah Thomas’ turn to speak. Thomas has seemingly been at the center of most of what’s gone wrong for the Cavaliers in January — from a porous defense, to an uneven offense; from calling out Kevin Love in the locker room to Love handing him the ball on the court as though he was a child. Thomas spoke after practice Saturday for the first time in a week, and he had much to say. “We’ve been a lowest five defensive team in the NBA the whole time, so when I come back, it’s my fault now,” Thomas said. “Which, life isn’t fair, but that’s not fair, bro. At all.”

Thomas left the locker room after Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs and Friday’s win without taking questions, so, Saturday was his time to respond to, well, everything. Below are Thomas’ thoughts on everything from the team’s poor play with him on the court, to his version of what he said to Love and why, to criticisms of his shot selection. “What did you trade me here for? To not shoot? To not find my rhythm? To not be Isaiah Thomas? I can’t be anybody else,” he said.

“You called out Kevin Love this week” “To be real, I didn’t call him out,” Isaiah Thomas said. “I asked him why wasn’t he at the game during the game supporting his teammates. And then after the game, I didn’t ask him because he wasn’t there. So I was seeing where he was. So I didn’t call him out any. So those reports that whoever is saying that, there’s no bad blood between me and him. We go back to fifth and sixth grade. I asked him a question where he was and it was never clarified. And that’s all it was. “So the rebound, I don’t (know). Did he say anything about the rebound?” “Not on the record, no” “And did you see I was smiling right after? Did you see that part? OK then,” Thomas said. “Like, there’s nothing between me and Kevin Love. At all.”

Is Isaiah Thomas a bad fit in Cleveland? “I mean, not as well as I want to right now but it’s going to take time,” Thomas said. “Like, I’m in a whole new situation. I’m used to having the ball every play. I’m used to making most of the plays. So I got to figure out and this team has to figure out how we can use each other’s strengths and use that as a positive. And it’s going to work out. It just takes some time. And I’m not back to who I am. “So, like, I’m trying to figure out how to play with LeBron James. I’m trying to figure out how to play with Kevin Love. At the same time, trying to get my rhythm back in real, live action. So that’s going to take time. And, I mean, I’m not panicking. I don’t think anybody in this locker room is panicking, but the people outside this locker room. Which is fine, they’re entitled to their own opinion. But one thing about me, I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep grinding. And it will work.”
More HoopsHype Rumors
June 21, 2018 | 11:39 am EDT Update
Two days ahead of the NBA Draft, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich finally got a meeting with disgruntled star forward Kawhi Leonard in Southern California, hoping to open a line of communication that will lead to Leonard backing off the trade demand he lodged with the team last week. That drama figures to overshadow Thursday’s draft. But executives around the league say it’s near impossible that the Spurs and Leonard can work out their differences in time for the draft, which would leave San Antonio — which owns the No. 18 pick — in limbo as the team makes its selection. Ideally, the Spurs would have a clear view on Leonard’s future so that they could acquire more picks in this draft.
Storyline: Kawhi Leonard Trade?
That complication is going to make trade talks extremely difficult for the Spurs before Thursday’s draft. “They are not going to want to rush something like that,” one general manager told Sporting News. “The teams they’re dealing with are looking at too much uncertainty, and that’s got to drive down the price they’re willing to pay. The Spurs will have a hard time getting fair value for him, but you’d rather get quarters on the dollar than pennies on the dollar.”
After being a member of the Milwaukee Bucks since 2014, where he arrived from the Nets together with coach Jason Kidd (photo) Sean Sweeney is leaving for the Detroit Pistons. According to sources close to the negotiations, Sweeney has a multiyear deal with Detroit in order to become a member of newly hired coach Dwane Casey’s staff.
June 21, 2018 | 11:00 am EDT Update