So the Finals aren’t exactly going well, and if things stay on this course, somebody is going to get unceremoniously catapulted out of Cleveland. So, who’s LeBron going to blame for this humiliating series?
5. Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson is out of shape. We can all agree on that, right? That was forgivable in November, when he was coming off of a holdout and needed to play his way back into shape. But he’s had an entire season. If you can’t properly manage your diet when you’re making $16 million per year, you’re just not reliable enough to be a major part of a championship game.
The problem is that Thompson just isn’t a big enough name to be a scapegoat. Who would care if the Cavs traded him? They’d still be fundamentally the same team. Who would even trade for him? He’s movable considering his contract was signed before the cap explosion, but nobody is giving up any real assets when they could sign Bismack Biyombo, a better overall player anyway, for significantly less.
Plus, Thompson is a Klutch Sports guy. Once you’re part of the LeBron mafia you never leave. You’re a made man. James Jones is still in the NBA strictly because LeBron likes the cut of his jib.
4. J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith has only taken nine shots in the first two games of the Finals. That’s insane. J.R. Smith took more than nine shots in the damn Super Bowl, and he didn’t even play in it, because he’s not a football player and shots aren’t a thing in football. That’s how crazy this is.
There’s not even a good explanation. He played in the Finals last year, this isn’t his first rodeo. There’s a reasonable caveman argument that he’s just choking. And hey, he’s a free agent this summer. The Cavs can just let him go. Say he wasn’t a team player and all that. But really, J.R. Smith just picked a crappy time to start playing like Donald Sloan.
3. Kevin Love
The “let’s blame Kevin Love” camp is small but loud. At this point he’s established as LeBron’s rightful sidekick. They played well together early in the season when a certain someone was out. He’s played smart, effortful defense so far in this series. His flaws are manageable.
The one argument for scapegoating him is that he’s worth a ton on the trade market. Boston would back up the picks trick for him. Houston would offer their entire cadre of vaguely three-and-D’ish players. There’s no shortage of teams that want big men who can shoot three’s, rebound, score on the block and pass. Just look back to 2014 when every team in the league wanted in on the Love sweepstakes. So Cleveland might just get an offer they can’t refuse and say, “sure, we can blame this on Kevin. A REAL CLEVELANDER would’ve played through that concussion.”
2. Tyronn Lue
Lue’s coaching has just been bizarre so far. He played a lineup with two point guards (Kyrie and Delly) and two centers (Mozgov and Thompson) to start the fourth quarter of Game 2. He hasn’t been able to incorporate Channing Frye at all despite his excellent playoffs. He can’t seem to get Stephen Curry involved in pick-and-rolls defensively. He’s either been totally conventional or utterly ridiculous.
LeBron won’t want to take any heat for “his guy” failing, but replacing coaches is just easier than players. There’s no salary cap for them, so if Cleveland hypothetically wanted to go pay Coach K $100 million for five years, they could. Trouble is, there aren’t many great coaches out there. Phil Jackson doesn’t want to coach. Tom Thibodeau has a job. Who’s the best replacement out there? Jeff Van Gundy? It’s just not worth it.
1. Kyrie Irving
As detailed yesterday, this is all Kyrie’s fault and he should disappear into the fog of forgotten iso scorers. Based on his subtweeting history, LeBron probably wouldn’t mind blaming Kyrie either.
The problem is that his market isn’t exactly robust. Point guards are plentiful in 2016 and Irving’s scoring just isn’t as attractive as it once was now that he’s hit his prime and it’s become apparent he can’t do anything else. Most suitors would be teams utterly devoid of talent just looking for someone to take 20 shots for them next season. Sure, the Nets would love Kyrie Irving, but what could the Nets give the Cavs?
The one exception to watch out for would be Memphis. They know they’re going to lose Mike Conley this summer, so if Cleveland is interested that might be a way to recoup some talent for him in a sign-and-trade. Otherwise? A Chris Paul trade isn’t happening. There isn’t a high-level replacement to be found. So they’d either have to accept starting Matthew Dellavedova (which they should, because they play great basketball when he’s on the floor, but won’t because of dumb optics reasons), or pray that a starting caliber point guard exists somewhere on the fringes of free agency who might be willing to play for the minimum. Not exactly promising.