The problem with the Cavs: how to keep LeBron in Cleveland

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Lebron James has been the face of Cleveland athletics since he returned to the Cavaliers in 2014. (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Henry Schweber

The Cleveland Cavaliers are at a crossroads. After being thrust back into relevance with the return of hometown hero LeBron James, they have made the NBA Finals for the last 3 seasons in a row. With a trio of superstars in LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, they just needed to build a core strong enough around them to fit their styles of play. Enter sharpshooters Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. Their spacing allowed LeBron to do what he does best, attack the basket and dish to open shooters if the lane is clogged.

Even when having some period of prolonged success, the Cavs’ issues remained in place. This core of players was old and limited in their respective skillsets. Having a handful of guys that can only do one thing well isn’t enough in today’s NBA–there needs to be versatility. It’s part of what makes the Spurs so dependable year after year; they add young, athletic pieces to their core of reliable veterans.

When Kyrie Irving requested a trade, many pundits panicked. He was the second option that LeBron and the Cavs needed in order to facilitate their dominant offense. Swapping him for a smaller, less refined player in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, who practically a ghost of his former self, did them no favors for the present either. A huge problem remains, and it would have existed even if Kyrie wasn’t traded. The Cleveland Cavaliers are old and slow, with not a single player on the roster–save for maybe LeBron–being an above average defender this season. The numbers back it up, with the Cavs ranked dead last in defensive efficiency in the league and coming off a season-worst 148 points allowed to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

We know the roster as it stands isn’t good enough to compete with Golden State in the finals again, and it’s probably not strong enough to handle the Rockets or Thunder either. It’s now up to the general manager which direction the Cavs should take. Do they go all in and try to acquire pieces at the deadline to make a push for another title run? Or do they prepare themselves for the future? Unfortunately, it seems as though either option will yield poor results.

The team needs to bolster its roster to entice LeBron to stay, but it’s fair to wonder if they have the pieces necessary to build that team. Will nabbing veterans Lou Williams or George Hill at the trade deadline really change the course of their season? Probably not, but the pressure to at least try is certainly there.

The Cavs need to be prepared if LeBron does decide to leave in free agency. Strapped with bad contracts and aging one-dimensional veterans, the Cavs need to plan for the future. Shipping out Kevin Love for a draft pick or Tristian Thompson for cap relief may make the roster worse and frustrate LeBron, but if the roster can’t compete as is, it may be a necessary step to take.

When LeBron first left the Cavs, they were in disarray. They botched a major draft selection with Anthony Bennett and saw talented Kyrie Irving have no other formidable pieces around him to help him grow and mature. They cannot allow themselves to be in that predicament again, with their only hope is LeBron returning again. They must plan for the future, whether or not that includes LeBron, because it’s clear that whatever magic they had for the last few years is dissipating quickly.