Courtside

The news that the Cavaliers are disgruntled comes as no surprise. The news that not a single one of them wants to go on record to say they’re disgruntled also comes as no surprise. In each of the last seasons, the wine and gold have faced adversity. And in each of the last seasons, they’ve gone on to secure Finals berths, even coming up a championship via the biggest come-from-behind campaign in National Basketball Association history. So to publicly argue that they’re not as confident in their capacity to hurdle obstacles this season is tantamount to admitting their Hyde side is winning, and perhaps for good.

Confidence can be fleeting. Through a long, arduous regular season, any team not named the Warriors will have ups and downs, and the key to success is to understand that the forest is more important than the trees — and to therefore not be too high after wins and not too low after losses. Since James came back to the fold in 2014, the Cavaliers have learned to digest this fact. It’s why they managed to run roughshod over the rest of the East, and why, their underdog status notwithstanding, they’ve put up respectable stands with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line.

This year, though, the Cavaliers are hard-pressed to stay the course. A roster overhaul has negatively affected their competitiveness on the court and camaraderie off it. Established glue guys are gone, and in their place come new faces who admittedly bring unique sets of pluses, but who nonetheless need time to adjust. A pronounced predilection for experience over youth and injuries to key players haven’t helped. In the face of such upheaval, the current swoon has resulted in burdened bodies, overactive minds, and frayed emotions.

Still, the Cavaliers know they’ve got a trump card. Through all the tumult, LeBron James has been their one most important constant. It’s why their fingers are crossed they can once again right the ship. And it’s why they will not let their doubts permeate beyond off-the-record whispers in back rooms. Because to do so would be to cast aspersions on his capacity to lead. Because to do so would be to give up.

Make no mistake. The Cavaliers know their problems are real. The win streak that raised their profile was built through pronounced dogfights against supposed easy pickings. Meanwhile, they’re now being blown off stadiums by the very opponents they’re slated to see in the playoffs. Which has led them to be afraid, to be very afraid, of their immediate future. They still have time to change, but, given the way they’re thinking, they can easily get worse as get better.

 

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.