CLEVELAND — Another night, another loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Another game, another second half fade by the players donning the wine and gold.
When Monday night’s game against the visiting Indiana Pacers ended, the scoreboard at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse read: Pacers 111 - Cavs 102. “The Diff,” 9 points.
For those counting (and those who still care), that’s now 11 straight losses for the hapless Cavaliers, who fell to 21-48 on the season. It’s the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, barely ahead of the Dumpster fire known as the Detroit Pistons.
Thankfully, this painful voyage through a 72-game season is nearly over. J.B. Bickerstaff’s team only has three games left in this disappointing 2020-2021 regular season that will again have Cleveland on the outside looking in at the NBA Playoffs. No, the Cavs couldn’t even qualify for the new NBA play-in tournament, which gives the top 10 teams in each conference an opportunity to play postseason basketball.
A fun 8-7 start that featured an energetic brand of basketball and back-to-back wins over the powerhouse Brooklyn Nets feels like four years ago, not four months ago. The roster is nearly unrecognizable to a common sports fan (relax die-hards, I know Mfiondu Kabengele and Brodric Thomas have been on your radar forever).
The Kevin Love contract may go down as the worst in Cleveland sports history and sports talk radio in town is still debating whether Collin Sexton is a superstar in the making or a future sixth man in the league.
The questions surrounding the franchise feel endless. From ownership on down to the final spot on the roster, there is a sense of uncertainty at nearly every level of the organization.
What can the Cavs possibly do with Love and his monster contract? Do they keep Bickerstaff around for next season? What does General Manager Koby Altman’s future look like?
Yes, the roster is incredibly young and inexperienced. And no, I don’t think anyone -- not even “Moondog,” the team’s friendly mascot -- was of the belief that this edition of the Cavs would be competing for much past May 16.
As the season progressed, however, the team appeared to regress.
Certainly there were flashes of excitement from Sexton and Darius Garland and 23-year-old big man Jarrett Allen. But a 21-48 record overshadows any glimpses at maybe, possibly, potentially a few nice young pieces moving forward.
At last check, this is the NBA, correct? These are professional athletes being paid a nice wage to compete every night. A 27-point loss to the Mavericks, a 36-point drubbing by the Blazers and a 29-point loss to the Wizards recently had me questioning some of that.
I’m not denying that losing a player like LeBron James can set a franchise back several years. We witnessed it the first time he left town. But by the start of the 2021-22 season, we will be heading into year number four of post-LeBron, part II.
At what point does this rebuild transition into at least making the NBA play-in tournament?
Is the tenth-best record in a lowly Eastern Conference too much to ask from this group? Are we again banking on ping-pong balls to bounce the right way?
Perhaps the scariest part of all this is the lack of outrage from the fans. Either they are a very patient bunch or apathy has simply set in. Even when the Browns went 0-16 with Hue Jackson and the Indians cut payroll recently, realistic “Cleveland Fan” has never been shy to voice their opinion and disappointment in their favorite teams.
The Cavaliers are either getting a free pass or former fans have just stopped caring.
Ending a city’s 52-year title drought should bring with it patience and understanding from the fan base, especially losing a once in a generational player such as LeBron not once, but twice. It’s difficult to recover from that.
It’s also difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel of what now feels like a never-ending rebuild for this franchise.