In the rush to figure out why, and how, the Cleveland Cavaliers began the 2017-18 season losing a bunch of games they should have won, fans and analysts have been quick to cite a relative lack of interest.
The Cavaliers are Eastern Conference favorites! They’re locks to make a fourth straight NBA Finals! They have LeBron James! They’ll flip a switch when it starts to matter! Isaiah Thomas hasn’t even played yet! LeBron was injured to start the preseason! James Crowder will play better in due time! Tristan Thompson is injured! The rotation is a hodgepodge of uncertainty! They’re so deep! They have to figure things out! Plus, who’s beating them? The Washington Wizards? Yeah, how’s their season going. The red-hot Boston Celtics? Sure, yeah, without Gordon Hayward. Right.
Variations of these refrains have been parroted again and again and again. No matter what justification you’ve heard, though, it all comes back to one overarching theme: boredom. Maybe you’re of the belief the Cavaliers should actually be panicking, that they’re actually old and inferior and might not make it out of the Eastern Conference. But if you’re not, you’re probably thinking they just plain don’t care. They’ve been here, done that. They’ll turn it on when they need to.
LeBron, however, doesn’t ascribe to this excuse. Though he doesn’t sound worried about the Cavaliers’ lackluster start, he doesn’t think early-season disinterest is at play, as he told The New York Times‘ Marc Stein:
But James, on the morning before a road victory at lowly Dallas that raised the Cavaliers’ record to a pedestrian 6-7, took issue with the suggestion that a shortfall in urgency, effort or any other code word you wish to apply to convey insufficient interest in their jobs caused Cleveland’s recent 1-4 stretch against a string of teams projected to miss the playoffs.
“I haven’t even heard that,” James countered. “That’s new. That’s probably something you just brought up and made up. It’s not boring at all. The game of basketball is fun.”
Yeah, right. LeBron hasn’t heard the boredom trope before. Sure. Good luck spinning that.
His defiance is admirable, and perhaps meant to light a small fire under his troops or to give off the appearance he’s not making excuses. The upshot: If it’s not boredom, then the Cavaliers have some real problems to work out, starting with their league-worst defense. It can’t be both; they can’t be fully engaged while losing and totally fine. Or maybe they can. The hell if I know. The first part of every Cavs season during this second LeBron era has been weird and unpredictable and dramatic. We’re all better off holstering are panic and profound takes until the games start to matter—which, I suppose, preaches much boredom actually does factor into their situation.