CLEVELAND -- One New Year’s resolution as good as any that I can think of is the commitment in 2015 to reserve judgment before knowing both sides of the story, rather than coming to some knee-jerk conclusion without thorough evidence to back it up.
“The Internet,” for lack of a better all-encompassing term, struggled in this department on New Year’s Eve when a Reddit thread was created and provoked speculation about a video showing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade talking to one another on the court following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss to the Miami Heat on Christmas Day.
The Reddit post transcribed the conversation as James telling Wade, “Like I said, if we aren’t better this year, we’re going to reunite and do some bigger and better things, all right?”
From “we’re going to reunite ...” onward, the quote is crystal clear. James does bring up the idea of reuniting with Wade, that’s not debatable.
But the first part of the quote is difficult to make out. I must have listened to it 20 times on Wednesday and nothing about it sounds definitively like James said “if we aren’t better this year ...” Sometimes you hear what you want to hear, I guess. I’m not so sure James didn’t say “when we’re both done with this year ...” which would make a lot of sense, meaning he was looking ahead to whenever the Cavs’ and Heat’s respective seasons were over to meet up with his friend again.
The video went viral, of course, before anyone bothered to mention that less than a week ago James already went on the record to the Northeast Ohio Media Group about Wade, saying, “I plan on joining him again in some capacity when we're done hooping.”
That quote didn’t cause some big stir about James already planning his departure from Cleveland because it was presented in proper context. Whatever James said in the Wade video shouldn’t have, either.
"I've seen the clip just like you've seen the clip," James said Wednesday before the Cavs’ short-handed 96-80 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. "I don't know exactly what I said at the beginning, either. I know I said, 'We'll get back together and do some bigger and better things,' but it had nothing to do about basketball.”
There’s never a dull moment with these Cavs this season, with the spotlight shining bright on their every move.
This whole video incident occurred just a couple of days after ESPN.com reported that Cavs management is worried about a growing disconnect between coach David Blatt and his players.
That story led to a whole wave of speculation from writers, analysts, fans on social media et al about Blatt’s abilities. And again, some patience and some context would probably have helped everyone paint a more accurate picture of the actual current state of affairs.
We’re not here to feel sorry for anyone, but before Blatt takes any more of the blame for the Cavs' lackluster 18-14 start to the season, allow me to remind you of what the realities of the job are for him.
To begin with, he’s a first-year head coach in the NBA charged with organizing a group of players he not only never coached before, but also never coached against before on a night-to-night basis. In this big game of chess, he’s still learning the bishops can go diagonal, the horses are actually called knights and that it’s nearly impossible to classify Dion Waiters as any sort of piece in the game.
It’s a challenge he jumped at the chance to undertake, but make no mistake, it’s a formidable challenge.
Blatt also wasn’t afforded the opportunity to pick his own coaching staff, with three of the Cavs’ five assistants being holdovers from last season, Larry Drew being added to the mix with no real prior history with Blatt other than a visit overseas a few years ago and Tyronn Lue being hired as his associate head coach with a fat, $1.4 million salary after he too interviewed for the occupancy that Blatt assumed.
Basically, you’re talking about a guy who came into the season with no pre-existing allies and now is being judged a third of the way through the season for not having established connecting bonds.
But how do you explain this quote that Kyrie Irving uttered back in November?
"He's just a genuine person, first and foremost. Besides the coaching, he's always going to give you the truth and that's what you want from a coach like him, new coach,” Irving said. "I got his back and I know he has mine. And he just lets me be myself ... The biggest thing for us is a trust factor and we're riding together. This is a process and we're on a long journey and we're both aware of that.”
Irving doubled down on his loyalty after the hot-seat storyline regarding Blatt emerged.
“I'll do anything for Coach Blatt and I know players share the same [sentiment],” Irving said Monday.
Then Tuesday, with James and Shawn Marion out of the lineup for a road game against the then 22-8 Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Love going down with back spasms during the course of the night, Irving put up 35 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals to give the Cavs a chance to steal the game.
“The kid, I can’t say enough about that kid,” Blatt said about Irving afterward. “He’s just a wonderful, wonderful young man that understands what this is about and is doing everything he can to impact in a positive way. And I just think the world of that kid.”
Wednesday night against the Bucks, with James, Love and Marion out again, Irving again showed up with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The Cavs lost, but not for lack of effort. Looks like Blatt is getting through to at least one of his players. And a pretty important one at that.
The Cavs aren’t perfect, that’s for sure. Their roster is lacking size on defense, even more so now with Anderson Varejao out. Love has yet to make a consistent impact game to game. James has looked disinterested at times and even copped to needing to work on his “bad body language” unprompted on Wednesday. Depth is a concern. And Blatt has made mistakes too, from mismanaging timeouts in games, to overusing his star players at times, to struggling to maintain some semblance of a consistent rotation.
But it’s too early to call the Cavs a failure. It’s inaccurate to simply say James is on the decline, without mentioning that he’s the only player in the league this season to average at least 25.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, while shooting 48 percent or better from the floor. It’s shortsighted to bring up the Cavs’ No. 5 record in the East without adding that they’ve also beaten each of the four teams ahead of them -- Chicago, Atlanta, Washington and Toronto -- at least once this season (and the Raptors twice). Even James admitted that his “tolerance for patience is not that great” and it’s something he “has to work on.” It would behoove all of us to let this play out a bit before turning in our final grades.
“We finished the year for what it is and come into the new year with a fresh record,” Irving said after the Milwaukee loss.
Let’s all come into 2015 with a fresh way of evaluating this team, too.