In LeBron James' Latest Return, Cleveland Cavaliers Make Little Impression

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterNovember 28, 2013

USA Today

CLEVELAND -- James Blair was doing all he could. 

A little over two hours until tipoff, across the street from a building he's not allowed to enter, he was bouncing between media cameras, unleashing the enthusiasm, spreading the word and welcome mat. He wants LeBron James back in the worst way, and this was just his latest way of showing it.

Last March, when he was 21, he raced on the court to ask James to return, a stunt that earned him at least a one-year ban from Quicken Loans Arena, but also the admiration of James, who began following him on Twitter and acknowledging him in interviews. 

Nov 27, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; James Blair (right) passes out
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday, he was part of an effort to distribute 2,000 free lime green t-shirts in support of the @ComeHomeLeBron movement, a movement they plan to expand through the Heat's next visit on March 18—two days before Blair can appeal his arena ban.

"To watch him play in my hometown again would be phenomenal," Blair said. "If there’s a little bit of hope, people are going to jump on it. Until he makes that decision, everyone’s going to be on board. Hopefully LeBron will be able to look up and see that there are a lot of people who support him and appreciate him." 

The Heat star did see that Wednesday, with the bright shirts smattered around the building, a few in every section, a gesture he called "flattering." 

The problem for James Blair is that LeBron James also saw the squad that is currently representing this city. 

That squad—95-84 losers to Miami—still isn't worthy of him. 

Not even close.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks to drive to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on November 27, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

The Cavaliers have had more than three years to renovate their house since to make it habitable for a "King" to again occupy. 

And it still won't pass any self-respecting appraiser's inspection. 

Not after six first-round selections during that span, four in the top-four overall.

Not after a coaching change, back to Mike Brown.

Not after all the most recent preseason's hype and hope. 

Since James left, the Cavaliers are 68-177, including 4-11 this season.

This Cavaliers edition doesn’t look any better than the one that went 24-58 last season, or 21-45 the season prior. 

Worse, their young cornerstones, supposed to rising to the surface by now, are sinking like rocks. 

Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, entered the game shooting career lows across the board, then missed 13-of-19 attempts, including all five from behind the arc. 

Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft, entered the game shooting a career worst from the field, then missed five of six shots. 

Dion Waiters, the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft, is reportedly being shopped already, reportedly has quarreled with Irving and Thompson, and unquestionably has fallen out of favor with Brown. 

How else to explain playing behind the overmatched Matthew Dellavedova to start Wednesday's game?

Tyler Zeller, the No. 17 pick in the 2012 draft, and Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, can't get on the court. 

Young players take time.

Young teams endure adversity. 

But it sure appears that the rebuilding project has been botched. 

Irving was the right choice in 2011, none of the past three drafts offered slam dunk options where the Cavaliers were picking, and Irving's presence made point guards such as Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard illogical choices, even if they've proven to be quality players. 

Still, which Thompson looks better now, Tristan or Klay (picked 11th in 2011)?

Do Harrison Barnes (seventh in 2012) and Andre Drummond (ninth in 2012) have brighter futures than Waiters? How about Jared Sullinger (21st in 2012) instead of Zeller?

And, if the organization already doubted whether Waiters and Irving could work together, why not take the more polished Victor Oladipo or the higher upside Ben McLemore with the No. 1 slot in June, rather than Bennett?

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat  during a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat on February 24, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

James, who has developed relationships with Irving and Thompson, was polite after the comfortable victory. 

When asked about Irving struggling, he replied, "I think they're all all struggling, and it trickled down to him as well. He's an unbelievable talent, we all know that, but they're all struggling and trying to find exactly who their identity is offensively and defensively. If they get things in order, they have some really good pieces here and I know Mike is pushing them to get better. We'll see what happens."

In the meantime, it's much more enjoyable to watch him.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat smiles against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on November 27, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or usi
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Wednesday wasn't his best work, but even as he shot below 50 percent (nine of 19), he still finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, supported by a surging Dwyane Wade -- who, even with Irving's presence, still seemed to be the second-best player on the floor. James was cheered by some and booed by others, though not lustily, and he acknowledged that the hostility has been "less and less since the first time I came here."

Not that he's done a scientific study, or one that's fit for airing on a classic television game show.

Before the game, Cleveland media members pressed him for his feelings about the way that Cleveland fans now feel about him. "I don't know," James said, with a smile. "I have no idea. I haven't done the whole Family Feud thing where you ask 100 people in a survey on the street, 'Do you still like LeBron or not? What’s your answer?'”

If they watched Wednesday night, buzzer to buzzer, they couldn't have liked their chances of bringing him back. 


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