The basketball gods will never shine more favorably on the Cleveland Cavaliers than they did Wednesday.
After yet another wasted opportunity, the Cavs had plummeted to rock bottom by Thursday, and general manager Chris Grant had been given his walking papers, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
The Cleveland Cavaliers have fired general manager Chris Grant, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 6, 2014
Shattered expectations and an exiled executive? It really must have been a rough 24 hours in Cleveland.
Bad isn't a strong enough word to describe the horrors this franchise put itself through.
Mired in a five-game losing streak, Cleveland was in dire need of a victory. Luckily, one appeared to be heading its way on a silver platter.
The injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers limped into Quicken Loans Arena with a lineup that the D-Fenders, LA's D-League affiliate, might not even play. Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar made up the starting backcourt, Wesley Johnson started on the wing, Ryan Kelly manned the power forward spot and Robert Sacre handled the interior duties.
The five players combined hold a career scoring average of 33 points. That roughly amounts to having one-and-a-half Kyrie Irvings (20.9 career points per game).
It should have been the type of night where an "E" for effort equaled a "W" for Cleveland. What wound up taking place, though, was either William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Tales from the Crypt or some ghastly amalgamation of the three.
Some 14 minutes into the game, LA's "B" team was thumping the full-strength Cavs 47-19. No Kobe Bryant (knee), no Steve Nash (rest), no Pau Gasol (groin), no Jodie Meeks (ankle), no Jordan Hill (neck), no problem?
Only in Cleveland.
In a particularly cruel plot twist, the Lakers—already running on reserve fuel after Tuesday's 109-99 marathon road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves—started losing depth they didn't even have. Nick Young left with a knee injury in the first half. Chris Kaman fouled out early in the fourth. Farmar (leg cramps) exited during the final frame.
For those keeping score, the number of available Lakers had fallen from eight to just five. When Sacre picked up his sixth foul later in the period, the officials had to dust off the rule books to determine how to proceed.
Sacre was allowed to stay, but any foul against him from that point (3:32 left in the fourth) would result in a technical foul.
"This is where things got funny for the Lakers and depressing for Cavs fans," CBS Sports' Zach Harper wrote. "It still didn't make a difference."
It's hard to think of many less intimidating frontcourts than Sacre and Kelly. Putting Kelly alongside a fouled-out, I-can't-contest-shots-or-I'll-get-hit-with-a-tech Sacre would fit the bill.
So, of course Cleveland relentlessly attacked over those final three-plus minutes, right? Wrong.
This is how the Cavs responded after Sacre's sixth foul: turnover, made three, missed jumper, missed three, missed three, missed three. No dribble drives. No cuts to the basket. Not even forced contact and a flop.
Just a steady stream of contested jumpers when anyone with a shred of basketball intelligence could see that was the last thing Cleveland should've been doing. Dion Waiters finally forced his way to the rack for an errant layup, but by then there were only 33.9 ticks left on the clock and the Cavs were down by 11.
There's frustration, there's futility and then there's suffering a 119-108 home loss to a team so woefully short on players its bench can literally accommodate a sleeping giant—and then some.
It's embarrassing. Humiliating. Unforgivable.
Rock bottom doesn't even seem deep enough to describe how far this team has fallen:
But these Cavaliers are dedicated to their craft. They managed to revolutionize the concept of rock bottom last night against the Lakers.— Conrad Kaczmarek (@ConradKazNBA) February 6, 2014
For all of the talk of the tire fires burning in New York, the oversized problems in Motown, even the unintentional tank job in Milwaukee, nothing compares to Cleveland's pile of hot garbage.
This was supposed to be the season of fortunes reversed for the Cavaliers.
The one where having four top-four picks (including two No. 1 selections) finally made an impact on the standings. The one where Irving's superstar ascent was formalized by a postseason appearance. The one setting the stage for LeBron James' heroic hometown return in free agency.
Even when all of those plans fell apart, it was at least supposed to be the one salvaged by the midseason acquisition of Luol Deng.
None of those narratives still has a pulse.
Waiters (14.0 points, 41.3 percent shooting) and Tristan Thompson (12.0, 45.7) both seem like draft-day reaches. Anthony Bennett (3.3, 28.9) looks like a historically bad gamble.
Irving's shooting numbers have regressed across the board (.426/.354/.844), he's "privately" expressed a desire to leave Cleveland, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford, and he couldn't even make it off the bench during the Cavs' fruitless comeback attempt:
Mike Brown benching Kyrie Irving down the stretch is...interesting to say the very least. That's a bad situation getting worse. #Cavs— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) February 6, 2014
Those postseason pipe dreams? Completely up in smoke, as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal explained:
I think it’s time we stop kidding ourselves. This dysfunctional team has lost six straight and has fallen 5 ½ games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the final playoff spot. Even more troubling, they’re just 7 games away from catching the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the NBA. They’ve fallen a half-game behind the Boston Celtics, who have no interest in winning this season, and they’re 3 games away from tying the Magic for the league’s second-worst record. It’s time to put away this playoff nonsense.
Bob Finnan of the News-Herald said in January that the chances of James' return had "dimmed considerably." Bad losses and a displaced GM aren't bringing them back up.
If neither James nor a playoff berth exists in Cleveland's future, what does lie ahead for this franchise?
It seems like the only thing capable of stopping the raging inferno on Mike Brown's coaching seat is an official dismissal. That feels like a hammer that could drop any day:
Yesterday I was told by two people when Cleveland fires Grant, Mike Brown would be next.— Brett Poirier NBA (@BrettNBA) February 6, 2014
Deng seems as good as gone over the offseason. He's been reportedly blindsided by the level of dysfunction he's encountered in Cleveland, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, and had a better shot winning a title with the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls.
Beyond that, anything is possible.
The Irving-Waiters backcourt tandem is a ticking time bomb. One of them needs to go, and it doesn't necessarily need to be Waiters. Any win-now assets (Anderson Varejao, C.J. Miles, Jarrett Jack) should be made available to the highest bidder.
The Cavs need more lottery luck in their future—and then must find something of value with those picks. Getting rid of Grant is a start, but there's a massive mess that's going to require years of cleaning.
Bottoming out only leaves this team one direction to travel. But it's a long way from respectability and even further from anything of significance.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.