The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a free-fall of epic proportions.
Losers of six straight and eight of their last nine games, the Cavs' season is currently circling the drain.
The playoffs are likely an impossibility now, but that doesn't mean the season should be tanked. At some point, a winning mentality has to be instilled in this team. Even if it means missing out on a top pick in this year's draft, Cleveland has to start winning some games.
General manager Chris Grant is the first to fall victim to this disappointing season, having been fired by the Cavs on February 6 (per Yahoo! Sports).
We could talk all day about what's gone wrong and who's to blame, but that won't fix anything.
The problems are clear, but luckily, so are some of the solutions.
-All stats via NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.
Three quick questions should tell you everything you need to know about Clark's playing time.
Is Earl Clark helping this team win right now?
Well, Clark has a net rating of -9.2 points per 48 minutes of play (via 82games.com). His PER is 8.95 overall, and 6.90 as a small forward. Clark also stepped out of bounds on a crucial late-game play against the Indiana Pacers on January 5. He finished 0-6 shooting for two points in 18 minutes that game. Soooo, no he's not helping them win. Quite the opposite, actually.
Is Earl Clark part of the team's future?
Given that he has a team option next year for $4.5 million, no, Clark will not be back with the team next season.
Is Earl Clark taking playing time from young players who could help the Cavs win in the future?
Now that he's back as a power forward, yes he is. Clark has been in and out of the rotation lately, but has still logged 10 minutes or more in four of the past seven games.
These minutes should be going to Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller, guys who may actually have a future in Cleveland. The Cavs need to stop playing Clark, find a trade partner, or simply just cut ties.
The word "intensity" may seem like a foreign term to the current Cavs' squad, but it's something that can win you basketball games in this league.
Cleveland is giving up 102.5 points a game, 23rd in the NBA. Last season under Byron Scott, they allowed 101.2.
Mike Brown preaches defense, but right now his congregation is asleep.
Players have tuned him out, as evidenced by the team's recent play. Over their last five games, the Cavaliers are giving up 113.2 points, dead last in the league. This includes 117 points to the New York Knicks (96.8 season average), 124 to the Dallas Mavericks (104.7) and 119 to the Los Angeles Lakers (100.9).
As Austin Carr put it in the game against LA, "Cleveland is making opposing role players look like superstars."
The problem hasn't been the personnel. A team with Luol Deng, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson should be better than 23rd in points allowed.
It all comes back to effort. Not contesting shots. Not fighting through screens. Not taking pride on that end of the floor.
It's up to Brown to put the five guys on the court who are going to give the best effort, regardless of where they were drafted at.
Luol Deng has done all he can with the Cavaliers.
After the trade was announced that brought him over from the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs went 4-2, possibly revitalized upon news of his arrival.
Since then, Cleveland has dropped eight of their last nine games, fired the general manager and essentially fallen out of the playoff race.
It's certainly not Deng's fault. He's been nothing but a true professional, helping to bring stability to a very unstable locker room.
This offseason, Deng will become an unrestricted free agent. He already turned down a three-year, $30 million extension from the Bulls and will likely look for $50 million over four years in free agency.
The Cavs, possibly headed towards another rebuild, will be hard-pressed to convince Deng to stay. Cleveland would be better off trading Deng to a contender now and cash in on some young talent or draft picks.
Deng deserves to be on a winner, anyways.
Irving needs to be more committed to distributing the ball in all four quarters.
We've seen him start off strong, moving the ball and collecting assists only to go back to his usual isolation mode. A great example of this was against the Phoenix Suns on January 26. Irving had six assists in the first quarter to three different players while the Cavs took a 29-22 lead.
By the second half, things were back to normal.
Irving was taking his off-balance contested jumpers while the Suns defense swarmed him. Irving had just two assists in the entire second half, as the Cavs were outscored 56-29 and ended up losing 99-90.
In wins this season, Irving is averaging 7.1 assists. In losses, this number drops to just 5.7 a game.
To truly consider himself one of the NBA's best, Irving needs to sacrifice his scoring numbers in favor of assists.
As a team, the Cavs shoot 42.3 percent from the field. The only teams worse are the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls get a pass because they play defense and are without their two leading scorers from the beginning of the season. The Bucks are the worst team in the NBA.
Cleveland has talented scorers, so why the low shooting mark?
It all comes down to shot selection.
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, for all of their offensive prowess, take some awful contested jumpers. Chalk it up to their bravado, but it's clear they're much better suited at getting to the basket.
What stands out is the ridiculously high amount of shots being taken in the mid-range area. The Cavs shoot nearly one third, or 31.8 percent, of all their shots from this range. The problem is, Cleveland is converting just 38.7 percent of these attempts.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers are shooting 53 percent in the restricted area, yet take just 28.5 percent of their total shots from in close.
Compare this to the defending champion Miami Heat. The Heat get to the basket 36.2 percent of the time, while only attempting 24.2 percent of their shots from mid-range.
A better shot selection leads to better looks. Better looks lead to higher shot percentages.
It takes a little bit more patience, but as we've seen from teams like Miami, it works.
The Cavs had one of these not too long ago.
The goal entering the season was playoffs, period. Despite playing bad basketball for three months, Cleveland continued to flirt with the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. It was almost a running joke in the city that, "Hey, we just lost three in a row, but actually gained a game in the East!"
The Cavaliers have fallen five and a half games back of the Charlotte Bobcats for the last playoff seed. Other teams like the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, once below Cleveland in the standings, have leapfrogged the Cavs. The Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls lost key players to injury and trades, yet remain in the playoff picture.
Clearly, the plan has changed.
The trade deadline is just around the corner. Cleveland has assets, and no untradeable contracts to worry about.
The organization is at a major crossroads. Do they sacrifice some young players (Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson) and future draft picks in one last ditch effort to make the postseason? Or does Cleveland start making their veterans (Luol Deng, Anderson Varejao) available and go into another rebuild?
Cleveland needs to decide where this team is headed, especially with such a promising draft.
Making decisions based off of panic and desperation (trading Kyrie Irving) would be the worst possible thing to do.
This should be the easiest move Dan Gilbert ever makes.
I shudder to think how many season-ticket holders the Cavs stand to lose for 2014-15. How many of these loyal fans would renew their seats knowing that Brown would be back next year?
This isn't just about the fans, however. It's about the culture.
Clearly, Brown's team culture isn't working. There's been more negativity surrounding this team than the past three seasons combined. That includes the 0-for-January, 26-game losing streak in 2010-11.
Players are now openly complaining about Brown and his coaching staff, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Players have privately complained that Brown’s coaching staff, with at least seven assistants, is too big. An assistant coach will tell a player one thing, then Brown will come back and yell at that player because he wants it done another way. “We’re getting too many mixed messages,” one player said. “This isn’t very much fun. We were losing last year with Byron, but at least we were having fun.”
Brown isn't getting any effort out of his players. As mentioned before, the Cavs are actually worse than last year in six of seven major offensive categories. This is a team that didn't have Luol Deng, Jarrett Jack or Anderson Varejao for more than 25 games last year.
The Cavs fired Byron Scott largely due to the fact that they felt he didn't hold players accountable for their actions.
Brown has done the same thing recently, giving Dion Waiters his normal minutes in a game against the New York Knicks, just a day after he was removed from practice. According to Lloyd, "this left at least a handful of players raising their eyebrows — particularly within an organization that has preached accountability since Brown’s arrival."
The Cavaliers need someone with proven success as a head coach. Someone who can lead, motivate and teach the young players what it means to be a pro.
Mike Brown is clearly not this person.