Cleveland Cavaliers Must Avoid Quick Fix Despite LeBron James' Public Outcry

Greg SwartzCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2017

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 23:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers argues a call during the first half of a game agasint the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on January 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Having lost five of their previous seven games, the Cleveland Cavaliers look far from the squad that celebrated a championship just seven months ago.

Even worse, LeBron James has become verbally frustrated with the team's construction following an embarrassing 124-122 loss to the Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans on Monday.

In Cleveland, if James ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

"We need a f--king playmaker," James said, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.

"I don't got no time to waste. I'll be 33 in the winter, and I ain't got time to waste. That's what I'm talking about. … When I feel like physically and mentally, me personally, can't compete for a championship no more or I feel like I can't do it, then I won't have this problem. But until that happens, and it don't seem like no time soon…"

James made it clear he's not making this personal; it's all business:

While James is partially right, there are bigger, underlying issues at hand. A little outside help could be beneficial, but internal problems must be solved first if the Cavaliers hope to repeat as champions.

 

Minor Roster Upgrades

Cleveland lost backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova to free agency this past summer. The Cavs were only OK with Dellavedova's departure because veteran Mo Williams was scheduled to return as backup to Kyrie Irving.

When Williams' agent let the Cavaliers know the day before training camp Williams was instead retiring, it created a major hole on the roster and frustrated many inside the organization, including James.

"We got f--ked with that," James said, via Lloyd.

Kevin Love, Mo Williams and LeBron James.
Kevin Love, Mo Williams and LeBron James.David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

So, yes—Cleveland needs someone to relieve Irving. Head coach Tyronn Lue mostly uses James to run the point in the second unit. While he's capable of doing so, this added responsibility is beginning to run James into the ground.

The playoffs are still three months away, and the 32-year-old is leading the league in minutes per game (37.5) on top of his six straight NBA Finals trips. This is the time of year James needs to be conserving energy for another long playoff run, not wearing the tread off the tires.

Besides a backup point guarda la Deron Williams of the Dallas Mavericks, Jameer Nelson of the Denver Nuggets or free agent Mario Chalmersthe Cavs could use an additional defensive enforcer inside. Most of Cleveland's big men prefer to shoot three-pointers instead of defend (Kevin Love, Channing Frye, James Jones), making Tristan Thompson the team's lone shot-blocking threat at 1.2 per game following the loss of Chris Andersen to a torn ACL.

Reliable backups to Irving and Thompson would help, but larger issues remain.

 

Internal Resolve

James has let the world know his desire for a playmaker, but how often has he talked about Cleveland's poor defense and lack of ball movement?

He's failed to mention the hero-ball habits of himself and Irving that have led to the Cavaliers' free fall in pace (96.7 possessions, 14th in NBA) and assists (21.7 per game, 18th overall).

The Cavs rank first in the NBA in shots attempted after seven or more dribbles, a whopping 13.1, per B/R Insights. James and Irving are the only set of teammates that crack the top 10 in field goals attempted while holding the ball for six or more seconds. James ranks eighth with 6.5 shots per game, while Irving comes in fifth with 7.2 attempts after holding the ball for a quarter of the shot clock or more.

A team can overcome a lack of playmaking with dedication to moving the ball as a collective unit. Cleveland has failed to do so nearly all season while forcing James and Irving to rack up big minutes night after night.

Don't say simple ball movement isn't important, either. The Cavaliers are a sparkling 13-2 this season when recording 25 assists or more. When they register 20 helpers or fewer, they've barely been a .500 team (10-9).

The top five NBA teams in assists per game this season are a combined 154-70 overall, good for a .688 winning percentage. The bottom five? An unimpressive 103-123, a mark of just .456.

There's also an issue of making any sort of consistent effort to stop teams from scoring the basketball.

The Cavaliers didn't lose to the Pelicans because they didn't have another playmaker. It's because New Orleans put up 124 points without its best player.

Kyrie Irving's 49 points weren't enough to take down the Pelicans sans Anthony Davis.
Kyrie Irving's 49 points weren't enough to take down the Pelicans sans Anthony Davis.Sean Gardner/Getty Images

 

Over its past 10 contests, Cleveland is getting blitzed for 111.1 points per game. Since the calendar turned to 2017, the Cavs held opponents under triple digits in scoring only once. No trade for a backup point guard is going to fix that.

The Cavaliers must improve defensively where effort and enthusiasm are often lacking. Journeyman DeAndre Liggins shows more heart than anyone on that end of the floor, even though he's been in and out of Lue's rotation all year.

Like increased ball movement, defense has predicted much of Cleveland's success.

The Cavs are 12-1 when holding opponents to 100 points or fewer with an active James. When giving up 110 points or more, Cleveland slumps to 7-7 overall. Similar correlations can be found with defensive field-goal percentage. When the Cavaliers allow 45 percent shooting or lower with a healthy James, they're 13-1 on the year. If teams shoot 50 percent or better, Cleveland is just 5-5.

At some point, either by trade or buyout signing, general manager David Griffin will honor James' request and acquire additional reinforcements.

Of course, if the Cavs continue to hold the ball and refuse to play defense, no outside help will make a substantial difference.

        

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @CavsGregBR.

Stats via Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are accurate through Jan. 24.