Starting with a Christmas Day defeat to the Warriors, the Cavaliers have gone 3-9 and fallen to third in the Eastern Conference, six games behind Kyrie Irving’s Celtics. That slide hit what Cleveland can only hope was the nadir of its season Saturday with a 148-124 home loss to the Thunder, and a report Monday indicated that Kevin Love became the subject of an angry roster’s wrath.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavs held a “fiery” team meeting Monday, in which players “challenged the legitimacy” of the illness Love claimed forced him from the game against OKC after a few minutes, and out of a Sunday practice altogether. Wojnarowski cited league sources in reporting that Cavs Coach Tyronn Lue and General Manager Koby Altman also attended the meeting, at which Love eventually explained himself to the team’s apparent satisfaction.
Sources confirmed the meeting to cleveland.com, which reported that “everyone on the team was called out at some point” during the session. However, Love may have borne the brunt of the Cavs’ frustrations, with a source telling the website that discontent with the veteran forward had been “hanging in the air.”
Love played for just over three minutes Saturday, failing to notch a box score statistic, then left the arena after the second quarter. “Just got super dizzy, disoriented, didn’t feel right,” he said. “Went to the bench and we both agreed that maybe we should just give it a few minutes and then just didn’t feel right at halftime.”
Following the lopsided defeat, Cleveland’s Dwyane Wade said the team needed to “take accountability.” In his first season with the Cavs, Wade said, “I think we want it because we want to win. We’re looking for it. So hopefully in these next few weeks before the all-star break, we can start getting a little more accountable to ourselves and to this team and just play a little better.”
As the Cavs have struggled as a team, so has LeBron James, in terms of his individual performance. After a roaring start to the season that had him high atop early lists of MVP candidates, Cleveland’s 33-year-old superstar has hit a relative slump over his past 12 games, posting numbers — 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists — that would be terrific for almost any other NBA player, but represent a drop-off for him that his squad can ill afford. In addition, James has averaged 4.4 turnovers in that span, while hitting less than 21 percent of his three-point attempts in January.
“My numbers are down, the team’s numbers are down and we’re not playing well, so obviously it’s a direct correlation of all of those things,” James said Monday (via the AP). “I could care less about me individually, but when I’m not playing to my standard and we’re losing, then I have to do a better job as well, so I gotta figure that out, too.”
Monday’s reported meeting was not the first time Love has appeared to be in an awkward spot with the Cavs. In February 2015, when Love was posting unusually low numbers as he labored to find the right role during his first season in Cleveland, James was widely presumed to have called him out with a tweet in which James wrote, “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN,” adding that his unidentified target should try to be a part of “something special!”
One month later, Love acknowledged that he and James were “not best friends,” saying that their relationship was “evolving.” That was shortly after Love told “The Dan Patrick Show” that Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, not James, would be his pick for that season’s MVP.
Since then, Cleveland has won an NBA title to which Love contributed, and that should have smoothed over those early tensions. Then came Monday’s news, again casting him as the focus of apparent discontent on the team — or again being made a scapegoat for widespread problem, depending on how one chooses to look at it.
If they want to present a more unified front, the Cavs won’t have long to put their turmoil behind them, with a matchup against the Spurs Tuesday in another nationally televised game. At the same time, at least James and Co. can take some solace in the fact that normally drama-free San Antonio is going through its own issues, with Wojnarowski reporting earlier on Monday that “discord” over treatment of Kawhi Leonard’s balky quadriceps has “had a chilling impact” on his relationship with the team.
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