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Kevin Love broke his hand last night.
He’s now out for two months.
And after four years of January drama, annual defensive concerns, extended swoons, coach firings, locker room drama, and on and on and on… I feel confident in saying the Cleveland Cavaliers are actually screwed.
Any time there’s concern with Cleveland, the response is “but they still have LeBron”. Lebron will carry them and then the rest of the team will flip the switch when the time comes. And that’s true – but there’s also a caveat.
To be able to flip the switch like that, you need some level of consistency. You need Constants – guys who are there night in and night out giving you the same thing with very little variation except the occasional–and obviously appreciated–big jump up. Constants is somewhat of a filler for “stars”, but it can apply just as much to the roll players giving you 8 points, 3 boards, and lockdown defense.
Over the last three seasons, LeBron has had two other Constants through the season. He’s getting 22/3/5 from Kyrie and 18/10/2 from Love. Add in his 25/7/8 and he knows he’s getting somewhere in the range of 65/20/15 between the three of them on a nightly basis. I’m obviously oversimplifying things, but from a big picture standpoint this matters.
What does that do? That minimizes the expectations of the rest of the team. It frees up role players–especially older guys–to pick and choose nights and save themselves to turn it on come May and June.
This season, LeBron lost a constant. Not only that, but the rest of the team–variables–got older and even less consistent. Even with him attempting to pick up the slack and jumping to 27/8/9, that base of consistency was down to just 45/18/11 between him and Love.
There were plenty of reasons for Cleveland’s volatility up to yesterday. Defense, coaching, apathy, preservation, etc. But one way to really simplify it is that their base of consistency shrunk, and their variables became even less consistent.
Now that base of consistency is down to LeBron and LeBron alone. So even if LeBron is out there giving a superhuman effort every night, and even if those variables lock in and become a little more consistent, you’re now putting at risk the ability of these older and/or more injury prone guys to flip that switch.
And if Love either doesn’t return or even comes back very rusty, are we sure Cleveland even has enough outside LeBron to get past Milwaukee or (healthy) Washington, let alone Boston and Toronto?
Not only is this the least confident I’ve been that the Cavs can make the Finals… this is the first time I’m genuinely unsure if they’ll even win a playoff series. If they fall into a first round series with Milwaukee… and Love isn’t ready yet… and Giannis is playing LeBron close enough to a draw… and you start looking position-by-positon down the rest of that matchup… Bledsoe > Isaiah… Middleton > JR… Jabari > Crowder… Henson > Tristan Kardashian… Snell > Disappearing Act Jeff Green… Thon > Frye… Not Jason Kidd > Ty Lou… I don’t see that many things in Cleveland’s favor other than healthy & rested Wade > Brogdon… Korver > Delly… and maybe Frye > Thon.
I’m not saying they’d lose. Again, LeBron is still LeBron until he’s no longer LeBron. But I’m genuinely concerned for Cleveland for the first time in these four seasons. This is really, really bad.