CLEVELAND (AP) — They are losing to teams they should be beating — easily. And making matters worse, the NBA champion Cavaliers are embroiled in distractions.
“I hate it,” coach Tyronn Lue said Thursday following practice.
All is not well with King James or his teammates, who have spent the past few days caught in a swirl of turmoil that’s making it tougher for Lue to get them focused on their real issues.
“Just a lot of distractions,” said Lue, who adeptly steered the Cavs around some obstacles last season on the way to a title. “We gotta focus on basketball, getting back to winning. We’re the third-best team in the NBA right now. We’re a great team. We’re the champs, so we just got to get back to playing championship basketball. That’s it.”
If it were only that simple.
Cleveland’s problems seem to run deeper than defensive effort, poor free-throw shooting (the Cavs went 17 of 34 in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento) or the need for another playmaker.
James’ decision to vent publicly following a loss on Monday night at New Orleans, could point to a larger rift. His comments were rebuffed by general manager David Griffin, who said before Wednesday’s game that while he understands James’ frustration, he wished the three-time champion had chosen another method to convey his opinions.
In truth, the Cavs haven’t played well for several weeks, but Lue said it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.
“We just had a tough stretch,” he said. “And when you’re not playing well, you’re going to have miscues, you’re going to have things that go against you. We understand that. We’re doing better and we’re going to keep getting better to start winning games. We’re confident we can do that and we will do that.”
Without being specific, Lue said he’s bothered by reports of dysfunction within the Cavaliers. It’s difficult enough to get his team to concentrate on improving without having to deal with outside influences.
“I don’t like when people come out and say ‘sources say’ and this and that. Listen, if you can’t put your name behind it then don’t say it. I don’t believe in that. Sources say. I tell you guys all the time, if I say it, I say it.”
James did not speak to reporters following practice, staying on the far side of the training facility as his teammates got in extra work. His interview session following Wednesday’s loss was unusually short. He was dressed and ready to leave when the locker room was opened to the media.
However, James’ remarks earlier in the week were still reverberating in Cleveland and other NBA cities. But while fans and others tried to analyze James’ motives, forward Tristan Thompson said James’ critique has not fazed Cleveland’s other players.
“Ain’t no distraction,” he said.
It’s not the first time James has been outspoken about the team’s makeup or needs, and Thompson said he didn’t view the comments as disrespectful.
Griffin may or may not swing a trade before the Feb. 23 deadline. If he doesn’t, Thompson said the Cavs must find a way to play up to their abilities, which was also part of James’ message.
“No team is perfect,” he said. “Every team wants or needs something. You go to Golden State, they said they didn’t have the post players to protect the rim. The Raptors, they say after Kyle Lowry and DeMar (DeRozan), what else they got? With us, he wants another playmaker. It is what it is.
“Every team needs something. That’s for the front office. We only can control what we’ve got. Guys got to get better. This is the team we have right now. That’s how you have to approach the game. Can’t go out there hoping for someone to walk through the door.”