The whispers are starting to swirl around the Cleveland Cavaliers. The coach, they say, isn’t cut out for the NBA.
Such talk is almost inevitable, given the sense of under-achievement so far. But let’s point the finger of blame, not at David Blatt, but at the troika of highly-paid All Stars who can’t seem to find the means, or the motivation, to happily co-exist.
Of the Cavs stellar trio, only Kyrie Irving comes close to escaping blame. He is averaging 20.8 points and 5.3 assists and looks more deserving of a place in the league’s A-List than ever before. But he still remains, despite his World Cup heroics, a numbers guy rather than a proven winner.
Kevin Love has stunk. Let’s not exempt Blatt from some responsibility for leaving the forward out on a limb. But career-low marks of 16.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and wild fluctuations in his outputs rest on his broad shoulders.
And then we come to LeBron James, who is vastly over-priced at 2.25 to be NBA MVP once again. Age, and over-use, appears to be catching up fast. The King is not yet dead. But he has looked a little mortal.
Which brings us back to Blatt. During all his successes in Europe, he thrived in relating closely to his players and to getting the most out of them. Since landing across the Atlantic, he has looked a little hesitant, and occasionally over-whelmed.
That doesn’t take away his essential skills, and the fact that he is a terrific coach. Cleveland are still 2.50 favourites for the title. They’re highly unconvincing but with no-one else establishing their credentials beyond reproach, it’s too soon to jump completely off the bus.
Yet we’re about to learn a lot about what he, and his team, can and cannot do. James is out for two weeks, starting with Friday’s trip to the Charlotte Hornets, with Love and Irving also fragile. When LeBron sits, they average 12.8 points less per game and give up 3.5 more.
In the absence of their biggest asset, the next fortnight sees the Cavaliers meet Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago and Golden State.
It’s very possible that by the time James comes back, his side will be down at .500, with none of those games likely to deliver guaranteed returns. And if the Cavs start to fall, it will be the three musketeers who need to take the hardest look at themselves.
WEEKEND TIPS: With the Hornets dropping four in a row, back Cleveland on the handicap of -4.5. But on Sunday, the Cavaliers host a Mavericks who head the NBA in scoring at 109.6 per game. That could be overwhelming with Dallas worth a punt at -8.5 or on the total points of over 210.5.
- Mark Woods’ NBA column appears every Friday on Unibet