Tyronn is Ty-wrong: Why The Cavaliers Won’t Emerge from the East

Spelling Tyronn’s name “Ty-wrong” is a bad joke, but the East’s chances against Cleveland are nothing to laugh at.

Rocket science? Not exactly.

A week and a half ago, before the Kevin Love injury, I had come to the conclusion that a Warriors-Cavaliers Finals match-up wasn’t the mortal lock that it once was. Still, I figured that the Cavaliers remained the most likely representative of the Eastern Conference, despite a number of question marks.

Now? Give me the field.

The reality is that the Cavaliers are without question the best team in the East. The reality is that a trip to the Finals should’ve been relatively painless.

The unfortunate reality, though, is that their predetermined spot across from the Warriors has been jeopardized by irresponsibility and mismanagement.

The culprit: Tyronn Lue.

To be clear, this is not a condemnation of Lue’s X’s and O’s. It is, however, a direct condemnation of his day-to-day management of the roster.

It’s not easy to tell stars “no”. It’s not easy to tell a LeBron James that doesn’t want rest, “too bad, you’re sitting.” It’s not easy to tell a hurting Kevin Love, “too bad, you’re not playing until your knee feels better.” It’s not easy to sit your players in the third quarter of a competitive mid-February game, particularly as your grasp on the conference’s #1 seed slips.

Too bad. Being an NBA coach isn’t supposed to be easy, even if you’ve inherited a roster that includes one of the top five players of all time and two All-Stars.

Enough has been made of LeBron’s irresponsibly high minute totals this season, so I’ll attempt to be succinct. LeBron James is 32 years old, is in his 14th NBA season, has over 40,000 minutes under his belt (good for 30th all time), and is currently 2nd in minutes per game and 8th in total minutes this season…for no reason.

The Cavaliers could’ve slept through the year and ended up as a top 4 seed in the East. Jackie Moon could’ve coached this team to the playoffs, and he starts himself at power forward. No chance Jackie had the length and agility to guard small-ball fours in today’s NBA! At the very least, we know he would’ve sat LeBron, Kyrie, and Love on Free Corndog Night. No sir, not reaching 100 points on Jackie’s watch.

Home court and match-ups should’ve been completely and totally irrelevant to Cleveland, because a rested and healthy Cavs team would handily defeat any Eastern Conference foe in a 7 game series.

With the notable exclusion of LeBron, the Cavaliers roster is injury prone. Everyone knows it. It’s unlucky and unfortunate, but there’s no escaping it. Irving, Love, Smith, Shumpert — they’re all going to get banged up at some point in any given year. Yet, there’s Tyronn, playing Love on the second night of a back-to-back in OKC, despite knowing that his knee was hurt.

There are unlucky breaks, and then there’s spitting directly in the face of the basketball gods. This is the latter.

It doesn’t matter if LeBron wants that load of minutes. It doesn’t matter if Love wants to play hurt. Lue’s job is to win a championship. If that means saying “no” during the regular season, then so be it.

His current approach is nothing short of negligent.

Okay, even if Lue is mishandling the situation, what prevents the Cavs from emerging from the Eastern Conference?

Fatigue, injuries, and death by one thousand Eastern Conference cuts.

Whispers are already traveling through NBA circles that Kevin Love may be done for the season, despite the six week prognosis. Even if he returns, question marks remain. Will he be bothered by the knee? Will his minutes require limiting through the playoffs? Will he find the same All-Star level, or will the rhythm be lost?

Lue, with all of the foresight of a watchman on the Titanic (too soon?), has now come out and declared that “guys are going to get their proper rest going forward.” Yet, little by little, the Cavaliers’ once invulnerable grip on the #1 seed is slipping.

The #1 seed shouldn’t matter. We already know, through Lebron’s public exasperation on the Cavs’ need for a playmaker, that he doesn’t take to losing particularly well. Losing frustrates LeBron James. It’s not the #1 seed that he’s worried about. He simply doesn’t like when his team loses. He’s a fierce competitor, and he will make it his mission to arrest any appearance of a decline. His quiet quest for MVP also lurks in the background.

Will Lue have the guts to deny the most influential person in the Cavaliers organization? Ask David Blatt how swift the trip out of town is.

The Cavs will likely reach the playoffs as the top seed in the East. They won’t, however, have the gas or reinforcements to overcome the gauntlet that awaits them. There will be no playmaking savior heading to Cleveland. Even if minutes moderate in the season’s closing months, the damage will have been done for the current roster. By the time the Cavs reach the Conference Semifinals or Finals, LeBron is going to feel like Andy Samberg’s character in 7 Days in Hell internally, even if he never shows it externally.

Please…end it.

Envision a scenario in which the Milwaukee Bucks are the 8 seed, and some combination of the Raptors, Wizards, and Celtics are the 4, 3, and 2 seeds. Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that the Raptors are the 4, the Wizards the 3, and the Celtics the 2.

The Cavaliers are better than the Bucks. The Cavaliers would win a seven game series against the Bucks. They would not, however, do it in five games or fewer. LeBron would have to begin his postseason run dealing with Giannis, Kyrie might encounter the defensive tenacity of Malcolm Brogdon, and Khris Middleton could be rounding back into form come the playoffs. Milwaukee is 1–2 against Cleveland to date this season, with one of the losses coming in overtime, and yes, they’ve lost Jabari Parker, but it wasn’t that long ago that Giannis surpassed Middleton as the Bucks’ best player.

Giannis alone is enough to give the Cavaliers all they can handle in multiple games. If he has to, he’ll Space Jam his way to a clinching dunk with those impossibly long limbs to steal a game.

So, Cleveland, you made it past Milwaukee. Okay, tell ’em what they’ve won!

A match-up with the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors recent decline has been perplexing, but at the end of the day, they boast two legitimate All-Star guards and are the proud, new home of Serge Ibaka. Kyle Lowry is as fiesty a competitor as you’ll find in the NBA. Demar DeRozan is starting in the All-Star game. Serge Ibaka is a tough, veteran presence that has spent time in the trenches — he may be exactly what Toronto needs to arrest its free fall and make a legitimate playoff run.

A fresh and healthy Cavaliers team dispatches of the Raptors without incident. Maybe it takes 5 games, maybe even 6, but the outcome is never in doubt. A ragged Cavaliers team that didn’t have minutes and injuries responsibly managed by Lue throughout the season? Their victory is not a foregone conclusion. This series goes a minimum of six hard-fought games.

Still up for the fight, LeBron and company? Legs feeling a bit heavy?

Well, not to worry, because now you just have to best the Celtics or the Wizards. At present, the Celtics sit just 2.5 games back of the Cavaliers, despite the fact that they’ve been missing their second leading scorer, leading rebounder, and best on-ball defender for the better part of two months. They boast the second leading scorer in the NBA, who backs down from no challenge, and a notoriously scrappy roster that doesn’t know the meaning of quit. Have fun handling them after two tiresome bouts with the Bucks and Raptors.

The alternative? It’s not more appealing. The Wizards showed us last month that they have no fear of Cleveland. If Washington’s recent run of form isn’t a fluke, and all indications are that it isn’t, then there’s little question that John Wall’s speed would pose a major problem for a run-down Cavaliers roster. To be fair, Bradley Beal is of the same injury-prone ilk as the Cavs players that I mentioned earlier, but if healthy, the Wizards have all the tools necessary to make the Cavaliers miserable.

In isolation, the Cavaliers win each of these match-ups. They are the better team. But NBA seasons aren’t played in isolation.

The handling and management of players during the regular season positions the team for success when it’s win or go home. Tyronn Lue has not done his job in positioning the Cavaliers for that success, and it will be painfully obvious when they’re forced to go punch-for-punch for a month and a half with the foes of a dramatically improved Eastern Conference. Death by a thousand cuts.

They will falter. I don’t know when, and I don’t know to whom. A Cleveland — Golden State Finals match-up was as close to a sure thing as there could ever be before a season begins. Come this spring though, get used to hearing it: “that’s why they play the games.”

Seriously, you’re going to hear that saying so much that you’ll never want to hear it again. Do not go to the water cooler. Throw your phone into the nearest body of water. Do not turn on the TV. If you must turn on the TV, change the channel before Stephen A or Skip Bayless starts shouting it at you.

An Eastern Conference team is going to take the best punch of a weary Cavaliers team and punch back just a little bit harder.

It will be Tyronn Lue’s fault for not having haymakers at his disposal.