That’s the current conundrum the defending Eastern Conference champions find themselves in as they search for an identity following the end of the second LeBron James era.
According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, the Cavs’ current commitment to remaining competitive will lead to increased usage for veterans such as Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith. That fact was clarified in a Tuesday practice when both players were on the floor amongst the team’s top 10 players in their rotation as the Cavs prepare for a Wednesday night matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
The desire to compete was expressed by Cavs All-Star Kevin Love, who told The Athletic that the members of the roster who know how to win need to play.
“In our commitment to helping guys grow, the guys who know how to win have to play,” Love said. “I think having Kyle and Channing (Frye) and JR, those guys know how to win in this league, and having them will help bring the others along. So they need to play.”
Vardon went on to write that the conflict between going young or playing veterans was hard to spot in the Cavs’ first two games. It wasn’t until the Cavs’ home opener, which resulted in a blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks, that it became clear that Cleveland needs veteran leadership on the court.
“But after the 0-2 start and [Tyronn] Lue’s rotation already too big at 11 or 12 players, he and [Koby] Altman delivered the news to Korver, Smith and Frye,” Vardon wrote. “In Frye’s case, he already wasn’t a part of the rotation, and Smith was told over the summer that playing time would be tough to come by for him.
“So all three players sat while the Cavs were destroyed, 40-26, by the Hawks in the second quarter, and 41-25 in the fourth. Love told The Athletic he didn’t know Korver and Smith would not be playing until the fourth quarter, as the game was getting out of hand and he inquired among his teammates why the two vets hadn’t seen any time.
“Cleveland led by as many as 15 in the first quarter, gave up 22 3s and made just 10, and it was otherwise shredded defensively for the third consecutive game. The Cavs trailed by just six at the start of the fourth quarter and sent to the floor Sexton, [Jordan] Clarkson, Osman, [Sam] Dekker and [Larry] Nance.”
It’s no surprise that this team is experiencing challenges now that they no longer have one of the greatest players in NBA history to lean on. It was already understood as fact that James did quite a bit last season to overcome the shortcomings that existed on last season’s roster. Few changes were made to that roster in the offseason, and now those problems are becoming much more noticeable for players and fans alike.
The season is very young, and the Cavs have more than enough time to turn things around. Considering how the first week of the season went, the Cavs’ decision between either playing their veterans and trying to make the playoffs or playing their youngsters and tanking this season may be easier to make than expected.