Keep Calm, It’s LeBron

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

The Cleveland Cavaliers team, expected by nearly every expert to be one of the best teams in the NBA, has gotten off to a slow start this season, dropping three of its first six games.

It’s far from time to worry, though.

The panic surrounding the team began following its opening game, when the Cavs fell to a weak Knicks team in what was supposed to be LeBron James’s glorious return to Cleveland. Instead, he turned the ball over eight times and scored just 17 points; the team lost by five.

The team’s struggles have continued in subsequent games — the Cavaliers have fallen to both the Portland Trail Blazers and a Utah Jazz team that won just 25 games last season, the worst mark in the Western Conference.

LeBron is averaging a career worst of 4.2 turnovers per game, Kyrie Irving is getting only five assists per game, and Kevin Love is shooting well under 40 percent from the field. The offense has looked anything but cohesive, and the defense is giving up the fourth most points per game in the Eastern Conference.

That’s all the bad news about the Cavs. Now, here’s what is right with the team.

Absolutely nothing has changed with regard to a Cavs team that nearly every person with an opinion that matters predicted would go to the finals.

LeBron is still the top player on the planet, Love is the second best power forward in the league, Irving is a fantastic playmaking point guard, and the team’s primary role players, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, still perform their roles of ace offensive rebounder and fourth scorer to a tee.

Given the Miami Heat’s dominance during the last four years, people are quick to forget the struggles LeBron and the team had in his first year there in 2010. Though they finished with the third best record in the NBA and went to the finals, they didn’t hit their stride until December and started off the year just 10–8. A similar adjustment period for the Cavs shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Learning how to effectively play together takes time, especially when three players on a team are used to being the primary ball handler any time they’re on the court.

That adjustment will be an especially big one for Irving, since LeBron should be the primary ball handler and Love definitely has the acumen and ability of playing off the ball. I think he’s more than up to the challenge. Irving has proven himself an able outside shooter, and while his handle is what has set him apart from other point guards in the past, it will serve him just as well even if his usage rate decreases.

Anyone who expected the Cavs to gel right out of the gate and immediately play like a super-team was kidding themselves. Throwing together a new head coach and three superstars who have never played together might work right away in a video game, but not in real life.

A far more serious issue for the Cavs is a report from ProBasketballTalk that Kevin Love will “seriously consider opting out” after this season. The Cavs will be able to make a more lucrative contract offer than any other team, but it’s definitely fair to wonder if Love might prefer to head to a place where he wouldn’t have to be a complementary piece and play second fiddle to another superstar. That’s an issue that the team won’t have to deal with until after this season, though.

I won’t deny that the Cavs’ season thus far has been a disappointment, nor that they need to step it up in a big way if they are going to compete for a championship, but I will say this: They are simply way too good and have way too much talent not to figure it all out.

No one said it would be easy, and LeBron and the Cavs are still my pick to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA finals.