After Cleveland’s 133–99 loss to Toronto on Thursday, the team’s sixth loss in eight games and the third straight in which the Cavs allowed 127 or more points, Tyronn Lue took a note from LeBron James’s Instagram strategy and spoke enigmatically.
“If guys have agendas,” Lue said of his Cavaliers, “we’ve got to get rid of our agendas and play the right way.”
Lue refused to clarify which players or agendas he was speaking about. James responded later by saying that he did not have one; Kevin Love added that he wasn’t aware of any. When Isaiah Thomas was asked about Lue’s comments, he said that Cleveland was “not playing for each other right now, offensively and defensively.”
Since going on an 18–1 run that stretched from early November to mid-December, the Cavs offense has waned. Missed open jumpers are a regularity on the rare occasions when Cleveland bypasses iso ball to get open jumpers at all. Against the Raptors, the Cavs’ starting lineup shot 1-for-12 from deep. In the previous game, against Minnesota, they went 3-for-21. Kevin Love is slumping from the perimeter, and Cleveland’s shooting guards … mostly can’t shoot.
But missed 3-pointers and defensive shortcomings are not agendas. Only one player on the Cavs roster even has enough clout to have a relevant agenda.
For the first time in his career, LeBron has lost back-to-back games by 25+ points. pic.twitter.com/9qXmN3Ily0— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2018
Part of the appeal of Lue being the head coach was that he would not be a punching bag for James, as David Blatt had been. As The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd pointed out, Lue used his authority to call out LeBron and the entire team the first day he was promoted to head coach. There is no telling LeBron what to do, but Lue used the respect James had for him to at least get him to listen. Lue’s newfound coded speech has only added public, off-court confusion to a team struggling on the floor.
“We’re so fragile,” James said Friday. “I don’t know where it kind of went wrong or what happened to switch back.”
Cleveland is fragile — the Cavs’ winning streak came, in large part, because of a favorable schedule. Once the Warriors, Wolves, Celtics, and Raptors came along, Cleveland’s roster holes were re-exposed, a result of the franchise failing to improve the poor surrounding cast it has given LeBron. So if James has an agenda to, say, leave in free agency this summer, he might be more justified than Lue will admit.