Cleveland-area sports fans have been told the same phrase almost their whole entire life, and I’m not talking about, “There’s always next year.” This saying is more of the irritating nature and something that the northeastern Ohio faithful are getting tired of hearing after each successive losing season. The Cleveland Browns have only been to the playoffs once since returning to the NFL at the start of the 1999-2000 season. In that 14-season span, the Browns have only put together winning seasons two times.
Things are rough all around. After losing, in heartbreaking fashion, to the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS, the Cleveland Indians haven’t finished over .500 once in the following five seasons. In those five years, the Tribe has compiled a record of 363-447 (.448).
As you already know, the last decade has been the most kind to the Wine and Gold thanks to seven seasons with LeBron James (overall record of 349- 225). Out of all the professional sports, basketball puts the least amount of players in the game at a time, which allows a single player to dictate what goes on at times. That’s exactly why the post-LeBron era has been a trying and frustrating three seasons under the tutelage of Byron Scott. Going into Friday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, Cleveland has only managed to win 49 contests in 185 tries. To put that into perspective, the Cavs have been able to surpass that almost three-season total four times in an 82-game season with James at the helm.
If you haven’t caught on already from my hint in the opening paragraph, I’m talking about patience.
It is tough to live in this city and be told year after year that patience is virtue, yet the fans never leave. The Browns have gone through 18 starting quarterbacks and seven head coaches (with the most recent being Rob Chudzinski) since their return to the NFL, the Indians have limped to the finish following the All-Star break with a winning percentage of 44.4 percent over the past five seasons and the Cavs has been in rebuilding mode since King James took his talents to South Beach. Through 185 games, Scott has only been able to win 26.5 percent of the games since he became head coach in the summer of 2010.
It’s not that fair to look at the Indians and Browns as models when telling an anxious and tiresome Cleveland fan to be patient. The Indians haven’t put together consecutive winning seasons since their impressive eight-year run from 1994-2001, and the Browns have been far worse. The Dawg Pound had three seasons with a winning percentage over .500 from 1986-88 under Marty Schottenheimer, marking the last time that they have been able to have follow-up successful seasons (achieving more than eight wins in back-to-back seasons).
The Wine and Gold faithful are most familiar with winning in recent history, and remember it the clearest. But honestly, it seems like eons ago since LeBron electrified Quicken Loans Arena. I was in high school covering the Cavaliers as a guest journalist four years ago, and I can’t seem to convince myself that I was sitting in Joe’s Perch watching Cleveland sweep the Detroit Pistons on the season and capture their 56th victory.
Times are different, and a 26-game losing streak, a record of 7-34 against the Central Division and only seven times that the Cavaliers have had winning streaks of more than one game from 2010-13 is enough to give someone amnesia. That coupled with the bitterness that LeBron’s departure left in the mouth of the city of Cleveland is enough to make fans want to replace every good memory created by No. 23 with new ones led by Kyrie Irving. So far the wounds are still there, although Kyrie has done a wonderful job at becoming the most intriguing and talented athlete in Cleveland sports stemming from his last-second heroics.
And this is when talks of patience should be most important, especially at a time when many are questioning if Scott is the right coach to lead this team in the future. Our new poll poses this question, and so far the majority of you guys agree that the head honcho of the Cavs is a perfect fit and that it is important to factor in the current state of the team. Cavalier fans have waited and waited for Anderson Varejao to return this season, and we just found out Wednesday that he would be out six-eight weeks after undergoing successful surgery on Thursday.
Missing the most energetic and stalwart player on the roster correlates with the way this team has been finishing games. We’ve seen too many times this season that the final 12 minutes can determine a game entirely, the perfect example being the 26-point lead that Cleveland saw dissipate in the second half against the Phoenix Suns early on in the season. Looking at average fourth quarter margins, the top three teams in that category include superior teams in the NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs respectively). The Cavs rank dead last in the Association, with a -2.9-point differential in the final frame.
It also doesn’t help when your 2012 first round picks are going through an arduous learning process, while being heavily exploited at the same time. Dion Waiters recently found himself on the bench after a disappointing slew of games and a spark in performance from C.J. Miles. The finishing ability of the former Syracuse sixth man was supposed to be a strength in the rookie’s game. As of January 2, Waiters has only converted on 49.5 percent of his attempts at the rim. Through 25 games played, he has put up 4.0 shots per game in that area. Not to mention, his perimeter shot selection is questionable at best. Scott made the right decision by giving him time from the bench, and until he settles down, that’s where he should stay.
Waiters is a player that fans need to have the most patience with. His South Philly attitude instills within him the utmost confidence in his shot. So far this has been a problem, but his boldness could certainly become one of the strongest aspects of his game if Scott can groom him correctly. The same goes for Tyler Zeller. After being whisked into the starting role following Andy’s injury, opposing bigs have had their way against him. According to 82games.com, Zeller has been outworked by opponents (with numbers adjusted to 48-minute production) by 3.3 rebounds, 3.0 points and 1.6 blocks. I see Zeller as a reliable bench contributor for the Cavs in the future, so to have him take on a starting role this early in his career is a tough task. That’s all I see Zeller as, and his defense will come around once he gets in more work with qualified tutors (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas).
So don’t let frustration pile up too high, Cavalier fanatics. This draft doesn’t look promising in terms of Cleveland’s pursuit for a legitimate starting small forward, but the perfect piece could fall right into our laps. Whatever the best roles for guys like Zeller and Waiters are, even if that means long-term bench assignments, I can guarantee that Scott will make the decision that most benefits the team. Waiters wants to start, but if he thrives most in a James Harden-type part, I’d be all aboard for that scenario. Cleveland fans are one of the most loyal fan bases in sports, but organizational patience is the most important quality to have when cheering for a young, rebuilding team such as this one.