With last night’s victory against the Indiana Pacers, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-1 since David Blatt was fired and Tyronn Lue was named head coach. After the game, Kevin Love punctuated his team’s string of successes with this Instagram post:
The picture, and particularly the last hashtag, is a call back to a similar picture that was taken last year, one that did not include Kevin Love and was cited as evidence that a rift existed between Love and LeBron James. Judging a team’s unity based on who is and isn’t in an Instagram picture feels inherently silly, but there’s reason to believe the Cavaliers’ relationship with each other is improving.
Yesterday, ESPN reported that the Cavs held a players-only meeting immediately after Blatt was fired, which was described as an “airing of grievances.” From the report:
In what could turn out to be a key moment in their tenures together, James, Irving and Love came to an understanding that they needed to police each other on certain matters and use their influence within the team to set a standard for accountability, sources said. That was frequently a missing component over the past season and a half, sometimes creating friction.
Sources told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin that James, Irving and Love led the conversation, owning up to personal faults and using the open forum to express what they expected out of their teammates.
Things have improved on the court as well. The Cavs have scored over 110 points in each of their five straight wins, and Lue has them flexing a bit more muscle in transition, an area in which the team was already scoring a league-leading 1.19 points per possession. Love, James, and Kyrie Irving have led the way, scoring a combined 61 points per game since Lue took over.
Love in particular has seen a boost in production. He has always been a dangerous offensive threat at the elbow, but was only receiving 3.8 elbow touches per game under David Blatt. That number has climbed to 5.8 since Lue took over, and the team seems to have a more general commitment to getting him the ball. Love received about 10 passes per game from LeBron James before Blatt was fired, but has been getting 14 passes per game from LeBron since the big players-only meeting. Kyrie Irving has chipped in, too, dishing it to Love 12.7 times per game over the last six games.
A good six-game stretch doesn’t mean that whatever problems Cleveland’s big three had with each other have disappeared and will never return, but it’s a good sign for a squad that’s been dogged by way more drama than any 35-12 team coming off a Finals appearance should be dealing with. Maybe this is when the Cavs finally smooth out the last of their wrinkles, and we get a chance to see what they can do without all the doom and gloom.