The Cleveland Cavaliers' losing streak (now 26 games long!) has brought wide recognition of something we figured out back in early December, when the Cavs' still had a decent record. That truth: Without LeBron James, the Cavs suck. It's easy to see now, but back then columnists were still writing about Cleveland's pluck and motivation in the wake of The Decision, and were yukking it up about LeBron's apparent failure to appreciably improve the Miami Heat.
The yuks have dried up, at least in Miami. They are now focused on these Cavs, the darlings of November, a team that built a near-.500 record on smoke and mirrors (through no fault of their own), a team whose spectacular crash through the very depths of Basketball Hell was just a matter of time.
You'll be tempted to believe the entire team has become something awful, that the league's best team in last year's regular season has morphed into this season's worst not just because of the LeBron's exit, but because of talent losses at all positions.
You'd be wrong. It's basically all about LeBron.
The following graphic lays out the Cavs' production by position via 82games.com. Of course, LeBron was the team's incumbent small forward from 2004 to 2010. LeBron played several different positions regularly in 2004, so we'll start with 2005. From then on, LeBron received the lion's share of small forward minutes in Cleveland. The rest of the team? A revolving cast of characters of varying production level.
This year, of course, the small forward minutes are going to Jamario Moon (26 percent), Anthony Parker (25 percent), Jawad Williams (17 percent), Joey Graham (15 percent), Alonzo Gee (8 percent) and Christian Eyenga (4 percent). None of those men have been interviewed by Barbara Walters, to my knowledge.
The Cavaliers' big men have produced a bit less than they had over the past six years, but it's not a huge difference. the backcourt production has been roughly the same as pre-Decision.
But at small forward? The Cavs' small forward PER was 26.3 last season -- MVP-level. (Obviously, as LeBron won the MVP.) This year, the Cavs' small forward PER is 8.8, which is basically submammalian. (Or sub-Randy Foye, which is about the same in basketball terms.)
To say "LeBron caused this losing streak" isn't just a fluttery bit of prose for a columnist to put to print. It's pretty much fact. LeBron caused this losing streak. The Cavs are this bad because their elite small forward ran away, leaving the team with really terrible options at small forward.