Even Cavs Players Are Doubtful They Can Win a Championship This Season

Contrary to popular opinion, LeBron James is human after all, and though his run of seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals might make him seem otherworldly, it doesn't make him invincible. This season more than ever, it feels like Cleveland is surviving rather than thriving. At some point, someone in the East is going to beat them. And after Cleveland's 118-108 home loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors last night, we might've officially reached that point.

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, there is growing discontent and a strong sense of concern within the Cleveland locker room. The Cavs are 26-17 with only three wins in their last 12 games. They got blown out by a combined 62 points against Toronto and Minnesota last week. They might have the worst defense in the entire NBA, and they've slid so far that many of the team's veterans now doubt whether they can fix their problems this season.

Age. One-dimensional role players. Defensive-issues that go far beyond fundamentals. Several prominent players told ESPN, Cleveland.com, and The Athletic that the team's problems won't go away simply by getting healthy. 

This is not the first time we've heard grumblings coming out of Cleveland this season. Just last week, Yahoo! Sports reported there were complaints in the locker room about “personal agendas” getting in the way of success. Some Cavs players thought LeBron was chasing assists in an effort to win one final MVP award. Others didn't like coach Tyronn Lue's rotations. The bickering reeks of familiarity, like a family that's been living together far too long.

In past years during their inevitable regular season lapses, the team could lean on Kyrie Irving. But Irving is gone, and his replacement is a 28-year-old, 5'9″ defensive problem who may or may not ever be the same after returning from a major hip injury.

LeBron has to know all of this. He also knows Cleveland holds the rights to Brooklyn's first-round pick next summer—and that there are several names potentially available on the market. That pick and this year's trade deadline might be Cleveland's final chance to position themselves for one last run at a title. Among the NBA's contenders, they have the least to lose and the most to gain by making a deal.

No one ever expects a run to end before it does. Miami's Big Three era faded with a whimper, getting blitzed by 14 points per game against San Antonio in the 2014 Finals. Kobe's Lakers collapsed in a surprising sweep in 2011, burnt out and exhausted. Before that, it was Shaq and the Lakers getting old before our eyes and even before that, it was Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon getting run into the ground by Seattle and the Detroit Bad Boys wilting under the athleticism of Jordan's Bulls. 

Is this Cleveland's moment of reckoning? If it is, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

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Isaiah Thomas Says Phoenix Suns ‘Gave Me a Christmas Gift’ Trading Him to Boston Celtics

It took Isaiah Thomas a little while to find a home in the NBA, but after stops in Sacramento and Phoenix, he has taken to life in Boston splendidly. Thomas just made his second straight All-Star team for the Celtics, and he's averaging the second most points per game (29.4) of any player in the league.

Thomas isn't just happy about his individual success, but the situation he's been put into as a member of the Celtics. The Suns signed Thomas to a four-year, $28 million deal back in 2014, and they only kept him for half a season before they traded him to his current squad. With the two teams set to go head-to-head in Phoenix Sunday night, Thomas told reporters the trade to Boston was one of the best things to ever happen to his career:

Thomas has a point: the two teams involved in that transaction have gone in opposite directions since finalizing the trade. Phoenix acquired a player (Brandon Knight) in that deal who makes a lot more money and is considerably less productive than Thomas, and they currently hold the league's third-worst record at 20-42. With Thomas' help, the Celtics have steadily moved into the Eastern Conference's upper echelon over the last couple years, and their 40-22 record this season is almost the exact inverse of the Suns'.

Compared to his last two stops in Phoenix and Sacramento, Boston has to feel like nirvana for Thomas. There's a rich basketball history in the recent and distant past, and the so-called “King in the Fourth” has a ton of help from a talented supporting cast. Boston boasts one of the NBA's best young coaches in Brad Stevens, and a ton of future flexibility with cap space and draft picks.

They have to actually capitalize on that promise, and the Celtics haven't won a playoff series since the last gasp of their “Big Three” in 2012. But regardless of whether you think the Celtics are a real playoff threat, Thomas isn't wrong to call it a gift to move from one of the league's worst teams to one of its best. 

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