Cleveland Cavaliers fall again to Golden State, face an off-season of uncertainty

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ already-thin hopes for an NBA championship ended with a resounding defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors Friday night.

Except for a few brief moments in the second quarter, the Warriors dominated the entire game to capture their second straight title. Golden State’s lopsided 108-85 win put an exclamation point on a four-game sweep that underscored the gulf between the two teams that have now faced off in four straight NBA Finals.

In what may have been his last game as a Cavalier, LeBron James led his team with 23 points – and heard chants of “M-V-P” even as the game fell out of reach in the fourth quarter. When Coach Ty Lue brought his superstar to the bench with 4:03 remaining in the game, the crowd at Quicken Loans Arena rose to cheer.

But even they cheered, the Cleveland faithful had to know that not only is this season over, but that countless questions remain for the Cavaliers -- and for James, who put a flawed team on his enormous shoulders and carried it to a fourth straight Eastern Conference title.

After getting swept by the Warriors -- their third NBA Finals loss  in four years to the Bay Area dynasty-- the Cavs now face their most uncertain offseason since 2010, when James famously took his talents to Miami after a lackluster playoff performance in Cleveland.

Although he said in the aftermath of Friday's defeat that he had "no idea" what he will do next, most NBA observers expect James again to entertain free agent offers. The Cavs can offer him the most money and the comforts of home, but multiple reports have James contemplating a future with Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, the L.A. Lakers and even Golden State starting July 1.

The multi-talented James has repeatedly said he won’t think about the 2018-2019 season until this campaign comes to an end. Now it has.

Regardless of what happens with James, the Cavs are expected again to explore trading All-Star forward Kevin Love. Love acknowledged earlier this week that his name always comes up in trade rumors but he’d like to remain in Cleveland.

If James departs, a Love trade could accelerate a Cavs rebuild. If James stays, Love could be used in an attempt to lure a new star to pair with James.

Also in play is the Cavs No. 8 pick in the June 21 NBA draft. The Cavs acquired the pick from Boston (via Brooklyn) in the Kyrie Irving trade and the pick now could be used in another trade, or to select a young talent to bolster a roster with or without James.

Head Coach Lue’s health is another question mark. Lue left the team for two weeks during the season to deal with health issues, which he recently revealed were related to anxiety. Owner Dan Gilbert could decide to make a clean break with the coaching staff if James leaves, or he could opt for continuity and give Lue a chance to coach a young team without the massive influence of James.

Despite criticism from fans toward the coach, Lue appears to enjoys a good relationship with James, who has said he likes having a coach who played in the NBA. Lue had a successful 11-year playing career as a point guard.

Thirty-five-year-old Koby Altman is entering his second year as Cavs General Manager after mixed results in his first season. Altman faced criticism when it appeared he didn’t get nearly enough in the Irving deal, then drew praise for midseason trades that gave the Cavs more youth and athleticism. But earlier this week, James lamented the fact that the Cavs had more playmakers to start the season, despite poor performance and a consensus that the pieces Altman acquired simply didn’t fit together.

The direction of the team will be determined by Gilbert and Altman – assuming Gilbert does not seek a new GM for the second straight offseason. Front-office stability might appeal to James, but the Cavs will have to convince him that they can vastly improve the talent around him.

After seeing the Cavs regress over four years and trade away Irving over his objections, convincing James to stay could be a difficult task.

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