The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped their fourth straight contest Monday night with a 118-108 loss to their rivals - the Golden State Warriors - casting a shadow of doubt over the club's title chances.
Several Cavaliers players, speaking under the condition of anonymity to many North American media outlets, most notably ESPN, expressed discontent and concern that the team won't be able to live up to its championship expectations this year without a roster overhaul.
An aging roster, a lack of defensive prowess, and an abundance of role players on the team were the issues discussed by this group of players with reporters. This is leading to speculation that the Cavaliers will make at least one major trade prior to the Feb. 8 deadline.
It's been a roller coaster season for Cleveland to this point. The Cavaliers started the campaign just 5-7, and then picked up wins in 18 of their next 19 games. However, they're only 3-9 since Dec. 19, and have looked dismal against other high-powered teams. Aside from being handled easily by the Warriors on Monday, Cleveland was blown out 133-99 by the Toronto Raptors, and throttled 127-99 by the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this month.
Health has been a serious issue for the Cavaliers all season. Isaiah Thomas is still getting used to his surroundings after missing nearly the entire first half with a hip injury. Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert should also be returning shortly to the lineup, which will further bolster the backcourt.
Cleveland holds a very powerful trade chip, should it choose to make a move. The Cavaliers own the rights to Brooklyn's first-round pick in this year's draft, which will very likely be a favorable lottery selection. Although several sources have told ESPN the Cavaliers would prefer to retain the pick than trade it, the team may have not a have a choice if it wants to remain a legitimate title threat. LeBron James can opt for free agency this summer, so the franchise's window for another championship run next year isn't guaranteed.
Cleveland may benefit the most from acquiring an elite defender. Entering play Monday, the Cavaliers ranked 29th in defensive efficiency, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions. The team also ranks poorly in blocks per game (27th), steals per game (21st), and defensive rebounding percentage (27th).
The Cavaliers will have a great opportunity to snap out of their funk Thursday against the lowly Orlando Magic, but then face two formidable Western Conference foes - the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs - in the next week.