Delonte West’s Antics, Absence Responsible for Cavaliers’ Slow Start

Delonte West's Antics, Absence Responsible for Cavaliers' Slow Start As if the Cleveland Cavaliers' troubles on the court weren't already bad enough.

The Cavs lost their season opener to Boston, their first home loss to the C's in 12 games, and fell to 0-2 the following night when Toronto made a statement with a double-digit win. It took a trip to Minnesota, visiting the hapless Timberwolves, for Cleveland to finally get back on track and record win No. 1 on the young season.

If the Cavs are going to get back on track and become Eastern Conference contenders again, they'll have to do it while fighting an enormous off-the-court distraction in the form of Delonte West.

Few noticed it, but the 25-year-old West quietly became the third-best player on a championship contender last season, efficiently knocking down jump shots and providing lock-down defense on the perimeter. All the hype surrounded LeBron James, but West was one of the game's best role players, a perfect complement to the talents of King James.

Then West turned 26 this summer, and his world came crashing down.

First came the news in September that West had been found in suburban Washington, D.C., carrying three loaded firearms in a guitar case as he was pulled over for a routine traffic violation on his motorcycle.

That alone was a crushing blow to West's career in basketball and his life. If convicted of the weapons charges facing him, West faces up to five years in prison.

Then came the second bombshell earlier this week. Reports out of Cleveland on Sunday night indicated that West, after a heated argument with his wife, allegedly grabbed her and took her wedding ring and purse while accusing her of cheating on him.

West, who has struggled throughout his career as a high-profile athlete with bipolar disorder, has seen his career collapse over the course of the past two months. His saga has become a nightmare for himself, for the Cavaliers and for their fans.

Off the court, West's situation is a tragic story, a public relations disaster and a devastating blow to a close-knit group of teammates in that Cavaliers locker room. But this story will also have implications for the Cavaliers as a basketball team.

They will miss West's contributions on the floor. King James steals all the headlines — and now, with Shaquille O'Neal in Cleveland, there's another superstar in town to bask in the spotlight — but West's contributions made the Cavs immensely better last season.

West played bigger than his 6-foot-3 frame. He was an aggressive defender, constantly challenging even the best wing players to launch a jumper over his outstretched arms. And time and time again, he would stop them.

The Cavs took the floor Wednesday night for their first regular-season game without West, and their shortcomings became clear. The Celtics' perimeter scorers torched them. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combined for 39 points, and the C's as a team shot 9-for-19 from beyond the three-point arc. That doesn't happen with West on the floor.

If the Cavs are to carry on without West and contend again, they'll have to rethink their system entirely. They're a very different basketball team with Mo Williams and Anthony Parker manning their backcourt. They've got a defensive-minded coach leading the way in Mike Brown, but they won't be able to win with slowed-down, methodical basketball anymore. Without West, they don't have the personnel.

You can never count out the Cavaliers. With LeBron at his best, this is a contender for the East's top playoff seed — but they've got some work to do first.

Life will be very different for the Cavs this season. And as for West, he should consider himself lucky if life is ever the same again.