Yes, LeBron James was gone, but the Cavs had a secret weapon — the proverbial chip-on-the-shoulder element was driving them to prove they could still win without King James. Their leader was gone, but they still had a half-dozen solid, professional basketball players that were all sick and tired of being told what they couldn't do.
They had nothing to lose, and yet everything to prove. Through 16 games, they were alive and well. They opened the season 7-9, a perfectly respectable record, all things considered. They were in the race for the eighth and final seed in the East, duking it out with Charlotte and Toronto in the early going.
At the time, people were actually speculating that the Cavs were better than LeBron's new team, the Miami Heat. Then the Heat actually arrived in Cleveland on Dec. 2, and LeBron dropped 38 points and demolished his former franchise. So much for that.
Ever since then, it's been bad. Really bad.
Since that 7-9 start, the Cavs are 1-27, with their lone win coming at home in overtime over the Knicks. They haven't won a game in regulation time since Nov. 27.
So what happened? A couple of things.
First and foremost, injuries. Anderson Varejao was the team's heart and soul, and he's now out for the season with a torn ankle tendon. Mo Williams has a hip injury and is out indefinitely. Anthony Parker has back pain. Leon Powe had yet another knee surgery. Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson have each had their bumps and bruises. The Cavs were surviving the loss of one guy, but they can't handle six more. Few teams can.
But what's more, the shoulder chip is now gone, and the Cavaliers have fizzled out. They were fired up for their first game of the season, when they stifled the visiting Celtics and pulled off a shocking upset. But the emotion has died down in the months since. It's a long season, and eventually the Cavs found themselves trying to win on talent alone, with that extra spark gone. It hasn't worked out.
Back on July 8, when LeBron made his "Decision" and left the Cavs behind, owner Dan Gilbert proclaimed that his team would win an NBA championship before LeBron's Heat. These days, that doesn't appear likely.
The Cavs won't be winning much in the near future, but one piece at a time, they can try to win back their dignity. They'll give it a shot Tuesday against the Celtics.