Is LeBron James Among the Cleveland Cavaliers’ ‘Discontented’ Star Players?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are mired in a losing run, and the cracks may just be starting to show.

A report from Dave McMenamin of ESPN, published on Tuesday evening, sheds new light on what is turning into a troubled season for the Cavaliers, whose loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night was the eighth in their last ten games.

McMenamin spoke to “multiple”, “prominent” Cavaliers players who he says aired their doubts about whether the team’s problems are solvable. He lists those problems as, “an ageing roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players.”

It is defensive issues that are most starkly visible for Cleveland. Only the Sacramento Kings have been less efficient at stopping the opposition from scoring this season. Tyronn Lue’s preferred starting lineup now contains two bad defensive players in Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has looked bright on his return from long-term injury but hasn’t yet produced the scoring to make up for his weaknesses on the back end.

McMenamin doesn’t identify any of the players he spoke to, other than to signify to us that they are probably stars and almost certainly not “role-players.” They may be old, though, or getting old. LeBron James is 33, while his old buddy from Miami Dwyane Wade is 36. Wade has mostly been a part of the Cavaliers’ second unit, but his experience means he’s likely a dominant voice in the locker room. Wondering who the disgruntled Cavaliers might be is a zero-sum game—ultimately pointless, but fascinating all the same.

James assuredly isn’t one of the Cavaliers’ problems right now. He’s been playing at the level of an M.V.P. candidate, through all of Cleveland’s recent troubles. Come the summer though, when he can test free agency, James is going to be their biggest issue.

This season was meant to be about the Cavaliers proving to James that they remain championship contenders. McMenamin’s report, added to recent results, suggests that aim has veered quite badly off course. With the trade deadline looming on February 8, perhaps Cleveland’s front office will be forced into giving up one of its first-round draft picks to stay in contention in the Eastern Conference—and to convince James his future is in northeast Ohio.