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Cavs slump sparks mid-season drama for NBA champions

LOS ANGELES, USA - The NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers once again find themselves involved in a mid-season soap opera and coach Tyronn Lue, trying to get his slumping squad back on track, could do without it.

"It makes it tough and I hate it," Lue said of media reports of tension between superstar LeBron James and club management.

ESPN.com's report on Thursday claiming James and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert were at odds over payroll spending followed reports that the team had nixed a New York Knicks proposal to send Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland in a trade.

"I've always been a man and I don't like it when people come out and say 'sources say,'" Lue told reporters at a team practice on Thursday. "Listen, if you can't put your name behind it, then don't say it. I don't believe in that.

"It's just a lot of distractions. We've got to focus on basketball, getting back to winning.

"We're the third-best team in the NBA right now. We're a great team, we're the champs, so we've just got to get back to playing championship basketball, that's it."

James notched his second triple-double in as many games on Wednesday but the Cavs fell 116-112 in overtime to the Sacramento Kings in Cleveland.

It was the champions' third straight defeat and their sixth in 8 games.

After an upset loss to New Orleans on Monday, James - who had already expressed his opinion that the team needs to add a backup "playmaker" to the mix - indicated that foot-dragging on that matter might mean team leadership isn't committed to roster moves needed to retain the title.

"I just hope we're not satisfied as an organization," James said, later tweeting: "I'm not mad or upset at management ... I just feel we still need to improve in order to repeat if that's what we wanna do."

General manager David Griffin, who met with James in the wake of those comments, said Wednesday that the suggestion that Cavaliers management are complacent was "really misguided."

"Anyone insinuating that this organization is about anything other than (winning) would deeply upset me because ownership has invested in this at an absolutely historic level," he said.

'Championship identity'

The Cavaliers have the league's highest payroll for the second straight season and are again expected to face a hefty luxury tax bill at the end of the season.

But ESPN, citing unnamed sources, said James is frustrated by his perception that the Cavaliers have slowed new spending. They also noted James's comments indicating he doesn't believe the younger players on Cleveland's roster - like Kay Felder, DeAndre Liggins and Jordan McRae - have enough experience to lean on in a playoff race.

Griffin, however, indicated on Wednesday he wasn't convinced the solution was adding more experienced players.

"The thing we have to do the most is get better from within," Griffin said. "This is the team we have and we really like this team a lot. We believe in this team at a deep level and we need to get better from within and play better, quite frankly. We need to have a greater sense of urgency and start to develop a championship identity.

"I think it's clear we have not been doing that."

The drama, unfolding as the season approaches the All-Star break, recalls the mid-season sacking of coach David Blatt, who was dumped last January and replaced by Lue even as the Cavaliers sat atop the Eastern Conference as they do now. – Rappler.com