Amico: Cavs can learn from Heat that tanking is for losers


When it comes to life without LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been good at just one thing -- being bad.

It happened the first time LeBron left Cleveland in 2010, and then again in 2018. Both times, the Cavs have been content to play the lottery, keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Granted, that's about all you can do when the Greatest Player in the Game bolts in free agency, leaving you with little time and little wiggle room to make some real moves.

But the Cavs don't even seem to try.

And it's not working. It results in almost zero interest and even less wins.

Oh, the Cavs will use buzzwords to try to engage fans. They talk about "player development" and "growth" and being "excited for our future."

Yeah, sure. That's all great. And it's gotten them nowhere.

Instead, the Cavs end up serving as little more than a development team for everyone else. They play rookies and young guys, teach them the NBA ropes, discuss their potential, and do it over and over and over, ad nauseum.

Then those young guys become seasoned veterans and leave for a team that actually wants to win.

Like the Miami Heat.

You know all about the Heat. They too had LeBron, and they too lost him in free agency back in 2014.

Now, six years later, they are back in the Finals. And LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are nowhere to be found.

The only two Heaters who remain from the LeBron era -- coach Erik Spoelstra and center Udonis Haslem.

Spoelstra has been the Heat's coach since 2008. Meanwhile, the Cavs are on their fourth coach in two seasons. 

It's true. Two years. Four coaches.

In the year after LeBron left, the Heat finished 37-45. Then they finished 48-34. Meanwhile, the Cavs have won 19 games in each of the past two seasons.

The Cavs talk a lot about "culture." The Heat actually exemplify it. Heck, they coined the phrase. 

"Heat Culture" actually trends on social media.

Why? Well, a big reason is they refuse to play the lottery. They may have no choice some seasons, but it's not because they're going out of their way.

The Heat are old-school under team president Pat Riley. They play every game to win. Every game. They don't focus on "developing talent," because the NBA has set up an entire development league for that.

They get free agents to come to them. Willingly. Under their own power. 

Think about that. The Heat missed the playoffs last season -- and All-Star forward/guard Jimmy Butler forced a trade there anyway.

Yes, Miami has beaches, sunshine and lots of night life. But so does New Orleans, and few NBA players have ever fought for their right to play for the Pelicans. Heck, Anthony Davis couldn't wait to get out.

But back to the Heat. Butler has made it clear he didn't go to Miami because of the party scene. He wanted to be the main man on a team that goes all out to win every night, regardless of circumstances.

He wanted culture. Real culture. Not a franchise that talks about building it while willingly losing 60 games every season.

The Heat have had real leadership, consistency, stability. 

Long-ago Oakland Raiders owner and coach Al Davis once coined the phrase, "Just win, baby." That's been the Heat motto under Riley.

I'm not sure what the Cavs' motto has been when LeBron isn't on the team, but I bet it has the word "tank" in there somewhere.


They say in the NBA, if you're not playing for a championship, you're better off fighting for a lottery pick. I get that -- to an extent. I know that finishing eighth or ninth in the conference every season can feel like a lost cause.

But I also know the Heat tried with all their might to make the playoffs last season and failed. That resulted in the No. 13 overall pick. And the Heat ended up with rookie shooting guard Tyler Herro anyway.

Herro has been a major factor in the Heat's run to the Finals. The Cavs owned the fifth pick and got Darius Garland. Nothing wrong with Garland. But in Year One, he was no Herro.

This isn't intended to rip Cavs GM Koby Altman. If nothing else, his midseason trade for Andre Drummond showed Altman is at least willing to try to get the team out of the destructive cycle of trying for nothing more than a top-three pick.

And despite the fact the Cavs change coaches at about the same rate as the Kardashians change boyfriends, J.B. Bickerstaff looked like the right man for the job early. So it's OK to change until you get it right.

But the Cavs need to stick with Bickerstaff no matter what happens next. They need to do something this offseason besides tell their fans they should be excited. They should make not playing the lottery again in 2021 their top priority.

And if they play the lottery anyway, they should be mad about it. 

It may not be winning time in Cleveland. But it should be "trying to win" time. The truth of the matter is the fans are sick of their team stinking without LeBron, and the fans have every right to feel that way.

After all, the Cavs have been trying to sell their supporters bottled water and tell them it's champagne. But their supporters know what champagne tastes like, and this ain't it.

Bottom line: It's high time for the Cavs to start thinking, "Just win, baby." Enough of telling everyone you may be good in three or four years. Anyone can say that.

It doesn't matter how the Cavs go about it, it doesn't even matter if they succeed. But it can't go any worse than what they're doing now.

The Heat are the blueprint. The Cavs should be the willing student.