HOUSTON -- The Cleveland Cavaliers' slow start has been linked to such things as a shortened training camp, roster turnover, roster age, a defensive efficiency rating that is last in the league and a string of injuries. So maybe it shouldn't be surprising that LeBron James isn't counting on Isaiah Thomas to fix everything when he returns from a right hip injury.
"To be honest, I don't think it's too much expected [of Thomas]," James said before shootaround Thursday morning, ahead of the Cavaliers' game against the Houston Rockets. "I don't think we're relying on IT to come back. We want him to take his time. When he feels he's ready, he's going to fit right in.
"We can't rely on just one person. We can't rely on just one person for us to be as good as we want to be, whether it's IT or myself or Tristan [Thompson] being out. We have guys who have to step up."
The Cavaliers said in September that they expect Thomas, a two-time All-Star point guard, back on the court by January. Thomas has progressed in his rehab, however, and there have been recent clues that suggest he will return even sooner.
Yet James is quick to alleviate any pressure that Thomas might feel to be the savior for the uneven Cavs, just 5-6 on the season, when he makes his debut.
"IT is definitely a big piece of what we want to do, but IT hasn't stepped out on the floor in a Cavs uniform yet," James said. "We know what he's capable of doing, but he hasn't played with us, so we don't want to put that type of pressure on him, even though he loves it."
While Cleveland waits on Thomas, James is leaning on his past experiences with the Miami Heat as a road map while the Cavs navigate this rough patch.
"I would say probably since my first year in Miami [this is the first time] having this many new bodies," James said. "For me, my first year in Miami, I hadn't played with any of those guys up until that point.
"I'm a big cohesiveness and rhythm and camaraderie guy, and this year we added [eight] new guys to our roster. We've had some different lineups and guys in and out, including myself in the preseason. It kind of slow-tracked what we want to do as a unit. So every game is like a high-intense opportunity practice for us to try to get better and better versus great competition, no matter who we're playing.
"It's been challenging. But I've always kind of fell in love with the process and being very patient and understanding what this season is. Every season is different. I've always said that. This season is a different challenge, and it's good to be a part of it."
Coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers may have turned the corner, coming into the Rockets game having won two of their last three.
"I think defensively we're really locked in, we're really making the effort of getting back transition-wise," Lue said Thursday. "Offensively, running with pace, all five guys are running. And, just, got a good feel about ourselves right now. We've got to continue to keep building, keep playing well and keep getting better every day."
James and the Cavs have work to do, whether Thomas is in the lineup or not.
"I think it's just a different dynamic, but like I said, my first year in Miami, we had to figure that thing out too," James said. "At one point we were 9-8. You just got to try to figure it out. You watch film, you get better, you get out on the floor, you compete and figure things out."