How to Fix the Cavaliers…

Even the Cavs think it's funny how bad they are...

This is an article I’ve been thinking about for a pretty long time, but have yet to sit down and really try to write.  Part of this has been denial.  Another part of it is disgust.  The Cavs are so bad I don’t even want to think about them let alone watch them or really write about them.  After a very long month of December that saw the Cavs fall from playoff contention all the way to the worst team in the league the problem can’t be ignored any longer.  The Cavs are broken.

So how do we go about fixing the Cavaliers?  What can be done to try and stop the bleeding and turn this team around?  I sat down yesterday afternoon, popped open the ESPN NBA Trade Machine and played around with ideas and scenarios and looked at what’s going on with the Cavs payroll and roster.  From that I developed a plan for what the Cavs can do to hopefully turn this thing around sooner rather than later.  Bear in mind, by sooner rather than later I mean a good two years rather than two decades.

So here’s what I came up with…

1.  Start looking for ways to dump salary and get under the salary cap: Right now the Cavs have no cap space.  With a payroll of $72,470,523 they just under $14.5 million over the cap.  Before the Cavs can realistically begin signing impact free agents they need to purge what they have.  They are helped by the fact that as of right now they have four players with expiring contracts at the end of the year totaling slightly over $9 million.  These four players are Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Ryan Hollins, and Leon Powe, none of which is what you would consider an impact player and can easily be replaced if not upgraded.  Of the four the only one I would consider bringing back is Hollins due to his size and youth.

The real albatrosses hanging over the Cavs are the contracts of Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, and Anderson Varejao.  Together these three players account for roughly $30 million of the Cavs current payroll.  Of the three Varejao probably has the most value to a contender, but due to his recent injury we can’t trade him right now, nor would I want to.  The two players that need to go are Jamison and Williams.  The problem lies in trying to find someone willing to take on their contracts and baggage.  Jamison is 34 and on the backside of his career making 13 million with another year remaining on his deal.  Williams is entering his prime, but given his lack of postseason success a team would need to be desperate for a point guard in order to take on his remaining contract. 

The best possible scenario for the Cavs to rid themselves of Jamison is to find a contender desperate for another scoring option off the bench.  In my opinion the best scenario for this lies with the Dallas Mavericks. 

The Mavs just lost their second leading scorer, Caron Butler, for the season.  Jamison played for Dallas during their run to the finals a few years back so there is some familiarity there.  The teams could work a deal where the Mavs acquire Jamison and his $13 mil in exchange for the expiring contracts of Caron Butler and Brian Cardinal.  The Mavs get an upgrade to their bench while the Cavs get two more expiring contracts.

Getting rid of Williams will be a lot more challenging.  The Cavs will need to find a suitor closer to the trade deadline that is looking for point guard help off of the bench for a playoff run, or a contender that has suffered a point guard injury.  Right now all of the main contenders appear healthy, but could I see Mo in a Hawks uniform if Mike Bibby were to go down.  Miami is also looking for a point guard, but I don’t think that’s a road either the Cavs or Lebron would want to go down again.

In order for the Cavs to trade either Jamison or Williams they may have to be prepared to make a decision on J.J. Hickson.  A team may not be willing to take on either contract unless there is something in it for them.  That something would be Hickson.  If it means the Cavs ridding themselves of one or both of these contracts then they have to do it.  As complimentary piece on a contending team Hickson could be valuable.  On the Cavs he’s a liability.  At this point it’s probably safe to day he won’t develop into anything more than a 10 point 8 rebound per night player who can occasionally get you 20+ points or rebounds, but not consistently.  Players like him are a dime a dozen.

2.  Get worse before you get better:  The Cavs need to get worse before they can get better.  That’s how things work in the NBA.  A team has to build through the draft.  More specifically, NBA teams have to nail that first round lottery pick.  The Cavs will be in line for what appears to be a top 5 draft pick this year and typically that lands you a top notch player.

However, this is one of those years in which none of the top college prospects looks like they are primed to be a sure fire superstar on the level of a Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, or Kevin Durant.  With that in mind, depending on where they fall in the draft order the Cavs should consider trading away this years draft pick in exchange for future draft picks.  By doing this the Cavs could labor their way through the 2011-2012 season and land another top draft pick, or two depending on the trade made the previous year and then select their new franchise player.  This is how the Thunder built their team, acquiring draft picks, scouting wisely, and nailing the pick for their star player.  The Cavs should follow suit.

This also doesn’t mean breaking the bank on stupid free agent signings.  Next year the Cavs should be concerned only with filling out roster spots, developing the young talent they have (more on that later) and not contending for a title.  The worst thing the Cavs can do is commit to rebuilding at the end of this season and then signing a no name role player for $30 million over 4 years.  Develop a plan and stick to it.  Get younger, lose games, and rebuild. 

Of course, this all depends on whether or not the Cavs can find someone willing to trade for a top 5 pick in this years draft.  If not then…

3.  The Cavs should look to draft one of the following players: 

  1. Perry Jones: Jones is a long athletic playmaker very much in the mold of Kevin Durant.  At 6’11” and 220 Lbs. he’s more athletic than you would imagine.  Many believe that if the one and done rule wasn’t in effect, Jones would have been a top 5 pick last year out of highschool.  The only downside for Jones is that unlike Durant, Jones hasn’t really dominated in his freshman season thus far.  If you’re looking to draft a potential franchise player with a top 5 pick you’d like to see them average more than 12 pts per game in college.  But as always is the case, the upside here is huge.
  2. Terrence Jones: Jones is a big bodied freshman.  The 6’8″ forward has been outstanding for Kentucky averaging 17 pts and looked like everything he was hyped to be coming out of high school.  Cavs fans shouldn’t be disappointed if he fell into our laps.  Looks like he could be the best player in college right now.
  3. Jared Sullinger: The big man from The Ohio State.  Sullinger, also a freshman, has been an absolute beast for the Buckeyes.  So far he is averaging 17 pts per game and when adjusted per 40 minutes it’s closer to 24 pts.  Sullinger has shown an effective low post game with a variety of drop steps, spin moves, and an excellent touch inside.  The only question surrounding him is his weight.  Right now he is listed at 250 Lbs. and at 6’8″ is a little heavier than you’d like to see.  It’s something to be monitored.
  4. Harrison Barnes: Going into this year Barnes was considered the top player in college basketball.  However much like Baylor’s Perry Jones, Barnes has been rather lackluster so far.  He is only averaging 11 pts per game and at times has looked overwhelmed on the big stage.  This isn’t a good sign for someone you’re hoping will become your franchise’s savior.  The upside here is huge though.
  5. Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving: Ok, so I cheated and put two players in the fifth spot.  Both are point guards but have vastly different skill sets.  Walker has been an assassin.  So far this season he is averaging 25 pts per game leading the UConn Huskies.  Irving injured his toe eight games into the season but was playing the role of prototypical point guard to a tee.  Many of the top mock drafts have him listed as the top overall prospect and potential #1 pick.  The Cavs need scorers and playmakers but should the ping-pong balls keep them from drafting one of the above, getting a franchise point guard wouldn’t be a bad consolation.  In all honesty it may be preferred given what we’ve seen from Mo.

Of course the college basketball season is only halfway over.  The draft boards and prospect ratings can change dramatically between now and draft time.  After all there’s that whole March Madness tournament to be played still.

For more info on the 2011 NBA Draft and the top college prospects, click here

4.  Continue to develop some of the younger talent already on the roster:  The Cavs have young pieces already on the roster and some of them have shown promise at times this season.  Ramon Sessions has had his moments.  J.J. Hickson (provided he isn’t traded) continues to have up and downs, but when he’s up he can be a stud.   Manny Harris has come out of nowhere the past few games to show his ability to score the basketball, something he always did when he was at Michigan.  There’s also Samardo Samuels, Christian Eyenga, and Ryan Hollins (should they decide to resign him on the cheap).

Much like the Thunder, the Cavs should continue to let the players just play and get NBA experience.  If anything, these players could develop into quality role players down the road, or into valuable trade chips in order to acquire future draft picks.  And who knows, there is that rare chance that the Cavs could have a diamond in the rough and not even know it.  They owe it to themselves to find out what they have in some of these players, even if that means losing more games than anyone would possibly be comfortable with.  The Cavs shouldn’t be in any rush to cut them out of the picture.  Again, they need to take things slow and just let them learn from the few veterans that remain on the team from the playoff runs of the past.

Speaking of which…

5.  Build up Gibson and Varejao as the leaders of this team: Based on the above moves and the youth movement that needs to happen, Gibson and Varejao will be the elder statesmen of the Cavaliers.  Both are under contract for the next 3 and 5 years respectively and are the only two players who have shown any kind of heart in this waste of a season.  There should be no rush or real reason to deal either player away right now.  Gibson’s contract is manageable and Varejao’s, although high for the role he plays, is not that bad either.  The Cavs should hang onto them as the core of this team until the future begins to take shape.  It’s not a perfect scenario, but it could be much worse.

Another name that can be thrown into this mix is J.J. Hickson, but again, this deopends on whether or not he is included in a package to get Williams and or Jamison out of town.  If Hickson remains a Cavalier he will be entering his fourth year next year.  By all accounts it will be time for him to put up or shut up and become a leader.  He still has a lot of work to do in this area, but how many times in sports do we see the light bulb randomly turn on for players?  We’ve seen that playing with a superstar J.J. can be a valuable piece.

This should also be addressed when filling out remaining roster spots.  The Cavs can also add a veteran presence to this team in the offseason, so long as it does not ruin the cap flexibility they are looking to gain by trading away current assets and their expiring contracts.  A few players here and there could be benefitial to many of the younger players.  Just look at how much it may have helped Lebron when he entered the league.  Not that Ricky Davis isn’t an excellent role model for an NBA rookie or anything.

So there you have it.  This is my plan for attempting to rebuild the Cavaliers.  Whether we want to admit it, the best bet for the Cavs is to completely tear things apart and rebuild from the bottom up.  It’s the only way they can avoid getting stuck in the endless cycle of selecting in the middle of the first round.  It’s the worst place you can be as an NBA team, never destined for greatness but never doomed to failure… just forever mediocre.

Yes, this is going to take two or three years and yes, this is going to suck… but be patient Cavs fans.  Hope springs eternal.

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