The Cavs are in an interesting spot as an organization not just within NBA circles, but also amongst their own fans. You see. This is year three of the post “He Who Shall Not Be Named” era and things are finally beginning to take shape. We had the massive bottoming out in year one, acquired the #1 pick in the draft and found our floor general of the future, Kyrie Irving, in year two and now in year three, armed with two new first round picks, a healthy Anderson Varejao, an ever improving Tristan Thompson, and Kyrie looking to make the jump to super-star, fans are beginning to feel a bit optimistic about this team.
But, is the excitement warranted? Is this a team that can actually compete for a playoff spot? Even more importantly, is this a team that should compete for a playoff spot given the nature of the NBA and how this team has to build itself?
As one of the youngest teams in the NBA, the Cavaliers are going to have nights where they look phenomenal, i.e. the first game against Washington and the game against the Clippers, and they’ll have nights where they look lost, i.e. any of their losses so far. That’s how it goes in the NBA. You don’t just get good over night. When you’re attempting to build a winner you have to take the proper steps and for lack of a better term, take your lumps.
Believe me, the Cavs are going to take their fair share of lumps. While there’s a lot to like so far about their starting lineup and the performances of both Boobie Gibson and Tyler Zeller off of the bench, that’s about all they have. The remainder of the roster is void of any real talent that can make an impact at the NBA level. The Cavs had hoped C.J. Miles could step in and provide scoring for the second unit, but so far after 5 games te results have been far below the expectations. Luke Walton… Luke Harangody… Omri Casspi… Donald Sloan… oye, I can keep going but why bother. The bench is a serious weak spot for this team and is going to limit any type of possible playoff push the team and the fans think they can make.
So what does that mean? Are we looking at the worst team in the NBA yet again? Absolutely not. The Cavs are going to be nowhere near the worst team in the league. That title will be reserved for the likes of Detroit, Washington, and Charlotte to name a few. The Cavs, thanks in part to the efforts of Kyrie Irving, should be a better team than they were last season and as Dion Waiters grows into his role and learns the NBA game, this team should get better with time. Despite that, we’re probably looking at a lottery bound team for the third straight season, but I assure you… That’s not a bad thing. Far from it, actually.
The Cavs are realistically one decent draft and a small handful of player acquisitions away from being a legit playoff caliber team. Kyrie Irving is a stud. We know that. But, Dion Waiters is a huge question mark and even if he turns into the second coming of Dwyane Wade, the Cavalier will still need that third option to put them over the top. Also, and regrettably, Anderson Varejao’s days with the team are probably numbered. He’s 30 years old and if we’re being honest with ourselves, by the time the Cavs are a contender again, he’ll be well over the right side of 30.
The Cavaliers really would be better served trading him for assets that they can utilize moving forward. Andy is a great piece for a contending team and the package the Cavs could get in return could be a nice combination of draft picks, players, and salary cap space. In addition, trading away Andy all but guarantees the Cavs will be towards the top of the lottery and in prime position to draft an impact player for the third straight year. While we’re still a long way away from knowing who will be available and who will be the prized piece of the 2013 draft class, you have to think that by acquiring yet another top-level talent, the Cavaliers will be set up nicely to compete for the next five years and beyond if they play their cards right.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the Cavs back in the playoffs, but you have to look at everything in terms of whats best for the future sustainability of the team’s competitiveness. Being the 13th or 14th pick in the draft is the worst possible place to be. Sure, you can build a decent team that makes the playoffs year in and year out, but then you turn into the Atlanta Hawks. You make it to the 4th or 5th seed and maybe win a series, but you’re not really going to win anything. Take a look at the Thunder. They are the model we need to follow. They spent about four years drafting and maneuvering in order to start making the playoffs and now look at them. They’re set up to be a perennial juggernaut.
So how will the Cavs do this year? Well, I feel like there will be an improvement both visually on the floor as well as in their record. Last season they went 21-45 in the shortened season so this year I would project them to win somewhere around 35 games as currently constructed. If they trade Andy, all but guaranteed by many NBA experts, then their record will probably fall to 30-52. We’re probably looking at a draft pick somewhere in the 7 to 10 range unless they pull off another miraculous fleece job and somehow luck into the top 3.
On a positive note, Kyrie Irving will make the leap to a super-star caliber point guard and make the all-star team. Dion Waiters will be a pleasant surprise and show that he was worthy of the #4 overall pick. Tristan Thompson will be a key contributor and will average close to a double-double. Tyler Zeller will prove many of his doubters wrong, myself included, and show that his athletic ability is better than we thought and his ability to run the floor as a big man will be invaluable.
So there you have it. That’s my take on the Cavaliers this season. It should be fun, well… at least more fun than either of the previous two seasons have been. Now let’s just hope they can push all the right buttons in the front office. Chris Grant, I’m talking to you.