The days of the Cavaliers competing for the Eastern Conference title are certainly over for at least the forseeable future, but they won’t be awful next season. By awful, I mean they won’t be finishing next to last in the East. Alex Kennedy at Hoopsworld posted his Eastern Conference preview this morning, and I agree with most of his projections.
Specifically, I don’t think there is any debate with his nos. 1 thru 6 of MIA – ORL – BOS – CHI – ATL – and MIL. The order may end up changing, but I agree that those six teams will in some capacity occupy the top-six seeds in the playoffs. Seven, eight, and beyond are anybody’s guess though, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that the sans-LBJ Cavaliers will end up finishing somewhere in the mix between 8 and 10.
Meaning, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they will finish 14th, which is where he has them slotted, offering the following on the Cavs:
The negative reaction from free agents this summer reflects the opinion of the Cavaliers around the NBA. Even when Cleveland was offering more money or longer deals, available players were still signing with other teams because they didn’t want to be stuck on a perennial bottom feeder. Sadly, that’s what the Cavaliers have become after the departure of LeBron James. The roster is made up of specialty players who were brought in to fit with James. But with no superstar leading the way, they’re now a team full of role players with new management and head coach. Antawn Jamison will likely be the first option on offense but with little help, it’s going to be tough for the Cavaliers to compete next season, especially since the other teams in the Central division have improved. It’s going to be a long season in Cleveland and Dan Gilbert’s guarantee is looking crazier and crazier each day.”
The Cavaliers will not be in the mix for last place next season, and I think some things with the current roster are being overlooked here. They still do have a core of Jamison – Mo Williams – JJ Hickson – and Anderson Varejao which isn’t terrible. World beaters they’re not, but that’s also not a last place line-up. Couple that with the turn-a-round potential Byron Scott’s demonstrated in the past, and I do think the Cavaliers will be more competitive than a team finishing last or second last out East.
Also, I don’t really see how the Cavaliers inability to sign free agents makes them an automatic bottom feeder perennially either. Cleveland has never been able to sign free agents. Ever. In any sport. It’s true, the Cavs won’t sign any big name free agents, and they will also have trouble signing mid-level stars as well. No debate. But they could rebuild through the draft though, and it is possible to string a few solid draft picks in a row together over the next few years. The transaction made with the Heat gives them a couple more of those opportunities, and they could end up moving a couple guys in return for additional picks over the next year or so as well. If they are able to hit with impact players in this capacity, they could find themselves back in the mix for those 4-5-6 seeds in three or four years.
What’s ironic about saying that though, is it’s probably better long-term if the Cavs did finish 14th next season. The East is certainly tougher, and there will be a lot of other NBA people also predicting the Cavs to struggle, so it would be understandable I suppose if they tanked it. But I don’t want to see them do that next season, and I also don’t think that they will, or have the lack of talent necessary to do so.
All that said, it’ll still be a long time before the Cavaliers are talked about the way they were for the last few years, and a shorter time until we see more projections like this…which will take some getting used around here I presume.