In the spirit of the old glass half full vs glass half empty debate, so too do people tend to look at the New Years Holiday in one of two ways. For some it’s about looking back and reflecting on the past year and trying to learn from the past to make a better year. For others, it’s all about looking forward and thinking about what they can do in the future to make the next year better than the current year.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, I have a suspicion that the latter is a bit more preferable to the former. It’s not that there isn’t a lot to be learned from everything that this franchise has been through over the last 12 months, it’s just that most of the lessons learned of 2010 won’t be particularly applicable to the reality of 2011. Besides, there’s an awful lot of pain and heartbreak in the ol’ rearviewmirror these days.
No, for the Cavaliers, 2010 is strictly in the past and their task now is to figure out the road map for getting through 2011 not only with an identity for the future, but for not losing the culture of winning that players and fans alike had grown accustomed to.
It’s tough to discuss that culture these days, in a season in which the Cavaliers have lost not only to the NBA’s elite teams, but also to the Timberwolves (twice), Raptors, Kings, Sixers, Nets, Pistons, etc. It would be easy to say that any winning attitude walked out the door with LeBron James, I don’t believe it’s quite that simple.
December was certainly a brutal month for this team, but lost in all the blowouts and nights of confusion and poor effort are the competitive games the Cavs played in and lost in the 4th quarter against some elite teams. The Cavaliers beat the Celtics, they beat the Knicks, they’ve had tough losses against teams like the Hornets, Magic, Hawks, Jazz, and even the Heat the 2nd time around. At a certain point, it can become cloudy when trying to decipher the difference between losing because of lack of effort and losing because of lack of talent.
This is where the new year of new expectations begins to come into play. Byron Scott and the Cavaliers can continue to give quotes about how they believe the playoffs are still a possibility. They can point out that the Cavaliers are 4.5 games out of the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and how they can use their Trade Exception and acquired draft picks to bring in some mid level talent to push this team into the playoffs. That’s certainly one way the team could play this.
But they need to stop that line of thinking. The truth is, this team is 1-14 in their last 15 games. This is probably the worst team in the NBA and the only reason their record is better than others is because of the pride, effort, hustle, and winning attitude of players like Anderson Varejao, Boobie Gibson, Antawn Jamison, and Mo Williams. In terms of talent, depth, and the statistics, this team is in the cellar. Their (-9.1) point differential is worst in the NBA. Their Expected W-L of 7-24 is dead last in the NBA. Their (-8.54) rating on the SRS scale is dead last. They are 29th of 30 in Offensive Rating and 26th of 30 in Defensive Rating. It’s time to stop the delusions and time to start changing expectations and start executing a new plan of rebuilding.
There could be signs that this is exactly what’s happening. There have been whispers of more changes coming. As the Nuggets and Nets have been working on a potential deal for Carmelo Anthony, Jason Lloyd of the Beacon-Journal reported that the Cavaliers could be a potential 3rd team in that deal. Regardless of whether it’s that deal or something else, the Cavaliers have been active working the phones looking for any trades that can be made.
In addition to just their Trade Exception, expiring contracts, and stockpile of draft picks to offer in any trade, the Cavaliers also have a player like Anderson Varejao to dangle, and therein lies the most difficult of figuring out where the team should go from here. The question ultimately comes down to deciding whether Varejao is more beneficial to the franchise as a cornerstone or as a tradable asset.
From a strictly fan’s perspective, it would be great to see the Cavaliers somehow acquire an All-Star caliber player that the team can build around while hanging onto Andy and Boobie as complimentary pieces. However, if it’s going to take the Cavs 5-7 years to get back into contention, that will have Varejao well past his prime by then.
If we examine this graph of the Cavs wins by season in franchise history, we can see precisely what the team wants to avoid:
In between the peak areas of success for the franchise are multiple seasons of toiling around in mediocrity. Each of the 3 main peak eras were recently preceded by a season of less than 20 wins. The Cavaliers may not look like a 20+ win team at the moment, but with a large number of home games in February and March, that could very well be a distinct possibility. The question, again, is what is best for this franchise moving forward?
This is all about managing expectations and figuring out what direction gives this franchise the best chance at winning a Championship. I just don’t see the infrastructure in place to allow this team to build by adding some decent pieces now (Anthony Randolph, Andy Rautins, et al) and trying to fill in the gaps later. Besides, it’s way too hard to convince role players, let alone star players, to come to Cleveland via free agency.
If the Cavaliers could somehow convince the Charlotte Bobcats to part ways with Gerald Wallace, which they reportedly are at least considering, then maybe you can try to succeed where Charlotte has failed in building a strong team around him. It would almost certainly take Varejao to get a deal done there, but I think Wallace is the one “available” impact player that the Cavaliers would be wise to consider doing it for. Beyond Wallace, I just don’t see any current or future All-Star caliber players that you can build around that are available for the Cavaliers to acquire.
It is my opinion, then, that making trades just to appease fans and to show that the front office is at least trying could be a mistake. Unless you are putting this team in a position to improve not just for this year, but for multiple years into the future, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not a better idea to just let this season play out and see what the draft and Trade Exception can bring in the offseason.
Regardless of what direction the Cavaliers take, it’s encouraging to know that they at least seem to be acknowledging that this is not a playoff team, nor is it even a particularly good basketball team. The New Year holiday is a season of change, and change is going to be the name of the game in 2011. I’m eager to see how this all plays out and what direction Chris Grant decides to take this franchise in. I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to figure it out.