April 16, 2014

Cavaliers Shouldn’t Fear the 8 Seed on the Road to Rebuilding

Sometimes it seems like there are a million different ways to analyze a rebuilding team such as the Cleveland Cavaliers. And in analyzing their progress, thoughts naturally turn to projecting future success and how to get there.

Reasonable minds can and do disagree on issues such as whether or not to trade Anderson Varejao. Some fans root for playoff appearances and wins every night.  Some fans root for draft picks. Should the Cavaliers have used amnesty on Baron Davis, or should they have kept Baron as a mentor, used amnesty on Jamison, and traded Sessions? What position should the Cavaliers draft next year? Should the Cavaliers have drafted Derrick Williams and Brandon Knight instead of Irving and Thompson?

The answers to some are more obvious than others, but the point here is that there is no true road map to rebuilding success. Pretty much the only constant is you probably need a very high draft pick, as in top 2 or 3, you better nail that pick, and that pick better turn into a superstar anchor that you can build around. From there, differing opinions prevail. If there was one right answer, everyone would build the same way and every team would be successful. There are no absolutes in this journey, only road bumps that you pray your team is able to handle the right way every time.

However, there is one thing that it seems almost everyone agrees on, and that is the idea that the Cavaliers should avoid the 8th seed in the playoffs as if it were the plague. 8th seed purgatory is what some call it. Somehow an idea has permeated among fans that being the 8th seed in the playoffs means you will be stuck there forever, unable to ever improve.

This simply isn’t true. Perhaps the fear is because the Cavaliers have been there before. Who can ever forget the Fratello years of the Cavaliers sneaking into the playoffs every year only to be bounced in the first round and never improving? Perhaps the modern day Milwaukee Bucks are another example of this type of team. This is what the Cavaliers absolutely do not want to become. However, the Fratello Cavs and the modern Bucks status wasn’t a function of being a 6, 7, or 8 seed. This is where the fallacy of the argument comes into play. Being the 8 seed isn’t a bad thing. What matters is how you got there and how you position yourself to grow from there.

Everyone loves to cite the Oklahoma City Thunder as the perfect example of how to rebuild. Yet Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s first trip to the playoffs was as the 8 seed after they jumped from 13th in the West the previous season. And yes, they got bounced in the first round. They bounced back last year, got better, grew from their experience, and were the 4 seed and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing to eventual Champion Dallas. Now they have the best record in the NBA and are among the favorites to win it all.

Even the LeBron-lead Cavaliers had a similar experience. Although they missed the playoffs in LeBron’s 2nd season, finishing 9th in the East. Was that 9th place finish really better than the 8 seed and earning playoff experience would have been? The following season the Cavaliers jumped to the 4 seed, followed by the 2 seed when they went to the NBA finals. Was there any harm to the Cavaliers in showing improvement and being in that middle of the pack area?

It’s rare to jump from a nonfactor team into a sudden championship contender. These things take progress and along the way, teams will find themselves in the middle. So when so many fans are rooting for losses and trading of impact core players like Varejao all in the name of avoiding the middle, you have to be careful what you wish for. Losing is contagious, and you can’t get better if you keep hoping to go backwards.

It would take a minor miracle for the Cavaliers to make the playoffs this year. The talent depth just isn’t where it needs to be. But if given the choice to finish 8th in the East or 10th in the East, I’ll take 8th every time. Playoff experience is invaluable. As long as you have cap space, smart drafting, and a general plan for improving, that experience and winning mentality should be what you crave. That experience leads to confidence, which leads to an understanding of what it takes to win.

The Cavaliers are building something. You can just see it every time you watch them play. They are all buying into something, building chemistry together, becoming the kind of team that good teams suddenly aren’t so happy to see on their schedule. The Cavaliers are dangerous and capable of jumping up and biting everyone. No, they aren’t close to contending for a title. But the plan is there. It’s playing out before our eyes.

Sure, if the choice is a top 3 pick or the 8 seed, I might pick the top 3 pick. But the Cavaliers are not bad enough to finish that low. Trading Sessions, Jamison and Varejao would hurt the team right now, and I’m not convinced that it’s enough to still make them bad enough to get that top 3 pick.

I know most (all?) real Cavs fans don’t really root for losses. At least not while watching the games. It’s impossible to root against this team. But there is an idea that avoiding the playoffs should be the plan. I can’t disagree with that more. This team needs to be growing and improving. The talent level will take care of itself. Unless several teams have worse injury problems than Cleveland, the Cavaliers are not making the playoffs this year. But they are getting better. And after watching the other Cleveland sports franchises flounder in mediocrity with rebuilding plans that often seem to be drawn in crayon, it’s refreshing to see a team that seems to all be on the same page and executing the rebuilding plan exactly as drawn. So if a playoff appearance were to happen to fall into Cleveland’s lap, fans need not run from it. It will teach these players an invaluable lesson and give them experience and confidence to grow from. It will give them a foundation on which to build a future Championship run.

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Image Credit: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

  • http://twitter.com/BenCox83 Ben Cox

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they took on a bad contract in moving Jamison for a pick. They’ll need extra salary to reach the floor next year anyways (I think).

    But that’s the only way I see them being able to trade Antawn, by taking a crappier deal in return (with that pick).

  • Anonymous

    that’s the thing though.  we don’t have to be top3 pick to get one of these guys.  There are 4 PFs who will likely go in the top10:  Davis, Robinson, Moultrie, Sullinger.  Drummond will go top3 likely. 

    Add in Beal (who I don’t really like), Perry Jones (terrifies me), and Meyers Leonard (intriguing C) and that’s 11 guys right there.   Barnes will be ahead of all but Davis, but MKG and/or J.Lamb can drop.

    So, if we pick #9, there is a decent chance J.Lamb falls to us because wing guys tend to fall a bit on draft day.  If he’s gone, then our consolation prize could very well be Meyers Leonard who is a beast of a 7′ C that is a good passer.

  • Anonymous

    i don’t think any/many ‘fear’ making the playoffs.  it’s just that many of us realize it could delay our rebuilding efforts.  nothing more.

  • Anonymous

    depends on the matchup.  i love Hibbert, but they do need more consistency out of George(both first and last named), Collison, and even Granger to make any real noise.  they ‘could’ beat the 76ers, Hawks, or Magic in the 1st round.  they could just as easily lose to them though.

  • Daniel

    I think something else important is happening this season.  I find myself on Andrew’s side here (despite my man crush on MGK) that making the playoffs is not a terrible thing.  What this team appears to be developing before our very eyes is an identity.  I was listening to the Miami announcers during yesterday’s game (stupid league pass), and the crazy thing was the spent the first like 3 quarters talking about us, and mostly complimentary things.  And what I seemed to hear from announcers who announce for one of the top three teams in the league was respect, and a little bit of fear. They never counted us out of that game, and tta a reputation we have built this season, that we are never out of any game, that in a shortened season where we would have a ready made excuse to be tired, we won’t die, that we won’t go quietly into the night.  They hustle for everything whether its Gee playing defense on the other teams best player for 30 minutes at a pace that makes me tired just watching it, or Andy outrebound people taller and supposedly more talented than him using skill and heart that seemingly surpasses the human limits.  Hell even less talented players like Casspi are making an impact by being the first guy up and down the court every play.  It reminds me so much of the Baby Bulls when they made the playoffs.  We’ve made this our identity and so many losing teams that continue to lose (Sacto, Wash, NJ, Tor, Gs,) always seem to lack an identity.  This team is a foxhole team, and to me we aren’t following the OKC model but more the Denver, Indy, 76ers where hustle, energy, and fundemental team basketball can win the day.  It’s a whole lotta fun and I’ll be interested to see if we can continue the pace but I think the identity that we have established this season is more important than any single draft pick, or even more important than making the playoffs.        

  • Anonymous

    i did say i need to watch him more.  i read that he tends to float, but the 2 games i have seen him he was taking position on the post and hitting guys with great passes, while cleaning up the boards well.  he looked like Greg Monroe in college (but small sample size alerts are going off like crazy)

  • Daniel

    Also sorry for the long winded comment, my english teachers always told I never knew how make a statement with one sentence when I could use three.  

  • Anonymous

    major props to Andrew for clarifying and defending his viewpoint from all angles.  

  • Eli Steinberger

    Gotta disagree.  I’m openly cheering for losses.  Would it be nice to get a playoff spot? Sure, and if they win a few more big games I may change my tune and hope for the experience route.  But let’s address a few things from the article:

    OKC – while it is true that they made the playoffs first with an 8 seed and went from there, Let’s not forget that the team also had the benefit of having James Harden and Serge Ibaka on the squad.  Ibaka was the 24th pick, but an additional 1st rounder nonetheless.  I think Cavs would love to go for the 8th seed NEXT year, given the added benefit of another high 1st rounder, getting there too early can be a purgatory sentence if it hurts the chances for further improvement.

    8th seed vs. 9th seed – in this year, in this conference, that is a HUGE gap.  At least 4-5 spots.  I, for one, will take as many ping pong balls as possible.  This shouldn’t be overlooked.

    The cavs are definitely building something, but how much potential does it currently have?  We need more talent.  We need more scorers, more shot blockers, more everything.  I understand the attitude that fans of my mindset are considered negative, that’s fine.  It’s a question of short term satisfaction versus long term success.  I think overachieving this year, while fun, will have significant repercussions in the future.  The current spunky-ness of the cavs is beginning to change my mind, but I would much rather tank the rest of the year and get a michael kidd-gilchrist, jeremy lamb or harrison barnes than take the excitement this year and miss out on an impact scorer that kyrie can grow with while TT patrols the paint and cleans up the glass (God I hope that he reaches that potential).

    Varajeo – I don’t know what to do with this guy. I think I want him traded.  I love the guy, but he’s 29 years old and he can’t really stick with the elite big men in the game.  He can’t guard dwight, he can’t guard bynum, and bosh just toys with him.  If I can get a mid to late first rounder and a something else, its something I would have to consider.  He’s fun, but I don’t know how much effect he really has as THE guy in the middle.  It hurts to say that, because I love his game, but I think I’d rather him take that hustle to a contender and be the big man off the bench (like he used to be for us).  He puts up big numbers, but also gets a hero-complex in close games and makes some silly decisions/shots.

    I dunno, I just want the cavs to be a contender again, and I don’t think getting the 8th seed this year furthers that mission. 

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    I guess we’ll have to.  Well reasoned piece, by the way.  Especially salient is your point of being 10th in the East v. 8th in the East and how little potential detrimental impact that would have on team development.   

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    Agreed.  And Gilbert isn’t averse to spending $$ to get valuable draft picks.

  • Anonymous

    Yea it’s worse then football!  The NBA is where you build through the draft and make trades free agency is more for the glamorous cities, unfortunately.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Appreciate that. It’s always fun to have spirited debate as to the Cavs’ future. And if anything, I think we proved the beginning of my post….reasonable minds can disagree on this stuff and there are a ton of factors to consider. Rebuilding isn’t easy. Probably why it’s better to hang on to someone like LeBron, haha.

  • porkchopxpress

    Agreed,  stay classy Andrew.

    I think it was Andrew who said this team realistically doens’t have enough talent to make the playoffs so you don’t have to worry about “rooting against” them winning. 
    If the Cavs somehow do make the playoffs it means that Kyrie went from “impressive rookie campaign” to “holy poop this kid wants Magic Johnson status right now”. 
    If they do make the playoffs its a great series against either Chicago or Miami, and a character builder for the young men going forward.

    Everyone keeps bringing up how hard it was to get people to come here during Lebron’s time here.  I would point out that at no time did we have the cap space that we do now.  We were constantly trying to convince guys to take a dollars less, and the guys we were after were Gabriel Brother type players.  Second, you can’t overemphasize Lebron’s refusal to commit playing a part in people not wanting to come here. 
    The fact is, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Dallas and LA have all shot their load on FA last year and this year.  In 2013 there is a huge crop of 2 guards and Small Forwards coming available and money not “market” is going to dictate where most if not all go.
    Second I’m going to go out on a limb and say that finding players to pair with Irving isgoing to be much easier than with Lebron.  Irv is a distriubtor who gets the ball to the places people like to get it.  He apparently has no problem running the offense the coach wants as opposed to just free lancing at will, which is hard on teammates.    Point being, I think with an asset like Irving you can find guys later in the draft who might be more productive than they would with other players. 

    Sorry for the book, I’m just jacked up that we’re talking about Cavs basketball like it matters again.   

  • Anonymous

    I’d add that I do not fear making the playoffs this year as long as fans are braced for a falling off year again next year which could then result in the higher picks but in not as deep a draft class.

  • Anonymous

    totaly agree, he’s done a great job at replying to all commenting and keeping this a healthy conversation concerning a team’s future versus the sometimes typical grenade launching that tends to occur during Browns discussions.

  • Anonymous

    agree wtih the majority, but you are missing on a couple points:

    1.  at one time we had that cap space.   and we didn’t go after Ray Allen (he was going back to Seattle anyway), failed in our attempts at Michael Redd (he would have had to take less money), and ended up with the fantastic cap-crippling offseason of Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, and Damon Jones.

    2. Those teams are not all FA inflexible:

    Dallas has a ton of cap flexibility coming up.  They signed guys to short deals and have others expiring (Terry, Kidd, Odom on Team Option).   And, I think they would love to throwaway this season if it meant finding a taker for either or both Marion and Haywood.

    NJ is in similar shape with $26mil coming off their books.   That’s why they are a player for Dwight and another mid-level FA.

    3. I agree with you on finding partners for Irving easier, but disagree on the reason.   I think the reason is going to be that the new CBA is going to have shorter contracts, thus more player movement.    Huge opportunity for the better FOs to be able to identify and grab undervalued players as they will be out there more often (let’s hope our FO is one of the better ones).

  • Anonymous

    agreed.

  • Andrew

    The 9th seed is not a top 10 pick for sure. There are other teams in the West that will likely be mixed in there.

  • Anonymous

    not guaranteed, but the 9seed in the East has had the #10overall on lockdown the past few seasons.  Currently, the Knicks are the East 9seed and would pick #10.

  • Anonymous

    not guaranteed, but the 9seed in the East has had the #10overall on lockdown the past few seasons.  Currently, the Knicks are the East 9seed and would pick #10.

  • Jaker

    “But if given the choice to finish 8th in the East or 10th in the East, I’ll take 8th every time” This is where you are wrong. You compared this Cavs team to the Thunder when they were rebuilding, but you missed the point of what you gain by missing the playoffs: the lotto pick. The reason that the Thunder are now one of the best in the league is because they have 2 superstars that they got because of drafting high in two straight seasons. So the real question is this: What is more important, finishing 8th and getting swept so we could have one year of playoff experience, or drafting 7-10, getting Mike Kidd-Gilchrist for the next decade, and having the necessary pieces to building a contender.

    Point being, it is more important to draft the necessary pieces to build a contender than to prematurely make the playoffs and miss out on the draft. Rebuilding has a window too, lets not forget that.

    One step back, two steps forward.

  • porkchopxpress

    Forgot about Donny M and Damon Jones as FA signings you’re right, I thought they were trade guys.  Sheesh, what a foundation

    As far as FA now I was really only pointing out that next summer (2013) there is a huge crop of 2s and 3s available and not all of them are going to sign with a major market which means we can be competitive in the bidding.  Specifically after Deron Williams and Dwight Howard have signed this offseason,  if either of them signs with Dallas it is going to eat up their cap space, which leaves nothing for 2013.  If NJ signs either of them they would have some money left over for 2013 but not enough to go toe-to-toe with the Cavs. 2013 is the “summer of Harden”.  He’s a restricted FA, but you have to wonder if OK will be able to match deals given what they’ve given to Durant/Westbrook.  Not to mention Kevin Martin, Iggy, Monta Ellis, and several others are all available.  Point being we should be able to sign a good guy without having to overbid to beat out “major market” teams.

  • porkchopxpress

    70 comments on a Cavs story???  I thought this type of traffic was reserved for conversations about who the Browns 3rd string punter might be.  Next thing you know the Tribe is going to start hot again and everyone is going to forget that the thing we care most about is the most consistently crappy thing in town.

  • Anonymous

    ah, ok.  fair point. i think most of those guys re-sign, but still.

    also, one of these days we’ll have to talk about Harden. I both love and hate that guy. 

  • Anonymous

    no, no no.  this is just what happens in February. don’t worry, once we get within 2 weeks of free agency opening (doors open march 13th) then we’ll be back to discussing how high in the draft we should draft Ryan Pontbriand’s potential replacement long-snapper (hey, it worked for Butch Davis)

  • Kmagic2

    My favorite comparison… And I know it’s a completely different free agent draw… But I’m pretty sure… I’d be comortable with a similar situation to the last time a rookie point guard came into the league and happened to lead his middling team into the playoffs. And while there, turn it into one hell of a playoff series. Yes, I do mean mr. Rose

  • Vincer2222

    Avoid the playoffs? That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Getting in as the 8 seed would be a great experiance for our young team. And giving the Heat or Bulls a run for the money would really help ticket sales next year. Weather were drafting top 3 or bottom 3 we need to nail the draft pick. Making the playoffs is a positive thing, no matter what the circumstances.

  • Albert

    My problem with this whole issue is Dan Gilbert.  I don’t think he knows anything about basketball.  I think he wants to get revenge on LeBron as quickly as possible.  If there is an outside shot at making the playoffs, I believe he’ll order that we keep Jamison and even trade picks for another veteran.  This would make me light myself on fire.

    My thoughts on his basketball acumen go back to his notorious letter and the statement that LeBron quit during the Orlando playoff series, which is the single dumbest thing I’ve ever read.

    Cavs in 2014.

  • Pahniti Tosuksri

    I’ve been going back and forth on this for a bit. Conclusion: there’s no one way to build a team.

    One thing that would become a matter of fact, is that if the Cavs make the playoffs this year, Kyrie Irving will have done something LBJ never did and could never do – make the playoffs in the first year, one year removed of having the #1 overall pick. That would be nice.

    If we miss the playoffs, we’ll be in the lottery. At our pace right now, I doubt we would fall to the bottom of the bin, and end up with a projected 8-14 pick. Does getting the 15th pick make that much more a difference? If we have a good scouting crew, we can still find quality around that pick.

    One reason that the OKC thunder method won’t work here is that it was a very frugal approach. They got Durant, stripped everything that year, and didn’t sign anybody. The Cavs have a lot of contract baggage from the big-spending era. And Dan Gilbert will want to continue to be a big spender and end up basically like the Marc Cuban model. 

    The key isn’t what strategy to choose, as all of them can end up well – rather, making the right moves when they’re presented.

  • Lyon25

    I know you said you needed to see more.  Just letting you know what i’ve seen from him.

  • Anonymous

    and for that I thank you.  I will try to catch his next game televised.