As hard as it may be to believe, there are only 6 weeks left in the NBA regular season. It feels like this season just started a month or so ago, but here we are hitting the home stretch. Some have said that the Ramon Sessions trade killed the Cavaliers’ playoff chances, but in all honesty, those chances were dead with the way the team opened the 2nd half of the season.
The fact is, the Cavaliers were not a good enough team to make the playoffs. So rather than wasting energy over these final 6 weeks talking about how far out of the playoffs the team is, let’s focus instead on development.
Tonight, the Cavaliers (16-26, 10th in the East) travel to New Jersey to face the Nets (15-31, 13th in the East) in the road finale of a back-to-back. The Cavaliers and Nets have split the first two matchups this year, both in Cleveland. Now the Cavaliers will try to earn at least a split of the two remaining games in New Jersey.
This has to be an uneasy time for Nets fans. After being certain all year they were going to eventually wind up with Dwight Howard on the team, either via trade or free agency, Howard has since decided to waive his early termination option and play out his contract in Orlando. This has significant ramifications for New Jersey because now if Deron Williams declines his player option for next season, he will become a free agent without Dwight Howard on the roster to anchor him to the team.
With the threat of a tumultuous off season, the Nets got desperate and traded for Gerald Wallace. Time will tell what ultimately happens with the Nets, but for now, these last 6 weeks are a trial period to see how Wallace fits with Williams before the Nets look to see with the fairly significant cap space they should/could have in the offseason. Desperation is an ugly thing and it leads to bad contracts (think back to Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, and Damon Jones in Cleveland). If you’re trying to build a Championship team, I would think you’d almost prefer to be in Cleveland’s shoes right now, with a rookie PG who looks like a blossoming star, and a bunch of draft picks and salary flexibility for the future.
Speaking of the Cavaliers, as Scott mentioned earlier today, the Cavaliers are going with Tristan Thompson as starting center for now. This is yet another move that is all about development. Of course, if Varejao were healthy or if the Cavaliers had another viable option at center, this wouldn’t be happening, so it’s a product of convenience as well, but this should be a good opportunity for Thompson to learn some valuable lessons going up against guys much bigger than himself.
We’ve spent so much time this season talking about Kyrie Irving’s development, that I feel sometimes Tristan’s development is being overlooked. Tristan is a guy who often gets by on his raw athleticism. Playing center should force him to focus more on technique, especially on offense.
The Cavaliers’ bench has been one of their biggest strengths all year. That’s not the case anymore. Ramon Sessions is gone, and Alonzo Gee and Tristan are both starting. That leaves Daniel Gibson as the only really dependable bench player. This is going to put more strain on the Cavaliers’ starters to produce.
One of the side effects of trading Sessions is the pressure has now shifted onto Kyrie even more. Kyrie will be asked to play more minutes and to make even more of an impact on the game. Gee has really stepped his game up recently, and Jamison continues to do his thing. Beyond those three, however, there’s not a lot of offense on this team. It will be interesting to see if Manny Harris begins to get more time. For all his weaknesses, the one thing he provides is offensive aggressiveness and energy, something this team will need more of.
The Cavaliers are 0-1 post-Sessions. But the Hawks weren’t really a fair test. The Nets are more the Cavs’ level, and despite being a road finale of a back-to-back, this is a winnable game for the Cavaliers, and a game that will serve as more of a true test of how this team adapts to this new lineup.