As I’ve been doing for years, The Boots are my way to assign Boot Up or Boot Downs to various items in the sports world. As a reminder, I got the nickname “Boot” from my older brothers when I was young, and thus, I continue to use this segment as my personal sports writing payback.
Boot Up: Optimism for the Future — The Cavaliers are going to be a much-improved team in 2012-13. I do not doubt that at all. While I tend to be a bit of a pessimist with this squad, and I explain that more below, I wanted to share my optimism first. Here are five things that have me really excited to watch this team play real games soon:
1. Kyrie Irving: Now he’s a household name. One of the 30 best players in the NBA, undoubtedly. He’s a budding star and hasn’t even played a full college basketball season or full 82-game NBA season yet. This should be tremendous fun to see him on the court this year and knocking down shots against Eastern Conference foes. Now it actually starts to matter.
2. Andy and Zeller: Anderson Varejao has played 56 games in the past two seasons post-LeBron. The team is 18-38 (.321) in those games. That doesn’t look very good at first, but they’re 22-70 (.239) without him. The Cavs are significantly better, especially defensively, with Andy back on the court — there’s a big difference between bad and awful. Plus I’m in the same camp with fellow WFNY writer Andrew when it comes to Tyler Zeller. I think he’s as solid as they get, and his offense should certainly help this frontcourt immediately.
3. Dion Waiters: Love the pick or hate the pick. Fear his conditioning or love his fearlessness. Waiters is as polarizing a Cleveland rookie as we’ve had in a while. Fans are split on how much he’ll actually contribute to this squad, but I’m still relatively undecided here. Yet, I’m still incredibly intrigued to see how it works out and if he can live up to the hype of being a No. 4 selection.
4. The Byron Scott Difference: While many disagree about Waiters’ potential impact, there’s no questioning the love in this city for head coach Scott. He’s won over the fans, despite finishing with two of the worst seasons in franchise history. He’s got this team energized again and I’m anxious to see the products of our first full offseason development plan under his leadership.
5. C.J./Alonzo: This duo should improve our wing play significantly in 2012-13. I wrote much more about the pickup of Miles in my most recent Boots segment back in August. But as the Cavaliers continue to search for long-term, high-upside guys at the 3, I think you could do far worse than combining these two guys for 48 minutes a night.
Boot Down: The Playoffs — Or, should I say, the “P word.” When it comes to how much the Cavaliers could improve this season, many fans just start talking about potentially competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for them, that ain’t gonna happen this year, but I think that’s just what the doctor ordered for the franchise moving forward.
Looking at the East, you can easily mark down the following teams for locked playoff spots: Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia and Boston. You can book that now. From there, it’s certainly expected that the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Bucks and Hawks will fight for the remaining four spots. In my mind, those are the clear 9 best teams in the East.
I see the Cavaliers finishing somewhere between 11-14 in the conference, as they won’t finish at the top of the next grouping of teams, which includes the Pistons, Wizards, Raptors, Bobcats and Magic. I think Toronto actually probably deserves to be in that earlier category alongside the Hawks and Bucks, but there such a question mark this season with all of their new additions.
Either way, I just don’t see the Eastern Conference math working out in favor of those clamoring for the playoffs. We’re not a 40-win team; our defense still needs significant work after Andy and we have so many unproven youngsters at valuable positions. He was just a veteran, but at least Antawn Jamison had a tremendous scoring repertoire and could bail out the Cavs in many situations. We won’t have that kind of clean-up guy after Kyrie this season.
But that should be just fine for most fans. The young core of this team (Kyrie, Tristan, Waiters and Zeller) doesn’t appear to be strong enough long-term to fight for possible Eastern Conference titles. It just doesn’t match up to the best of the best. We need more high-potential young talent, especially at the 3 and 4, in order to compete. And that’s why another lottery pick should help out the franchise’s direction just fine.
Those first two Boots covered most of my Season Preview topics, but I wanted to share two more league-wide items that moderately relate to the Cavs.
Boot Up: Danny Ferry — Will anybody give Ferry the credit he deserves for his magical turnaround of the Atlanta Hawks’ future? There is nothing worse than No. 8 seed purgatory — something I hinted at above — and that’s where the Hawks have been largely for the last three decades. In case you didn’t know this spectacular fact, it’s just incredible: The Atlanta Hawks have never been to a conference final.
After all the success with Dominique Wilkins and and Lenny Wilkens and Joe Johnson, they’ve never made it past the conference semifinals. So what was it time to start doing? Blow it up. That’s why I applaud former Cavalier exec Ferry for finding someone, anyone to take on Johnson’s mega contract. The hip Brooklyn Nets probably were the only possible taker there, as Ferry now seems on the verge of completely turning around the Hawks’ future.
I could see Atlanta still competing for a playoff spot this season, as I mentioned above. When it comes to long-term prognostication however, that all depends upon the status of Josh Smith. The controversial big man who used to love shooting outside jumpers would be an incredibly valuable trade piece, so it’s just a matter of time before Ferry cleans house and compiles assets. I’ll be intrigued to see what he can do with a full rebuild, unlike his continued accumulation of assets around LeBron in Cleveland.
Boot Down: Lone Wolf — I really wonder if any other Cleveland Cavalier fans were at least moderately intrigued by this Pro Basketball Talk article from last Saturday. The article discusses the growing debate in Minnesota: Where does last year’s No. 2 pick Derrick Williams fit in the franchise’s long-term plans? Matt Moore’s conclusion was that although Williams should be a fine, productive NBA contributor, this was a bad pick for the Wolves, which is so Minnesota.
But he also looked at how the franchise could possibly find ways to move Williams long-term. Obviously, it’s not far back for fans to recall the early yet unsubstantial debates about who the Cavaliers would draft at No. 1 in 2011. Williams, who seems to continue to struggle figuring out if he is a 3 or a 4, had one sensational sophomore season at Arizona, but eventually Irving was the no-doubt pick, and has proven his worth by far.
Yet, with the Cavaliers missing a long-term, high-upside guy at Williams’ position, I maintain some intrigue about some deal possibly working out. By no means do I have any league sources on this rumor. It’s just something I think could possibly be mutually beneficial for both franchises’ futures. Minnesota already has Love and Rubio, while they desperately need shooting guard help. I can’t exactly pinpoint what the pieces going in both ways might be, but I just had to share that this peaked my basketball interest when I saw this recently.
(AP Photo/Phil Long)