If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen me quite often use the #TankStrong hashtag. I’ve written about it before on here, and I’m not ashamed in believing this was part of the plan all along. But, with the Cavaliers loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte last night, that mindset, that strategy, that train of thought is dead. Now, it’s time for the Cavaliers to grab one more core piece high in the lottery and never look back. They must use their other 14 draft picks over the next four years to supplement their current talent. The losing on the court has taken place. Now, it’s up to Chris Grant to get this roster ready to turn the corner. I meant it when I said it last night. #TankStrong is Dead. Long Live #DraftStrong.
When the Cavaliers lost LeBron James in July 2010, we all knew that the Cavaliers were going to be bad. Extremely bad. But, many of us feared that owner Dan Gilbert would slam his fist on the table and demand the team sign free agents immediately to fight for the playoffs right away. Instead of that happening, the team hired Byron Scott, and it was understood that he would have a relatively long leash during this planned rebuild. That horrific roster, headlined by remaining driftwood role players in Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, and Antawn Jamison, longtime Cavaliers in Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson, and end of the bench players getting big minutes like Ryan Hollins, Samardo Samuels, and Christian Eyenga bottomed out, secured the worst record. That would have only netted them Tristan Thompson if not for the legendary Mo Williams-Baron Davis trade with the Clippers, of course. We all knew that first draft with Kyrie and Tristan just wasn’t enough to turn the corner despite Kyrie’s Rookie of the Year campaign. So, the Cavaliers went 21-45 in the shortened season in 2011-2012. Coupled with dumping Ramon Sessions before the trade deadline, the Cavaliers had tied for the third worst record and ended up with the 4th, 24th, 32nd, and 33rd picks, which they turned into Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller (at 17th in a swap with Dallas). The Cavs now had four young first round picks at different positions on the floor. Things began to take shape for the future.
Then, this season happened. With veterans Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison gone, the young players didn’t have as much veteran guidance, and that really evaporated when Anderson Varejao was lost for the season after just 25 games. The defense lost complete focus, the bench was a disaster pre-Memphis trade, and the Cavaliers were hanging in a good chunk of the games, but the losse sand blown leads piled up. As our Jacob tweeted out recently, the team had a stretch this season where they went 15-15. The Jon Leuer trade that netted them Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights (along with a future first-round pick, signing Shaun Livingston, C.J. Miles working his way out of a drastic early season slump, and making the decision to play Luke Walton revitalized the Cavaliers’ bench and made it a true weapon in trying to win games. Austin Carr is dead on when he says you need to be strong 1-10 before you can think about regularly competing in this league.
Whereas the Cavaliers were clearly, CLEARLY talent deficient the past two seasons, you saw this team compete most nights this year, even without Varejao. Their offense made significant strides. Tristan Thompson made tremendous strides in his low post games, rebounding, and toughness. We saw Kyrie further develop as a fourth quarter closer. The bench was efficient scoring and sharing the basketball.
This little trip down memory lane, it’s all meant to serve as a painful reminder of the Cavaliers’ 64-166 record over the past three seasons under Coach Byron Scott. For the front office, for the health of the organization, it’s been a necessary purge process to rid themselves of the relics from the LeBron era while acquiring assets and biting the bullet to get high draft picks. Best for the organization, but not necessarily best for the coach. There’s a good chance that the way the team has finished the season, these last few disinterested weeks with disjointed focus and effort, has cost Byron Scott his job. I certainly don’t think that’s fair (much like Mike Brown’s dimissal), but it may be necessary to signal the changing of the guard. This team can’t fly the #TankStrong flag anymore. Those same inactions by Scott (the lack of timeouts used, the late fourth quarter entries for Irving and other key players, the inability to keep his team focused game-to-game), while a perfect recipe for getting back in the draft to acquire more talent, may end up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mediocrity and slight progress in wins, as inefficient and counterproductive as it is in small amounts, would’ve kept Byron off the hot seat. The 26-game losing streak was well documented in 2010-2011, but that team actually went 11-18 to finish off the season. Last season, it was a 4-20 limp to the finish. This season, the Cavaliers were 5-22 in their last 27 contests. The offense progressed under Scott, improving from 29th to 24th to 19th in offensive rating. However, it’s the defense that hasn’t (29th to 26th to 27th defensive rating the last three seasons).
While this team has to keep a mind to the future and avoid nasty, longterm bloated contracts (much like most teams in the NBA need to do), there needs to be some money spent in free agency or a trade needs to be swung to give the Cavaliers some additional talent. Kyrie Irving won’t be young and on his first contract forever. It’s time for the franchise to show him that they’re committed to winning. Going down and scraping the bottom for three long, painful years was necessary, but there comes a point where that needs to end, the switch needs to be flipped, and everyone in the organization has to be on board with it. That time is now. Because of their “best effort” approach in acquiring talent year-by-year with LeBron, the Cavaliers ultimately got punished when they didn’t have the tools to pull off a major move. The Cavaliers CANNOT let that happen with Irving.
There are people on both sides of the bench. There are those struggling with how this season ended, saying the team should’ve been MUCH better this season. There are also those that don’t think this team has the personnel to make a playoff push next season. The truth? Well, it probably lies somewhere in between those two thought processes. The Cavaliers need to use the actuality of their record and apply it to the second train of thought. With a little more luck in health, second-year strides from their rookies, and good selections in this draft, I think the Cavaliers can make it interesting next year. Whether that is with a new coach or not remains to be seen. We all remember Dan Gilbert’s comments mid-season about how when the Cavaliers returned to prominence, they would be a defense-first team, right? It’s well chronicled the jump that Byron Scott’s teams make in (normally) his second year on the job. With how bad of a way the Cavaliers were in, however, it delayed that by a year in my opinion. However, what it did not delay was the frustration and checking out that the players inevitably did under Byron’s regime in New Jersey and New Orleans. In a vacuum, it sounded like such a good idea: additional patience and a big jump in year THREE instead of year two. However, as players and fans are human beings, the anger of losing takes you to places of no return sometimes, and it seems to have done just that with Byron’s relationship with his players.
The worst place to be in the NBA is in the middle. The Cavaliers are hoping to cut that part out of the equation entirely. The playoffs should be the goal next season, and anything short of that will be a disappointment in terms of progression of the plan. Bottom out, gather the tools necessary, then make your ascent while you still have the key players under contract. It’s not an exact science, but it’s one that the Cavaliers are going to have to examine this offseason intently. I think the Cavaliers have six guys returning for sure next season that are part of a good ten-man rotation in Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Gee, Varejao, and Zeller. Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, and C.J. Miles could be back, and they would all qualify as good glue bench guys. Now, it’s up to Grant and the front office to deliver at least two more pieces that complete a competitive team.
As much as I’ve used #TankStrong as a coping mechanism for all this losing and as an emotional crutch, it’s effectively buried today. #TankStrong is dead. Long live #DraftStrong.