April 24, 2014

A Different Kind of Offseason for the Cavaliers

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It all started July 8, 2010. That was the night that LeBron James announced on TV that he was moving on, taking his talents to South Beach. With that one awkward sentence, the previous 7 seasons of exciting Cavaliers basketball was blown up, turned upside down, and left for dead.

It’s been three long years since then. Three unbearable offseasons, really. Not that the previous few offseasons prior to The Decision had really contained all that much excitement, but compared to trading for Jeremy Pargo or signing CJ Miles1, trading for a 37 year old Shaquille O’Neal suddenly seems like the most exciting thing to ever happen.

The Cavaliers’ front office, led by GM Chris Grant, has been preaching patience, asking fans to please sit tight and just hold on. That brighter days were coming. It was a lot of necessary pain, miserable losing streaks, uninspired basketball, and a sometimes seemingly aimless pursuit of lost glory. But the Cavaliers told us they had a plan.

It’s entirely premature to say those dark, trying days are behind us. Championship contention still waits a couple years on the horizon. But there’s no denying this has been a very different offseason for the Cavaliers. And at worst, fans at least have something to be legitimately excited about. For the first time since LeBron James left, there is at least some real hope worth hanging on to in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers, whether it be from the mouth of Dan Gilbert, Chris Grant, or even Nick Gilbert, have insisted that the days of chasing Draft Lottery glory were over. That now was the time to start to make the leap forward. When you compare previous offseasons, its pretty easy to see that, at minimum, the Cavaliers are at least being truthful in taking steps forward this time around.

When LeBron left, there was no real contingency plan in place. And what could the Cavaliers have done that offseason anyway? Prior to The Decision, with LeBron showing no commitment to staying past 2010, the Cavaliers had no real choice but to try to win immediately2. So the Cavaliers took on as much salary as they could, taking on questionable long term deals to appease LeBron in the short term.

So in the 2010 offseason, LeBron was gone and so was Shaq. But the likes of Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, Boobie Gibson, JJ Hickson, Jamario Moon, Delonte West, etc were all still under contract. The Cavaliers had no draft picks. There wasn’t much for them to do. They signed Kyle Lowry to an offer sheet, which Houston promptly matched. They traded Delonte West for Ramon Sessions. They signed Joey Graham. That was it.

With a new GM (Chris Grant), a new coach (Byron Scott), and a dark cloud hanging overhead, the Cavaliers entered a confusing season, unsure of whether they were a team capable of fighting for a playoff spot or if they were stuck in rebuilding purgatory.

The 2011 offseason wasn’t much different. Mo Williams was already traded. They traded JJ Hickson for Omri Casspi and that infamous protected first round pick. They used their amnesty clause on Baron Davis. The best part of that offseason was adding Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, but with the NBA Lockout in place, there was really only a late, abbreviated offseason in which the Cavaliers didn’t do much.

Last offseason saw the team add draft picks Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. They re-signed Luke Harangody, they traded for Jeremy Pargo, and they signed CJ Miles. For the 3rd year in a row, the Cavaliers entered a season without adding a single real impact player outside of the draft.

Obviously, adding players through the draft is a key part of the rebuilding process. Infusing the roster with young talent was a much needed step, but a step that brought with it a lot of growing pains. Over those 3 years, a lot has changed. The roster, the front office, the coaching staff, the culture. The Cavaliers that coach Mike Brown inherited are completely different from the Cavaliers that he last coached.

But this offseason just feels different. For the first time, the team is adding real high-caliber players, guys who deserve big minutes in the NBA. What we are seeing now is hopefully only the beginning, but it still feels like some of that patience and rebuilding process talk is starting to bear some fruit.

The free agent class of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, and Earl Clark isn’t going to transform the team into Championship contenders. Heck, if Bynum repeats last season’s performance, the Cavaliers could very well be an Anderson Varejao injury away from the Lottery again. So it might seem like these acquisitions’ impact is being overstated. But the real point is that these players are transforming the roster into something that looks like a real NBA roster.

Just take a look at last season’s opening night roster:

  • Kyrie Irving
  • Dion Waiters
  • Alonzo Gee
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Anderson Varejao
  • CJ Miles
  • Daniel Gibson
  • Tyler Zeller
  • Donald Sloan
  • Luke Walton
  • Omri Casspi
  • Jon Leuer
  • Samardo Samuels
  • Luke Harangody
  • Jeremy Pargo

As of now the roster currently stands as:

  • Kyrie Irving
  • Dion Waiters
  • Alonzo Gee
  • Anderson Varejao
  • Andrew Bynum
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Jarrett Jack
  • Anthony Bennett
  • Sergey Karasev
  • Earl Clark
  • Tyler Zeller
  • CJ Miles
  • Carrcik Felix
  • Kevin Jones
  • Chris Quinn

The differences here are subtle, yet tangible.

As the Cavaliers get ready for Vegas Summer League to start tonight, there’s a different feeling around this year’s event. Summer League is always fun, but in the past, Summer League served as a feeding ground for the Cavaliers’ roster. Manny Harris made the Cavaliers off a strong Summer League showing. After Samardo Samuels played well against the Cavs for Chicago, he was signed almost as soon as the Bulls released him.

This isn’t to say that there’s no chance anyone from Summer League makes the team. Rather, things are just different because this time around the Cavaliers aren’t looking for players who will play serious minutes. Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels both actually started some games for the Cavaliers. Now the guys coming from Summer League would be afterthoughts.

In a recent WFNY podcast, Jon Steiner and Craig Lyndall questioned whether Kyrie Irving was really a top player in this league. They asked how he could be, when the Cavaliers were so ineffective as a team. It’s perhaps a fair question to ask, but the team’s problem was most certainly not when Kyrie Irving was on the floor. The problem was when he was on the bench3. Initially his replacement was Donald Sloan, before Shaun Livingston took over. And while Livingston was a great story and played solid basketball, he’s not Jarrett Jack.

And perhaps that’s the biggest thing Bynum and Jack bring to Cleveland. These are not only impact veterans, but they are players who have played in the playoffs. Andrew Bynum has won an NBA Championship, and in his last year in Los Angeles he put up 16.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game in the playoffs for Mike Brown. Jack is one of the mentally toughest players in the NBA, a guy who plays hard and who, despite lacking natural defensive ability, is always giving strong defensive effort.

The Cavaliers are trying to change their culture. Mike Brown’s defensive schemes and coaching success was a start. Signing Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack is just the next step. No matter what the Cavaliers actually get out of Bynum, it’s hard to find a really compelling argument as to how this could be a mistake. Even in the worst case scenario the Cavaliers are out nothing more than $6 million, money that needed to be spent anyway to reach the Salary Cap Floor.

If Bynum does play, though, and can stay healthy, he will be instrumental in the Cavaliers moving from perennial Lottery contingent to a winning basketball team who will play postseason basketball. Jarrett Jack completely changes the look of an already strong backcourt and will be anchor for the bench unit. And don’t be surprised when you see Jack playing in late game scenarios. His toughness, fearlessness, and winning mentality will make it tough for Mike Brown to keep him on the bench in close games.

Unless you can trade for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, or sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh, it’s hard to become a Championship contending team in one year. Most of the time it’s a series of steps forward. This offseason feels like the first time we’re seeing “the plan” snap into action. And for the first time since 2010, the Cavaliers can actually go into the season with real hope of playing winning basketball and pushing for the playoffs. It’s a welcome change for a fan base that has been patiently waiting for things to get better.

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. no offense to either player []
  2. unless you consider trading LeBron in 2009 an option []
  3. sometimes because he was tired, other times because he was injured []

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Since there isn’t a ton to love about summer league, I’m somehow still excited for it. It means absolutely nothing, but it’s some form of Cavs basketball and it feels like forever since we’ve seen them play. In no particular, here are things that I want to see:

    1) Zeller’s body (wink). I heard he’s added some muscle… wonder if it’ll be noticeable, and I want to see if he can be more of a bully in the paint.

    2) Waiters: Probably doing work on his jump shot, so I could see him shooting a lot of them even though it’ll piss off Cavs fans.

    3) Carrick Felix: I really have no idea what this guy looks like on the court even after watching his videos. His jump shot in college was pretty good and so I’m not sure he can’t eventually be a 3-and-D guy like we need.

    4) Matthew Dellavedova: I want to see how he looks matched up with the best young guys in the NBA (or D-League). He plays basketball like a guy who learned how to play all on his own (weird looking shot, he lopes more than runs, not very fluid, etc)… just going to be interesting to see if it works well enough to earn that final roster spot.

  • mgbode

    I don’t think there can be too much flexibility on defense, but I am worried about it on offense to some degree. Teams like the Spurs that have had the same system for years and years can have a bunch of wrinkles they gradually fold in. That is more difficult to do when everything is brand new.

    Mike Brown definitely has his work cut out for him to define roles for these guys and then have the gumption to stick with it (or change it up and to know when to do either).

  • mgbode

    I have to admit I don’t even know if that is particularly good. 35% is the league average on 3pters. What is the league average on corner 3pters, which are generally higher percentage?

    Regardless, if he can hit 40% from both corners while playing good defense, then I think I would gladly take it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    What he said!

    #SCHNITKEY’D

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ur welcome

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ve been watching some games from time to time just to see the rookies. I’ve seen alot of Oladipo and Olynk. Both impressing until you realize who they are playing. Still it’s a chance to see the young guys and longshots play.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I wish I could find it… I feel like it was a map of the best shooting PFs in the NBA from each spot on the floor, but maybe I dreamed it

    On the other hand, here’s one that isn’t as much fun. Oh Alonzo.

    http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2013/0711/grant_r_WorstShooters_NBA.jpg

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I was just thinking of last years issues when Irving and Waiters played together. Irving and Jack seems more natural but we’ll see what happens. Most of all of this depends on Waiters development.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t like Clark shooting three pointers myself.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I feel pretty confident that this year things will end differently. I’m not saying playoffs I’m just not seeing a horrible second half of the season either. This is why I hope the FO sees the need to make a trade or two. Not only would it help to inject some new blood and also show fans that the offseason wasn’t a one time thing.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Legend Of Lillibridge lives on!

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Neither do I, but if the Cavs have aspirations of playing him at the 3, then he’ll have open looks there and will have to knock them down.

  • mgbode

    he doesn’t “have” to. Donyell Marshall never seemed to hit any. would be nice though.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    He doesn’t, but he does, you know? In theory he could pass up the open shot and kick it to someone else, and that does happen, but often the shot clock is running down and that’s where the defense is forcing the shot to go.

  • mgbode

    yeah, just letting out some of my residual Donyell Marshall hatred. it’s like sand where you keep finding more way after you leave the beach.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Ugh, Donyell. I was so excited about adding that guy. A power forward who had shot over 40% from 3 the two previous seasons and was respectable shooting inside the paint too… I thought he was the perfect compliment for LBJ, then he laid the hugest of eggs on the Cavs the next 2 seasons.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’d love to ask Chris Grant if he would have drafted Bennett knowing Bynum was a real possibility? Right now it appears as if the youngster is the odd man out. For me Ben McLemore would seem to be the best choice but since my Delorean is currently in the shop there’s nothing I can do about it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    For the record I scolded myself numerous times for wanting Bynum so badly two years ago but who knew that even when I was wrong I was right. Damn I’m good!

  • mgbode

    and 38% 3 seasons prior. also, let’s not forget that he shot 45% from 3pt land after he left (in a very small sample size)

    but, those missed 3pters were only the bulk of the hatred. the terrible defense, the horrific attempts at anything other than 3pters (that made you want him to stay out beyond the arc despite the wretched shooting), that stupid look on his face, and game2 of the Detroit series.

    dangit. why did I drudge up Donyell Marshall on a Friday?

  • mgbode

    I think Grant drafted Bennett with full knowledge that we would likely have the most $$ to offer Bynum of the interested teams.

    Why is he the odd man out? How would McLemore have been all that much better in terms of fit considering Waiters is the starter at SG? and, Oladipo is the better prospect on the wing anyway IMO.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I can’t see Clark being a daily 3 or for that matter Bennett. These are not Rashard Lewis like players IMO.

  • mgbode

    well, where are they going to play then? and, that only leaves Gee as a SF – who backs him up? Karasev?

    I think that those 2 guys are going to get burn at the ’3′ on a daily basis. it might fail, but that appears to be the plan.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    True.

    Just seems to me between Bynum/Zeller/Varejao/Thompson and Clark that Bennett is low man on the totem pole. Mind you I believe minutes can be found mostly because Bynum and Varejao will not play a full season at 100%. I like Bennett. I’m hoping he develops as he learns because he and Irving could make for a long lasting combination.

    As for McLemore just liked him the most and I like him more then Waiters. There’s something about Dion that doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe that’s it. Oladipo now would probably make more sense but like I said I’m stuck in the present.

    Of course you realize all of these discussions are effected by the coaching geniusness of one Michael Brown. Nope, I won’t go there it’s Friday and the ladies await the Rock!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m hoping Gee backs up Karasev sooner then later. My man 3Gee is better suited as a defensive stopper off the bench a la Tony Allen. But I agree if either Clark or Bennett does play SF it’ll be the exception and not the norm. Most likely a match-up thing. I hope.

  • mgbode

    I just don’t think we are going to start the #19 fringe prospect and leave the #1 overall prospect to grasp for minutes.

    I think alot of guys will get time at SF, but Clark and Bennett will definitely be a big part of it (I still like the idea of them both coming off the bench and being a 3/4 combo —- Karasev the SG in those sets).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Now now c’mon mgbode just because Karasev was chosen #19 doesn’t mean he was the 19th best player in that draft. You know better then that!

    But yes I would agree on paper it would seem that Bennett would get far more minutes then Karasev but as we know the game isn’t played on paper. Not only that but Karasev has far less competition then does Bennett.

    I don’t buy into either Bennett or Clark being able to play the SF position night in and night out. For stretches in a game and depending upon the match-up maybe but until I see it I have a hard time believing it.

    Karasev as a large SG is intriguing. Yet another possibility. I think it’s a smart thing the Cavaliers hired that Phoenix assistant along with the former Bucks head coach because if all of this was left to Mike Brown to figure out I’d be far more skeptical.

  • Yup

    Ha! True! Guess I was just saying that Dion was not lazy usually. He didn’t always switch like Kyrie did. Dion can really be a plus defender in the league, I think…

  • Yup

    They have played like 25 games together. I would say it is wildly premature to draw any conclusions about how they play together. It took veterans like LBJ and Wade over a year how to learn how to co-exist and prosper. I think we should at *least* give Kyrie and Dion that long before we determine anything…

  • Yup

    In no known world is Karasev a “fringe prospect.”

  • Jride

    Are the Cavs interested in Milton Brand or did he sign with another team!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Elton Brand and I believe he’s still a free agent. With Bynum signed no real use for Brand now.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ll give you the premature part but if Irving/Waiters become the next James/Wade I’ll pay you a fresh crisp George Washington and be happy to do it. You are the second person to make that comparison and I’ll tell you the same thing I told them. Both James and Wade were MVPs considered to be among the best players in the NBA. It would have been a bigger shock for them to not be able to play together then vice versa. As opposed to a second year and rookie in Irving and Waiters.

  • mgbode

    maybe our definitions are different, but the #19 pick is generally a fringe prospect. I think that this year had a nice middle class (despite nothing at the top to be called elite), but I’d still classify Karasev that way. I expect him to have an okay NBA career as a backup. If he becomes a legitimate starter, then that’s fantastic.

  • Yup

    You seem to be missing the point of that comparison: if it takes two HOF’s over a year to work it out, it should take at LEAST that long for two young players to do it! It is NOT a comparison of Kyrie and Dion to LBJ and Wade as players.

  • Yup

    Karasev was ranked on the Top Ten of advanced stat guy Kevin Pelton’s list of the top prospects in this past draft class. Your expectations are too low…

  • Yup

    Here’s what Pelton wrote:
    “A productive player in the EuroCup at age 19, Karasev should be able to contribute immediately whenever he comes to the NBA. Karasev is an excellent outside shooter — he’s projected to shoot 37.9 percent beyond the arc — and a fine passer for a wing. Karasev is the last player with a WARP projection of 2.0 or better, which usually translates into an NBA starter.”

    Again, the expectation is he becomes a starter. Btw, Bennett was ranked 7th by Pelton. So, according to him, we drafted 2 in the Top Ten.

  • micronot

    Even if Bynum is unable to play, if he could at least push Zeller to the next level and get him to play with extra toughness and grit, it will be worth having him.

    Also, there are 2 differences between Bynum playing in Cleveland: 1) He is one year further removed from surgery and hopefully that much more ready to play. 2) Before being traded to Philly, Bynumn said he WANTED to play for the Cavs along side of Erving. I don’t think he had any interest in playing for Philly.

  • thenoclist

    Erving?

  • mgbode

    I hope Pelton is correct. But, Karasev was drafted #19, not 10 and I’ve heard the “NBA-ready” speak before. It usually means ceiling is close to being met rather than anything (see Robiskie, Quinn for recent Cleveland examples — Ferry & Grant usually drafted w/ high upside in mind).

    I read about Karasev and see the youtube clips and think Wally-World. That’s not bad (10yr mostly backup career).

  • Yup

    I give you lots of evidence and you keep posting out where he was drafted. Ummm, ok…

    Pelton used advance STATISTICS. NBA teams pass on great players all the time. See, Leonard, Kawai. Where was he drafted?

  • mgbode

    lots of evidence is one man’s formula. and I said that I’ll hope that he’s right. but, just as you can point to players that NBA GMs missed on, I can point to players that Pelton/Hollinger have missed on (and I tend to agree with their lists more than the standard ones). Noone is perfect here and there are reasons Karasev dropped.

    it’s tough for me to think that we can translate so easily the stats from Euroleagues here (not to mention they favor the offensive side of the floor) + I haven’t seen him play myself (personal confidence) + I have seen mixed reports on him.

    we’ll see. again, I hope Pelton is right and we got ourselves a steal.