The 2012-13 season for the Cleveland Cavaliers was an up and down season. Mostly downs, but there were some nice stretches of good basketball mixed in. But the recurring theme of an almost defiant refusal to play any defense whatsoever night in and night out became too much for head coach Byron Scott to survive. And so the Cavaliers begin the 2013-14 season with a new head coach, a new identity and philosophy, a new hope in a veteran All-Star center, a new potential in the #1 overall pick, and a new sense of purpose for achieving a higher goal. And oh yeah, they still have Kyrie Irving, too. Will the new season deliver new results, or will the Cavaliers continue to watch the playoffs from home? Let’s take a closer look at the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Team Name: Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Year’s Record: 24-58 (5th in the Central Division)
Key Losses: Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, Daniel Gibson, Omri Casspi, Luke Walton, Byron Scott (coach)
Key Additions: Andrew Bynum (free agent signing), Jarrett Jack (free agent signing), Earl Clark (free agent signing), Anthony Bennett (first round draft pick), Sergey Karasev (first round draft pick), Carrick Felix (second round draft pick), Mike Brown (coach)
1. What significant moves were made in the offseason?
It was a busy offseason indeed for the Cavaliers. And a very different kind of offseason from what Cavs fans had grown accustomed to seeing. It started with the firing of Byron Scott and the return of a very familiar face, Mike Brown. It was a move that made a lot of sense for the Cavaliers, even if the act of bringing back a coach you fired just 3 years ago is a somewhat unusual one.
The simple fact of the matter is that for all the talk of Byron Scott bringing in a high energy, fact tempo offense with principles rooted in the Princeton Offense, that never really happened. The Cavaliers played a lot of isolation basketball, they were poor in transition offense, and the tempo was just average. The team never really developed an identity and defensively the team was nothing short of a train wreck.
Say what you will about Mike Brown, but he flat out coaches defense. Last time he came to the Cavaliers, he inherited a developing LeBron James and helped transform his defense and helped him become a true superstar. Now, he’ll try to do similar things with Kyrie Irving.
On the player side of things, the Cavaliers were busy here as well, both in free agency and in the draft. Andrew Bynum was the big story, but perhaps the player who will have the biggest impact is Jarrett Jack. The Cavaliers have an extremely young backcourt, and bringing in Jack will give strong veteran leadership and guidance to Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. It also adds a little bit of attitude and winning identity to the backcourt.
Andrew Bynum is the real wildcard. If Bynum’s knee recovers in a timely manner and he can get on the court and produce, it has the potential to completely change the Cavaliers. It will change the way teams can defend Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett. It will give the Cavaliers the kind of post presence the team has been missing since Zydrunas Ilgauskas left.
Drafting Anthony Bennett gives the Cavaliers another solid scoring presence in the frontcourt. When Marreese Speights first came to Cleveland and was playing lights out basketball, I think it showed the Cavaliers what an extra frontcourt scoring option can do to make things easier for everyone, and that’s why the Cavaliers went with Bennett in the draft. But he’s still a rookie and with rookies it’s tough to depend on instant production.
2. What are the Cavaliers’ biggest strengths?
Lineup flexibility and rebounding are a couple areas where the Cavaliers have some advantages. The Cavaliers are loaded with hybrid/combo type players who are capable of playing multiple positions. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Jarrett Jack can all be used interchangeably. Sergey Karasev should be able to play SG or SG. Same with Alonzo Gee. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao are both able to play minutes at either C or PF. Anthony Bennett will primarily play PF this season, but he should eventually be able to fill some time at SF as well. The point being, the Cavaliers have built a roster with positional flexibility obviously in mind. This should give Mike Brown plenty of options both on offense and defense.
Until we see Anthony Bennett play and until Andrew Bynum returns from injury, it’s hard to project strengths for the Cavaliers from an Xs and Os point of view, but I would expect them to find some success with the pick and roll offense just based on the personnel. The return of Anderson Varejao will be a huge part of this. And Varejao’s return will also help bolster the rebounding, which should be a big strength of this team with Varejao and Thompson both being pretty good rebounders and the addition of Andrew Bynum should only help.
3. What are the Cavaliers’ biggest weaknesses?
Well, last year there was no weakness greater than defense. You’d like to believe that will change instantly with Mike Brown at the helm, but that’s not realistic. Last time Mike Brown came to the Cavaliers, the team actually went from 12th to 14th in Defensive Efficiency in his first season. It wasn’t until his 2nd season when the Cavaliers jumped to 4th in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency. It takes time to implement a system and Mike Brown’s defensive schemes can take time to learn. It will help that Varejao, Bynum, and Earl Clark all have familiarity with his system, but to expect defense to become a strength in year one might be asking a bit much.
The Cavaliers will also likely struggle in perimeter shooting. The Cavaliers were already a poor outside shooting team and they let Wayne Ellington and Daniel Gibson go in the offseason. Hopefully Sergey Karasev can provide some outside shooting, but it may be a while before he earns meaningful minutes. Jarrett Jack is an ok shooter, but he has to pick his spots and not become a volume shooter. Kyrie Irving is obviously more than capable of knocking down shots, but as a team and fitting it into an offensive identity, this looks like a team that will struggle shooting from the outside.
4. What are the goals for the Cavaliers?
Nick Gilbert said it best at the draft lottery. What’s not to like? Sitting in that lottery room 3 years in a row. Gilbert said he felt the Cavaliers were going to make a playoff run this year, and that’s the goal. It’s by no means a certainty, but there’s no reason this team can’t be in the playoff hunt come March.
But within that goal, there are several smaller goals that this team would love to meet. Getting Andrew Bynum on the floor and contributing is a huge goal. Keeping Anderson Varejao healthy for most if not all of the season is a goal. Improving on defense will be a major goal for sure. Developing the young core of this team (Irving, Thompson, Waiters, Bennett, Karasev) is extremely important. Changing the culture and attitude of the team should be a goal as well. Achieve most of those goals, and this team will be in the playoff picture.
5. Is Tristan Thompson really going to shoot right handed this season?
He sure is. I don’t recall any player ever completely switching their dominant shooting hand in the middle of their career (particularly not from a 4th overall pick), but that’s what Thompson is doing. Tristan has said that basketball development in Canada is very different than it is in the US, and that when he started shooting a ball, he just chose to do it left handed since he wrote with his left hand. Nobody in Canada noticed his awkward delivery and thought to have him try shooting right handed. After all, he does a lot of things in life right handed. So it might work. It better work. Either way, it’s going to be interesting to watch this develop as the season progresses.
6. Will the Cavaliers possibly be buyers at the trade deadline?
I doubt it. I don’t see the team being in position to give away assets just to get an 8 seed in the playoffs. While making the playoffs is the goal, it shouldn’t be achieved out of desperation. The Cavaliers have been rebuilding this entire time with a goal of maintaining maximum flexibility for the 2014 offseason, so I don’t see that changing now.
7. So will they be sellers then?
In the past there’s been so much talk about trading Anderson Varejao. This could be the year he gets traded. If Bynum never plays and the Cavaliers find themselves falling out of the playoff race, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade Varejao at the deadline. I hope not, though. If this team stays moderately health and makes it into the playoff hunt, they don’t need to be buyers and sellers. Getting into the playoffs and then having a wealth of cap space to spend in the offseason is a pretty good scenario to strive for.
8. What should we expect from Kyrie Irving this year?
The sky is the limit for Kyrie. He can be as great as he wants to be in this league. But a couple changes need to happen. First, he needs to get better on defense. And second, he needs to become a better leader. To that 2nd point, he seems to be getting the message. The first thing Mike Brown talked to Kyrie about was leadership. Mike Brown helped LeBron develop leadership skills, and now he wants Kyrie to take control of this team and make it his.
This offseason Kyrie seems to be more proactively staying in touch with teammates and has been coordinating multiple team workouts to build chemistry, trust, and friendship amongst his teammates. These are positive signs. Now he needs to carry that leadership over to the court as well.
As for his defense, he doesn’t need to be great, but he needs to be better. He needs to show better effort and body language on defense. He needs to be more aware of the pick and roll and he needs to at least slow down the opposing PG at the point of attack. Mike Brown’s scheme will help, as it puts a premium on backside rotations and communication, thus covering up for poor PG defense. Mike Brown’s teams played great defense with Mo Williams at the point, there’s no reason they can’t with Kyrie. It’s just a matter of Kyrie showing better effort there.
9. Any final bold predictions?
I’m not much of a predictions guy. I hate putting a number on how many wins the team will have, etc. There are just too many unknown variables. But I’ll leave this preview by saying I expect things to be much better this season. I think 40 wins is achievable, even though an increase of 16 or more wins would be enormous. I just think we’ll finally see a basketball team with an identity and sense of purpose. Above all else, I just expect this to be a more fun season. I’m hopeful that Bynum will play. I’m hopeful that Varejao will play more games. I’m hopeful that Waiters will be better in year 2 as many SGs are. I’m hopeful that Kyrie continues his rise to superstardom. Watching young players like Bennett and Karasev develop should be fun. There will surely be frustrations along the way, but when the season is over, I hope we can look back and say it was a fun ride overall. If that happens, this season will be nothing short of a success for me.