Your Post-Trade Deadline Cleveland Cavaliers Viewing Guide

Wut

Because masochism isn’t for everyone

I hate winter.

Seriously.

I woke up today at 7:00 a.m., barely able to breath for the fifth straight day. I spent the next two minutes trying to vacate my nasal cavity of what I suspect was approximately a fetrick muckton of the crustiest boogers known to man. I then turned towards the window directly adjacent to my bathroom sink and peeped through the closed blinds to see that once again it had snowed overnight.

[Insert barely coherent mumbled obscenities here]

My girlfriend then drove me to an auto repair shop on Detroit Road so I could pick up my car that had been pummeled by potholes big enough to sleep in. As I stood at the front counter of the repair shop waiting for the mechanic to come out from the back and pillage my wallet, I checked my phone to see if my Behind the Box Score from the previous night’s Raptors/Cavaliers game had any comments. At that point there was just one.

“Is anyone still watching them?”

YES, GOD DAMN IT. I WATCH EVERY GAME. USUALLY TWICE. I GET IT. I AM EITHER STUPID OR INSANE.

The Cavs were supposed to be a warm spot in what has been a terrible winter, but instead they’ve managed to just mirror the dreariness of the season. With the Tribe’s first spring season game kicking off this afternoon against the Reds and the near endless amount of NFL draft talk that will be circulating the internet, newspapers, and airwaves, I can’t really blame anyone for tuning out this Cavs team at this point. There’s enough to be sad about already. The trade deadline is over, the Cavs have injuries to major contributors, and it would take historic levels of play considering their schedule to make the playoffs even in this joke of a conference.

I’ll still be watching though. As bad as it’s been, there are still factors that make me hopeful going forward. So, if you’re glutton for punishment like me and are going to stick it out the rest of the season in order to see what this team can accomplish with their remaining 24 games, I’ve gone ahead and created this here viewing guide. I’m going to highlight what narratives should be interesting to watch unfold as the season winds down to a close for the Cavaliers. Spencer Hawes probably deserves a slot somewhere in here, but I’ve written about what I hope to see from him when I broke down his acquisition here and so I won’t waste space in an already long column by doing so again. Anyways, here we go.

What is Luol Deng worth to this team?

The general thought is that Deng will command a salary of $13 million in free agency. There’s doubt over whether he actually wants to stay in Cleveland or not, but say he did. Is he worth it?

It’s hard to answer this question. Based on the numbers he put up this season in Chicago, $13 million is a fair valuation for him, but players can’t be analyzed in a vacuum. Further muddling the picture is that Deng has been struggling with a nagging Achilles strain that apparently needs adequate rest to heal, but that’s not something the drawn out NBA season provides players with. He feels he’s starting to edge closer to his full capacities, but it’s hard to say if he’ll be able to be 100% healthy at any point the rest of the season. He hasn’t performed as well as fans have expected, but much of it has to do with playing with new personal and within a new scheme.

Players who aren’t great shooters—Deng being one of them—have to find other ways to be effective on offense. Deng does this by constantly making off the ball cuts and hoping his teammates will pick him out for a pass. It’s not a surprise that Deng often looked most at home in the offense when playing alongside Varejao whose passing out of the high post most mirrored that of Deng’s former running mate Joakim Noah. Deng’s lack of shooting is a large obstacle for the Cavs and though he’s worth the money somewhere, he’s probably not here. If you’ve read anything about the Cavs this season then the word “spacing” has at some point been highlighted. On a team that expect to get much of its playmaking from its two guards, money at the small forward spot might be better spent on someone who can knock down open threes and play adequate defense. A Trevor Ariza/Luol Deng swap was rumored at the deadline. Though Deng is acknowledged as a better play than Ariza, the swap made some sense in terms of fit as Ariza is a much better from long distance than Deng. It’s possible that Deng just needs more time to build chemistry with the current Cavs roster and that is why he’s worth keeping an eye on the rest of the season. If he’s able to develop and understanding with the other key Cavaliers pieces then perhaps I’ll change my tune on if they should pursue resigning him, but for now I just don’t think he’s a great fit.

Where art thou, Sergey?

I’ve been able to watch of decent portion of Sergey’s minutes with the Charge, but it’s hard to discern much. Though the D-League’s talent level has improved over the years, the games still aren’t NBA caliber. As the Cavs slip further and further from the playoffs, I would hope Mike Brown decides to give his young players some consistent burn in hopes of moving along their development.

Sergey thus far seems to be the least likely of the bunch to get playing time, but hopefully someone in the front office can cajole Brown into running him out there. Karasev’s defense is suspect. At times it looks like he has bricks wrapped to his ankles when trying to slide laterally to stay in front of his man. I wonder if he’ll possess the foot speed to cover shooting guards or small forwards consistently at the NBA level. He’s still young though, and I can’t be sure until he’s given a consistent chance to adapt to the NBA game. Working in Karasev’s favor though is the fact that the Cavs lack shooting as I’ve stressed about a billion times now. That fortunately is one skill I’m sure the young Russian possesses. He’s shot 43% from beyond the arc in his 13 games with the Charge. His 6-7 frame combined with a quick release on his shot make it hard for his defender to help off of him too much as he doesn’t need a ton of space to get his shot off. I’d like to start building his confidence on the NBA court sooner than later. We’ll see if it happens.

Austin Carr is insane and perfect for a bad basketball team

The Cavs don’t need a color commentator who analyzes why this team is underperforming. We all get that they’re bad. Luckily, they have Austin Carr to keep spewing meaningless mumbled basketball nonsense. I keep waiting for his enjoyable badness to morph into straight badness, but for whatever reason I never tire of it. He makes every loss a little less sad.

Mike Brown, Cleveland’s next one and done?

Watching a losing team is tolerable if the team consistently gives effort. The story on this Cavaliers team up until recently was that if there shot wasn’t falling then their defense pulled a vanishing act. This led to multiple blowouts and I’m sure more than a few broken remotes. Since Mike Brown was brought in to specifically correct a faulty defense, he was naturally blamed for the lack of improvement on that end. It’s not that Brown created this problem, the Cavs consistently mailed it in defensively under Scott as well, but what is the point of hiring a coach like Brown if he couldn’t do the one thing he was supposed to? That’s changed not only during their winning streak, but also in these last few losses as well. The effort has been consistently present and I couldn’t be happier. The question becomes if the Cavs slip further from the playoff picture can Brown keep the team playing hard? Even if he does, is Brown worth keeping around?  I’m inclined to say no. Allowing a potential new GM to hire a coach makes the job more appealing. So, unless the Cavs show a drastic improvement in the win column, I can’t imagine Brown has done enough to justify surviving a front office change. He’s got 24 games to prove me wrong.

The new Jarrett Jack or insanely bad slump?

I defended Jarrett Jack way longer than the average Cavs viewer. I just couldn’t believe he was actually this bad at basketball. It’s not as if Jack had one good season last year and then got paid off the back of it. His performance last year was better than could be expected from him over the long haul, but what the Cavs are getting right now is way below his norm. He’s only 30. He came into the season with a slight knee injury and he missed a few games due to back spasms. It’s hard to tell if any of these injuries are still lingering as most inquiries into players health after this many games is met by the canned response of “everybody’s hurting at this point in the season”.

Jack’s bread and butter is his mid-range jumper, but he’s shooting it at the worst rate of his entire career. He’s sitting around 36% from mid-range currently, but he’s hit an average of 42% from mid-range for his entire career including this slump fest of a season. At this point it’s hard to believe confidence isn’t somewhat an issue with Jack as he’s seemed to have passed out of an unusually high amount of open shots as of late. That’s especially surprising for someone like Jack who generally seems unabashed about firing away as he pleases. I watched a ton of film on Jack from his past season in Golden State. He really doesn’t look all that different except for his shot was falling more. His role in the offense was a little better defined as Curry savored the opportunity to play off the ball at times where Irving seems less willing to do so. Still, it shouldn’t account for this big of a drop off. Until someone gives me concrete evidence of some sort of physical decline, I have to imagine he’ll break out of this slump at some point. I hope he can do so here soon. It wasn’t painful to see Earl Clark be bad. Everyone knew he’d be gone at the end of the year. Barring a trade, Jack is going to be around for the next two seasons at least. It’d be nice if he didn’t completely suck during the entirety of that time.

A farewell to Andy

Anderson Varejao is definitely in the top ten of my favorite basketball players of all time. This is likely his last season in Cleveland unless he takes a discount to stay. Assuming he is able to get back on the court this year, I will be forced to tune in and watch his final games in the Wine and Gold. He has a team option for next year at around $9 million, but I’m assuming the Cavs will decline it. If Andy was healthy then that money would actually represent a bargain for what he brings to the table. As we all know though, Andy is never healthy. His style of basketball has taken a toll on his body and it’s sad that perhaps his peak in ability also coincided with an inability to stay healthy. I would have actually liked to see Andy traded at some point. Not solely for the fact that I wanted the Cavs to get assets in return for him, but it would have been nice to see the Andy of the past few seasons on a legitimate contender. I would have surely been rooting for whichever team that was come playoff time. I’m sure when the fact that he’s not returning becomes official I’ll have much more to write on the subject, but for now everyone should enjoy what will probably be his final games as a Cavalier.

Legit second fiddle or knucklehead chucker: The Dion Waiters Dilemma

Before going down with a hyperextended knee, Waiters looked to have finally pieced together parts of his game. He wasn’t always shooting effectively, but the defense was there and he was making smart decisions on the basketball court. A lack of consistency has plagued Waiters throughout his young career and I’m really hoping to see a strong finish to the season from him as a sign of legitimate improvement instead of a fluke. In my opinion he’s this team’s best chance at a second All-Star, at least on the current roster, and so if anything is going to bring me hope this season, him carrying on where he left off would. Waiters oozes personality and is at this point the most enjoyable Cavalier interview wise even though I can rarely make out what he’s saying. I’d like to keep him around, but he has to put it together on the court. He has value elsewhere in the NBA and so moving him wouldn’t be a huge problem, but I’d rather see him find success here.

The Kyrie Extension

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include him in this viewing guide. For one he plays basketball like some sort of weird yo-yo master. His handles are the best in the league and generally produce at least one dropping of the jaw per night. There’s also the narrative over whether or not he’ll sign an extension this summer. I honestly don’t think how the Cavs perform over the rest of the season will have much bearing on whether or not he extends barring a 27-game losing streak. If the Cavs are willing to offer him their designated player spot, it would be insane for him to turn it down. I wrote about it extensively here.

Who’s the best young big?

I’m not sure what to expect from the current crop of Cavs young bigs over the rest of the season. Bennett has steadily improved and seems to have the most upside of the three. Tyler Zeller has made huge strides on offense this season both with his jump shot and aggressiveness around the rim. Tristan Thompson has been a slight let down despite averaging close to a double-double. His choice to switch shooting hands has seen decent returns at the free throw stripe where he’s upped his percentage by a decent margin, but he’s yet to effectively incorporate the jump shot he flashed at times early in the season and has gone away from it almost entirely as of late.

I don’t expect all three of these guys to be with the Cavs long term. Tristan is up for an extension this summer, but unless he’s willing to take a small contract, I imagine it won’t get done. He hasn’t improved enough for the Cavs to feel the need to lock him up long term and with Bennett potentially waiting in the wings to take his starting spot, he could become surplus if he commands too much money when hitting restricted free agency the following the season. Until Thompson shows the ability to be a threat from at least 15 feet his production will be considered replaceable. He deserves one more offseason with his new shooting hand to develop it and so I’m not giving up on him.

Zeller has the making of a cheap backup center for the next two years. He’ll never be a dominant offensive player and his defense leaves something to be desired, but at 15 to 20 minutes a night his offense is more than adequate to bolster the second unit while providing solid cover for any injuries to a starting big. It’s hard to get excited about a guy like that, but he’s becoming exactly what most projected for him and that is a win for the Cavs. One wrinkle that should be fun to watch for the rest of the season is the Hawes/Zeller frontcourt Brown employed at the end of the Raptors game. It has a chance to be quite fun.

And we’re done.

As overwrought as the terms “building” or “rebuild” are in basketball the truth is that unless your team can pull a marquee free agent it takes time to field a consistently competitive product. Growing pains were always to be expected, but they have been worse than fans imagined. I’m not completely sold on the direction this team is headed, but if Gilbert makes the right GM hire then I can easily be brought back on board. In the meantime it’s fun to see the pieces the Cavs do have grow. That pleasure was taken from fans this season due to the expectations placed on the team.

There was time to talk development when people were fixated on playoffs. With our expectations reeled back from the harsh realities of the season, it’ll be nice to focus instead on what was supposed to be the core of this team, its young players. They were always where the hope for this team rested. Hopefully Mike Brown remembers that before the season is done.

  • cleveland_endures

    So I was reading this article, and on the right side of the screen, the “recommended for you” pop-up was an article about a Brad Miller for Wally Szczerbiak swap.

    The article was written five years ago, but it feels like eternity. Remember when our biggest regular-season concerns were what to do with Wally’s expiring, and how backup big minutes would be divvied up during the postseason? Those were good times.

    These, however, are not good times. The organization brought back a coach who never got the blame he should have for the 2010 collapse (we were all too hasty to blame LeBron, albeit correctly), and is still lost on offense his third time as a HC, we have a roster of misplaced parts, and are at the mercy of another superstar who might not want to stick around in a dysfunctional organization, no matter the money he’d be turning down. Fun times in Cleveland, as always.

  • http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/ Charles Luzar

    Meanwhile, just outside of Cleveland…

  • mgbode

    Here are the questions I have that likely won’t get answered for awhile :)

    (1) Which players that can leave will still be here next year? Deng, Hawes, Andy. I never would have guessed that Spencer might be the most likely guy on that list. The secondary question is if Deng or Hawes do sign elsewhere, then will be get a sign-n-trade at least?

    (2) Can Bennett build on that good stretch of playing and be more consistent? Add in Tyler and Tristan’s play as you did too, but I really want to see the youngest of our big men play well.

    (3) Can Irving keep up his playmaking for others? Kyrie has really been doing more to actually pass the ball on his drives lately. His assist numbers have gone up a little, but I’d really like to see his “hockey assist” numbers as I think they have really climbed this month. I want him to keep it up.

    (4) Lineup Madness – and, I mean this in a good way. I want to see some fun lineups put out there. How about Delly, Felix, Deng, Tristan, Tyler (sadly might be our best defensive setup) or Irving, Waiters, Miles, Bennett, Hawes (could be our best offensive setup when CJ is healthy)?

  • Lunch

    Joe,
    In terms of your suggestion that Mike Brown may be a one and done coach, my question is should they fire him after one season? Perhaps a one and done coach in basketball is not as potent as it is in football, but I’ll bet that such an action still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.Then there are other questions that arises from such a decision:

    How much of the “toxic” working environment talking points that the press used against the Browns will shift to the Cavs?

    How many coaches would say “No Thanks” because they were influenced by all of the “toxic” working environment talk?

    And the most important factor, finding a coach that can do a better job than Mike Brown that’s WILLING to coach the Cavs. Unless you feel John Lucas is a worthy candidate, but that’s a different story.

  • typodude

    Typo in title.

  • Lunch
  • Watcher-0000

    8 comments on Behind the Boxscore now

  • http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/ Charles Luzar

    1, I have to believe Hawes is the most likely, although he’s another one… we lead the league in tweeners. In this year’s draft, I don’t care what the position is. Draft a prototype… any position. Doesn’t matter.

    2. I’m still confident in Bennett. Anyone with two eyes can see the potential there. I think I can also see a bit of a head case, but if you have to grow slowly this isn’t a bad place to do it. At least the kid didn’t get drafted by the Knicks. He’d probably be sucking his thumb by now.

    3. One of two things is happening… either Kyrie bought into Brown as a coach late in the season, or he’s making the best of a bad situation and doing the proverbial dance. The former excites me and makes me think next year could be what this year was supposed to be for this team. The latter… you think this is bad? Wait until Drew leaves.

    4. Delly is a role player on a good team and I’m not sure he even has a spot on a great one. I love the kid but its true. They had him in there last night in the fourth quarter. The kid can’t shoot! How do you have a guard that can’t shoot the basketball playing crunch time minutes in a must win game? They were just keying on Kyrie, because of course they were. Make no mistake, this Cavs team is still VERY MUCH short on raw NBA-level talent… moreso than we thought at the beginning of this year, no doubt. Mike Brown could dream up rotations until he passes out. We need ball players.

  • mgbode

    on (4) – I am very much aware of Delly’s limitations to the chagrin of some of the other posters here. The one thing he can do is play defense though and I was constructing our “best defense” lineup there. Just trying to come up with something to keep our interest and “fun” lineups is amongst the ideas.

  • http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/ Charles Luzar

    Oh, how sad that it has come to that. :)

  • mgbode

    yes, it is sad.
    yes, it has come to that.
    :)

  • EyesAbove

    Yeah thats the one thing that Delly is good at, annoying the living ish out of people on defense. If I was a fan of an opposing team I’d wanna punch him with his non stop spastic hand waving. If only he could shoot.

  • EyesAbove

    Best part of this post:

    “Austin Carr is insane and perfect for a bad basketball team”

    AC is awful, yet awesome at the same time.

  • porckchop

    After the Lakers debacle I came to two conclusions. The first is that I overhauled the way in which I watch the games. I always have to DVR because tip off coincides with homework/bedtime, so its close to 9 before I get to watch. Now I have an iron clad rule that anytime the other team leads by 9 I begin fast forwarding until the score gets down to 6.
    Second I agree that AC is insane. I loved his call at the end of the Lakers game when the Cavs were “rallying”. He is cheering like a mad man when we cut it to and all I can think is “we’re getting beat badly by a corpse and you are thrilled that the beating is getting a little less severe?” In about 3 years he is going to have that stretch where he is completely unhinged shouting out things like “Double T’s got the Cat in the Cradle Now!!!!” followed by 30 seconds of that Ed McMahon chuckle he falls into. Its going to be great for about a season and then we’ll realize that his condition is deteriorating and it will still be great but also a little guilty feeling.
    I’d keep Hawes at his current price maybe 1/2 mil more. Deng can leave, he is pretty much exactly what I thought he’d be, and whatever that is, its not a guy worth more than 8/9 mil a year. 10 mil plus has got to be reserved for guys that can hit at least 50% of their FG’s.
    Andy… all I want for Andy is a Good Will Hunting goodbye. I’ll turn on the TV one day and he’ll just be gone, no call, no note, just gone. Maybe I’ll catch a game in late May, and see Damian Lillard running over to pick him up after drawing a charge. I’ll be sad that he spent 4 years of his prime playing on awful teams. But I’ll be happy because Captain Floorburn was meant to play on a National stage, to remind the country that you can effect a basketball game and only take 2 shots.
    And if I ever have to watch Gee play another minute in a Cavs uniform after this year, I’m going to poop on Dan Gilbert’s car.

  • porckchop

    IMHO its much easier for a guy to learn to be an effective shooter, than it is to learn to become a mad dog hand waving chest to chest defender. Its a lot easier to tell a guy “Go shoot 500 jumpers from each wing and the corners.” Than it is to tell a guy to do the crouching sprinting, and lateral quickness drills necessary to become a great defender.

  • Joseph Mastrantoni

    The Cavs have talent and a ton of cap flexibility still. A coach’s job is to create a strong culture. I’m not sure I’d want a coach who thought he’d struggled to do so because of the stories that emerged this season about the locker room.

  • EyesAbove

    I miss the days of debating which journeyman role player would put us over the top.

  • mgbode

    sure, beat the Thunder at full strength when you’re all banged up in OKC. normal, right?

    oh, and start the 4th quarter with a decent deficit and have Tyler Zeller and Dellavedova be the guys who get you the lead back before Irving and Jack take us home. Yawn, just par for the course, right?

    Weird game. And, I only saw the 4th quarter. Noticed that those 2nd unit guys barely got any run but they sure saved us there near the end.

  • Pat Leonard

    I agree… the fact that Delly isn’t shooting well seems to be more of a “yet” thing than a “forever” thing. Let him have an entire offseason where he’s just shooting 3-pointers and working on his floater. There’s always a place in the NBA for an active defender, even if it’s towards the end of the bench.