Because masochism isn’t for everyone
I hate winter.
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.