This will be the first in a few posts from me about my post-season Cavalier thoughts. Before I dive in, be sure to check out the great work from Ben, Andrew, and Jacob in their varying post-season thoughts and breakdowns.
It was only this past weekend that I sat down and watched the majority of a NBA playoff game. That’s truly a shame for many reasons. First and foremost, we’re having a crazy bonkers playoffs thus far in terms of road teams winning, eight seeds with series leads over one seeds, multiple overtime games in the same series, and thrilling game-winners. The second reason is because for as much as NBA regular season ball has its warts from critics, the playoffs are everything you could ask for in most cases. It had me thinking back to the way I watched the playoffs from 2006-2010. I lived and died with every playoff game, not just those involving my team, because it all meant so much with a team chasing a title.
Well, back down here on planet Earth, the Cavaliers are not doing any such thing. While they improved by nine wins over last year, we all know that so much more was expected with the major additions that transpired. So, with the disappointing season finally over and with nearly two weeks to digest it, I offer the first installment of my offseason wishlist (at least at this point), with the hopes that I’m back to living and dying with every playoff game come next April.
1) Spencer Hawes returns
There’s no secret this is how I’ve felt for quite some time as I said it quite frequently on Twitter. I really want Spencer Hawes to return in a wine and gold uniform next season. He may not have provided enough of a push to get the Cavaliers into the playoffs, but the way the offense was spaced with him on the floor was drastically different than earlier in the season.
In his 27 games in Cleveland, Hawes shot it at a nearly 45% clip from deep, and that was with popping nearly four of them per game. The Cavs had a 107.0 offensive rating with Hawes out there (3.2 above their output without him). It wasn’t just the floor spacing, but Hawes was comfortable using his outside shot to set up his in-between game of float shots and drives down the lane. Some fun facts about Hawes’ most efficient scoring scenarios: he scored 1.43 PPP (points per possession) on 21 cuts to the basket, 1.27 PPP on 42 transition looks, and 1.07 PPP on 95 plays as the roll man in the pick and roll.
In his short time in Cleveland, I was surprised to see how Hawes has the skill to hit the boards when he wants. He seemed to have a nice chemistry with Kyrie out on the floor, and Irving seemed to look for him, be willing to give the ball up to him, and trust that he’d get it back.
Obviously, when I say Hawes returns, I mean with a reasonable contract. He made $6.5 million this past season and $8.5 million the season before, so I guess I’d be willing to do something in the 3-year, $24 million neighborhood. For reference, Tiago Splitter signed a 4-year, $36 million deal last summer to stay in San Antonio, so maybe that’s a little low for Hawes.
The one drawback with the 25-year-old Hawes, of course, is his defense. Hawes isn’t particularly strong or athletic, so it’s no surprise to see that any advantage gained while Hawes was on the floor offensively was given right back defensively (112.9 opponent offensive rating with him on the floor). Which leads me into my next wishlist item…
2) Either Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, or Tristan Thompson must go
I truly do like all of the three guys listed above. I think they can all be key bench pieces of a very good playoff team (and Varejao has of course proven this), and in some cases, depending on team makeup around them, a starter. However, coupled with the need to get Anthony Bennett an opportunity and bringing back Spencer Hawes as suggested above, AT LEAST one of Andy, Zeller, and Tristan must go this off-season.
We’ve long known that to borrow a Tommy Lee Jones line from “Men in Black”, Varejao hasn’t been training a partner in Thompson, he’s been training a replacement. Their skillsets are just too similar with the way that the rest of the Cavalier squad is configured at this time. Tristan played some of his best basketball with Varejao out last season, and even though Andy has become an effective mid-range shooter and smart passer, bringing Hawes back can replace some of that.
Depending on how radical the team decides to get this offseason, it’s very possible that two of these guys are gone. The Cavaliers (as @WayneEmbrysKids pointed out on Twitter last night) finished second to last in the league in blocked shots, and that included Andrew Bynum contributing 28 blocks early on in 24 games. More than blocked shots themselves, I’m more concerned about having a solid post defender that can guard the bigger post threats in the league. Notice I say post threats as Hawes and Zeller could easily swap and guard a more mid-range or perimeter-oriented power forward.
Varejao is probably the best equipped to battle the Howard, Hibbert, Lopez types, but it’s a real problem in the Mike Brown scheme. While the Cavaliers did a fairly good job of keeping paint scoring down, it was often because of overzealous help-side defense that opened up uncontested looks on the three-point line, an Achilles’ heel of basically every Mike Brown defense in history. Instead, the Cavs need someone who (even if it’s off the bench) can come in and contain a post threat 1-on-1 on the block. It’s possible that could be had through the draft.
There’s also the matter of Tristan’s contract status, whereby he becomes a restricted free agent at season’s end like Irving. Is he a $10 million per year player? NBA teams have gotten more conscious of throwing big money deals around to bring role players in, but someone may see Tristan’s numbers and want to add a double-double machine.
3) Anthony Bennett gets to focus on being a power forward
I immediately loved this tweet when I saw it from Kevin Pelton:
Good @kevinarnovitz rule of thumb: "If you have to ask whether he's a SF or PF, he's a PF." Important for this year's lottery.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 22, 2014
It’s also important when talking about Anthony Bennett. Before the season, the team came right out and said Bennett would focus on only power forward with the possibility of small forward time in the future. Then, they changed their mind if only for a moment on the fly during the season.
Before Bennett was derailed by an injury that cost him 17 of the final 18 games of his rookie season, he had started to put things together and look like a capable young player. In his final 20 games of the season, Bennett averaged 7.0 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting .451/.360/.644 in 16.8 minutes. The Cavaliers drafted Bennett because of his ability to shoot from the outside, post up, and take defenders off the dribble and get to the line in the process. We saw only brief glimpses of that as Bennett battled weight issues and struggled to find consistent time in Mike Brown’s rotation. Next year, there is no option. Anthony Bennett MUST have a consistent spot in Brown’s 8 or 9 man rotation1
(Photo: Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
- Or, you know, the Cavaliers coach’s rotation next season. More on that later in the series. [↩]