Thursday, 27 February 2014

Fixing the Cleveland Cavaliers

"With the 1st pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select... Anthony Bennett of Toronto, Canada and the University of Nevada Las Vegas."

In the last 3 drafts, Cleveland has received the 1st and 4th picks twice to select Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and now Anthony Bennett. At the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery, GM Dan Gilbert said that "[they] were hoping regardless of what pick [they] got that this would be [their] last lottery". Ultimately, the front office and the entire organization had the post-season as their goal. 

Last summer, the Cavs signed Jarrett Jack (4 yr/$25 mill), Earl Clark (2 yr/$6 mill), and Andrew Bynum (2 yr/24 mill). While their new acquisitions were considered a disappointment earlier in the season, the Cavs were able to use them along with a flurry of picks to obtain Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes prior to the trade deadline. With playoffs or bust in the back of their head, you have to wonder if the Cavs impatience with their rebuild may cause them to remain mediocre in the long run. Firstly, Cleveland has surrendered a bunch of assets to acquire two unrestricted free agents who may not be returning next season. The coach has failed to keep the locker room together early this season with teammates going against each other on and off the floor. In addition, chemistry issues and positional fits remain to be solved or mended. The Cavs can surely be fixed and although their future is uncertain, immense potential resonates in the team as a whole. Many questions surround this young squad and with that, we will take a look at some of them.

Is Mike Brown your long term coach?

When the Cleveland Cavaliers fired GM Chris Grant in early February, surprisingly, Mike Brown was not relieved of his coaching duties and he was even given a vote of confidence by owner, Dan Gilbert.  The team then went on a season-best six game winning streak. As of February 27, the Cavs are sitting at a 23-36 record, 4 games out of the 8th seed in the East. While the team has improved defensively in the past couple weeks, I still do not feel Mike Brown is the best coaching candidate for the long term. Cleveland has one of the youngest teams in the association and they would benefit more from a "Run-and-Gun" style offense where they could push the tempo at a greater pace. As a more defensive oriented coach, Brown may not be the best fit for this dynamic Cavalier team. Back in his tenure with the Lakers, Brown tried utilizing the Princeton offense, which did not appeal to the personnel nor generate great results (he was fired 5 games into the season and later replaced by D'Antoni).  The Cavs should target a coach who can instill a high-octane and free-flowing offense similar to what Jeff Hornacek has done with the Phoenix Suns. This would certainly maximize the potential on this Cavalier squad.

Can Irving and Waiters form a formidable backcourt?

Irving and Waiters have occasional shown flashes of brilliance when playing in the same backcourt as well as miscommunications and chemistry issues. There were reports that Dion Waiters was involved in an altercation with Tristan Thompson in a team meeting and how he would not mind getting a fresh start with a trade to a new team. Instead the Cavaliers decided to keep him past the deadline and now seem to have the desire to build a dynamic duo of Irving and Waiters in the backcourt for the long haul. Both Irving and Waiters have a little redundancy as they are most effective with the ball in their hands which brings up the problem of them coexisting together. Bringing Waiters off the bench for most of the season has allowed Cleveland to maximize the offense of the second unit. They should continue to do so and gradually try to pair the two guards together more in short stretches. Keep in mind, Kyrie and Dion are only 21 and 22 years old respectively. Giving up on this duo so early would definitely be a mistake. It will take some time, but Irving and Waiters certainly have the potential to mesh and form a formidable backcourt for the future.       

Who could replace Luol Deng if he leaves for another team in free agency?

LEBRON JAMES!! Sorry, but the odds of LeBron returning to Cleveland are as low as the chances he breaks his nose again. Before the Deng trade, the Cavs were rolling out lineups with Alonzo Gee or Earl Clark as their starting small forward. Not surprisingly, both of them could not get the job done and the potential departure of Deng would further decimate production at the SF. Looking at the available small forwards in the free agency class of 2014, there are not many big names besides LeBron, Melo, Deng, and Hayward. You can cross off LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony right off as there is no reason for them to reject more money to come play with Kyrie et al. Gordon Hayward, a restricted free agent is an interesting option, but would probably require the Cavs to overpay him to force the Jazz to not match the offer. A potential sign and trade could also occur, but the likelihood is quite low.

A feasible and realistic option at the 3 would be SF Trevor Ariza of the Washington Wizards. Ariza has quietly emerged behind the likes of youngsters, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Averaging 14.2 ppg and a career best 6.5 rpg and 40% from three, the long athletic swingman would complement Irving well as he can play off the ball and also make plays for others. Ariza is earning north of $7 million this season and the Cavs could decide to give him a contract of somewhere from $15-18 milllion for 2 years. With that value, Cleveland would still have the flexibility to chase marquee names in 2016.

However, another route the Cavs could take would be acquisition through trade. One intriguing player the Cavaliers could potentially deal for is Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have a lot of depth in the front court as well as a tight logjam at the small forward (Gallinari, Chandler, Miller). Cleveland could attempt to buy low as a result of Gallo's season ending knee injury. A framework of a potential deal may include the Cavs sending the expiring contracts of Anderson Varejao (partially guaranteed) and Alonzo Gee and possible draft considerations for Gallinari. Denver's motives of doing this trade would be to clear long term salary as they are capped out until after the 2015-16 season in addition to providing enough minutes for the growth of Wilson Chandler and Quincy Miller whom Brian Shaw likes.

Trade link *Note: Contracts state 2yr for Varejao and Gee for the 2013-14 season. If trade is made in the offseason, Varejao and Gee's contracts will be one year deals*

Regardless of who they decide to pursue, a vacancy at the SF position must be filled via free agency, at the draft or through trade.

Will Kyrie stay or go?

This may be the biggest question of all. Kyrie Irving is eligible for a max contract extension this fall and would become a restricted free agent if he passes on this opportunity. Although he has not publicly announced his desire to leave, sources close to Kyrie's camp say "he does not want to stick around for the long haul". To avoid losing their prized point guard, the Cavs must use the next two years to build a playoff team around Kyrie and show that they are serious about winning. They must find pieces that will complement Irving's game and look to him for potential free agents to pursue. If it is clear that Kyrie wants out when his contract is almost up, Cleveland will be forced to trade him to avoid THE DECISION all over again. All in all, Cleveland must do whatever it takes to keep Kyrie happy and retain him for the future. Personally, I think if the Cavs do not make the playoffs this season, Uncle Drew will reject a contract extension this fall and accept a qualifying offer in the summer of 2015 in order to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016 when he has all the leverage to decide where he wants to go.

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