NBA: 10 Keys for the Cleveland Cavaliers Down the Stretch

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 9, 2012

NBA: 10 Keys for the Cleveland Cavaliers Down the Stretch

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    With fewer than three weeks to go in the Cavaliers' 2011-2012 shortened season, many are likely ready to write off the rest of the games and begin focusing on the NBA draft.

    While a trip to the playoffs won't be in the cards, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the young Cavs in their last dozen games, whether it be the development of young players, the send-off of some veterans or listening to the best announcing team in basketball, Fred McLeod and Austin Carr.

    Here are 10 keys the Cavaliers need to focus on before the season wraps up and some reasons why you shouldn't be flipping the channel to baseball just yet.

Don't Rush Kyrie

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    After re-injuring his sprained right shoulder against the San Antonio Spurs last week, the Cavaliers announced that Irving would be shut down for the next seven to 10 days in order to give him proper time to heal.

    The question is, why not give him more time?

    According to a quote from the Associated Press, coach Byron Scott has considered shutting his young star down for the season, saying:

    “We’ll see how he reacts in the next four or five days, with treatment and rest and we’ll go from there,” Scott said. “But yeah, I’ve given thought to it. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve definitely given thought to it.”

    While it would be great to see Irving for a few more games this season, there is absolutely no point in rushing him back on the court if he's not close to 100 percent healthy.

    Already a lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, the Cavs would be wise to rest Irving and prepare him for the 2012-2013 season.

Sign Lester Hudson for the Rest of the Season

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    Les-sanity has officially hit Cleveland!

    Lester Hudson has the name of a 70-year-old, but the game of a 20-year-old.

    In his last five games, Hudson is averaging 14.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 27 minutes a contest.  His huge three-pointer at the end of regulation send the Cavs to overtime against the New Jersey Nets on Easter and forever cemented his spot in Cleveland sports history.

    OK, so that might be a little over the top, but Hudson has earned himself a spot on the Cavs for the remainder of the regular season and a shot at making next year's team.

    As of publication, his 10-day contract had run up, but don't expect Lester to be leaving Cleveland anytime soon.

Keep Tristan at Center

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    On March 18 the Cavs turned over the starting center job to 6' 9" rookie Tristan Thompson.

    So far, the results have been mixed.

    In 13 games as a starter, Tristan is averaging 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. However, his performance has largely been affected by whoever his matchup has been for any given night. 

    For example, in two games matched up with the New Jersey Nets' 6' 9" Shelden Williams, Thompson is averaging 21 points and 13.5 rebounds.

    For comparison, against the New York Knicks' 7' 1" center Tyson Chandler, Thompson struggled to put up 3 points and 1 rebound in 15 foul-plagued minutes. 

    While it's not entirely fair to put a natural power forward in Thompson in a starting center position, it should be good for his development in the long term.

    For the same reason college football and basketball teams schedule powerhouses at the beginning of the season, facing tougher competition now will only make your other opponents seem easier later.

    Next season Thompson should be penciled in as the starting power forward, and the time he spends at center now should only increase his production next year.

Let Luke Warm the Bench

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    Seriously, what are the upsides to playing Luke Walton at this point?

    • He's 32, so he won't be part of the rebuilding plans.
    • Playing Walton means not playing Gee, Casspi or another young player the Cavs could be giving minutes to and developing.
    • Oh yeah, he's not really any good, and 1.9 points per game on .304 percent shooting proves it.

    Keep Walton on the bench for now and use his expiring contract as a trade chip next year or simply buy him out to use the roster space. 

    Simply put: Don't play him.

Give Semih a Chance

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    Semih Erden isn't the most skilled, athletic or best-looking basketball player on the Cavs, but he does possess one thing that many others don't: size.

    Erden is often the victim of the dreaded DNP- Coach's Decision, which is quite surprising due to the Cavs lack of bigs.

    Since Tristan Thompson took over as the starting center, Samardo Samuels has been the primary big man off the bench for Cleveland and has been dreadfully unimpressive.  Samuels shoots only 43 percent from the field and averages one assist every three games he plays in.

    It's time to give Erden more playing time.  At 7'0" and a solid 240 pounds, Erden matches up much better than Samuels can against other teams centers.  His shooting (52 percent) is a huge upgrade over Samuels' as well.

    While he may never be a full-time starting center in the league, Erden has earned a chance to be a team's primary back-up. 

    In his only game in which he logged more than 30 minutes, Erden put up 18 points and 8 rebounds on 7 of 8 shooting against Roy Hibbert in a win against the Indiana Pacers on February 15.

    Despite that impressive performance, Erden hasn't seen that much playing time since and has only logged minutes in five of the past 20 games.

    I'm not saying Erden is going to be the next great big man, but with his size and nothing to lose in this last month of the season, why not give the 25-year-old some time to show what he can do?

Can Donald Sloan Be Kyrie's Full Time Back-Up?

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    Donald Sloan was signed by the Cavaliers after the trade that sent back-up point guard Ramon Sessions to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    A four-year player at Texas A&M, Sloan has proven to be a tough point guard who sees the floor well and can get his teammates involved.

    That being said, his shooting thus far has been downright awful.

    Sloan is currently averaging 4.6 points on .364 percent shooting, including .076 percent from 3's.

    Yes, that's one hit on 13 attempts thus far.

    A recent 14-assist game against the Nets is big, but the Cavs will need more scoring and better shooting out of Sloan should they decide to bring him back next season.

Let the Wings Battle It out

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    The Cavaliers have some interesting young prospects currently playing the wing.

    While Alonzo Gee has been by far the most impressive, Omri Casspi and Manny Harris are worth keeping an eye on as well.

    All should be playing with a chip on their shoulder and motivated to make the most of their opportunities during these last few weeks.

    Harris and Gee are both undrafted D-Leaguer's who have had to work harder than most to earn playing time in the league.  Casspi is a former first-round pick who has been both traded and benched this past year and is being forced to compete for his starting job again.

    All three possess talent and should see a good amount of playing time in the final stretch, especially if the Cavs can't get Anthony Parker healthy.  They should use this time to fight for spots on the team next year, as Parker will likely not return.

    Of the three, only Casspi is under contract for next season, but if Gee continues his high level of play, expect the Cavs to offer him a multi-year deal.

Enjoy Jamison, but Be Prepared to Say Good-Bye

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    Antawn Jamison has been a phenomenal basketball player and role model throughout the course of his career.

    Brought in to fuel a Cavaliers championship run in 2010, not a negative word slipped from Jamison's lips when the Cavs went into full rebuilding mode.  His veteran leadership and scoring has been a welcome addition the past two seasons, although fans should expect these times to be drawing to a close.

    Regardless of if the Cavs want to bring him back next year in a reduced role, it's ultimately up to Jamison if he wants to be back.

    Money-wise the Cavs could offer Jamison a fair contract and a healthy chance of making the Eastern Conference playoffs, but ultimately they stand little chance at winning the veteran his first NBA title.

    Expect Jamison to sign on with a championship contender, as winning a title is likely tops on his priority list.

Develop a Plan Going into the Draft

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    Last year the Cavs draft plan was simple: take the best players available, regardless of position.

    This year Cleveland's plans should change, slightly.

    With Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson standing as franchise pillars, the Cavs need to begin filling in the positions around them, primarily at shooting guard and center.

    What the Cavs need to do in the last few weeks is figure out where there priorities lie.  For example, a wing and center are in dire need of an upgrade, but if UConn center Andre Drummond and UNC small forward Harrison Barnes are both available, who do you take?

    That may very well depend on the play of the current Cavalier players, such as Omri Casspi, Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels and Alonzo Gee.

    Cleveland needs to decide what positions need upgrading the most these upcoming weeks so they can use that information in their future draft plans.

Begin to Build a Winning Culture

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    Last season the Cavaliers suffered a well documented 26-game losing streak that tied for the most consecutive losses by any of the major American sport teams.

    This season started out much less painful, and the Cavaliers stayed in the playoff hunt for most of the season before a barrage of injuries began to take their toll.

    Recently the Cavs set another record, becoming the first NBA team to lose back-to-back home games by 35 points or more.

    Obviously this kind of effort just isn't acceptable, even if it doesn't seem to phase some in the locker room.  Take this quote from Antawn Jamison via the Yahoo Sports Cavs team report:

    "It's supposed to hurt when you lose. To hear guys in our locker room still talking and laughing after games, it's disappointing. You've got to let them know, you can't accept losing, (let alone) getting our (butts) kicked. We've taken dramatic steps backward."

    On a team as young as Cleveland, it's nice to have players like Jamison to instill a sense of professionalism in the locker room by calling out the way other players handle themselves.

    The Cavs can begin building a winning culture, even if it means learning how to handle a loss.