7 Things Cleveland Cavaliers Must Do to Get Back into NBA Playoffs Next Season
The 2012 NBA season will go down as a meaningless, yet successful season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2011, the first year without LeBron James, the Cavaliers skidded to a 19-63 record, the worst mark in the NBA. In the shortened 2012 season, under head coach Byron Scott, the Cavaliers were playing a much improved game that saw them surpass the previous season's win total, even with injuries to their two best players.
After the 2011 season, the Cavaliers were fortunate enough to win the first and fourth overall selections in the NBA draft. They used those picks on Rookie of the Year lock Kyrie Irving and athletic big man Tristan Thompson.
Irving and Thompson both turned heads during their rookie seasons. Irving was the total package that Dan Gilbert, Chris Grant and Byron Scott envisioned. Thompson showed flashed of defensive brilliance while continuously improving his raw offensive skills.
One of the old faces of the Cavaliers, Anderson Varejao was having a brilliant start to the 2011-12 campaign. Over the first 25 games of the season, the "Wild Thing" was averaging 10.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. He did all this while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and a career-high 67 percent from the free-throw line.
Varejao was truly establishing himself as a versatile and dependable big man for the Cavaliers before a broken wrist ended his season early.
One of the main reasons the Cavaliers remained respectable was Chris Grant's ability to find talent from seemingly nowhere. When Kyrie Irving and Daniel Gibson went down with injuries, and Ramon Sessions was traded, the Cavaliers were up a creek without a paddle as far as the point guard position was concerned.
Then, Grant found Donald Sloan and gave him a chance. Sloan was able to step in, play the majority of minutes at point guard for the Cavaliers, and help them to remain competitive through all of the injuries and growing pains.
So the Cavaliers definitely made strides this season, even though they will again finish with a bad record and a high draft pick. This offseason will be crucial for Grant and crew. the Cavaliers have some expiring contracts, and four draft picks in the first 35 picks of the draft. It is truly an opportunity for the Cavaliers to improve quickly.
The following seven slides describe what the Cavaliers need to do to get back into the playoffs in 2013.
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FIrst and foremost, before the Cavaliers can worry about signing or trading for new players, they need to get healthy.
Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson all missed substantial time for the Cavaliers, who were forced to go to the end of their bench way more than any contending team can afford to do.
The quickest way for the Cavaliers to increase the number in the win column next year is to keep everyone as healthy as possible. As bad as the team's luck was this year with the injury bug, one would hope (knock on wood) that it'd catch a bit of a break next year.
If healthy, the current team would have surely been good for at least a few more wins, if not more. The Cavaliers probably would not have been a playoff contender if they were healthy, but they would have been much more competitive in every game they played.
With what should be an improved roster next season, the health of the team will be a major factor in determining whether the Cavaliers can make it out of the regular season.
Own the Draft
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There is no doubt that the best method the Cavaliers will have this offseason to improve the team next year will be the NBA draft. With four picks in the first 35 of the draft, there is no team in the league that will have a chance at acquiring good players like the Cavs.
Hitting on those picks will be critical for the future of the franchise. The importance of this draft is equal to that of the 2011 draft. The Cavaliers will have the chance to add immediate impact players to a young roster that just needs more talent.
Obviously, nothing is 100 percent certain when it comes to the draft. However, with so many picks, the Cavaliers should realistically be aiming to get two starter-caliber players and at least one top-of-the-bench role player. In such a deep draft, the Cavaliers have a real chance to hit on each of their picks.
Depending on the lottery, the Cavaliers should be able to add a backcourt player, ideally Bradley Beal, who will become a running mate for Kyrie Irving for years.
The Cavaliers then have the Lakers' first-round pick, which will vary in position based on how they do in the playoffs. Still, the Cavaliers could pick up a versatile big man like Andrew Nicholson, a physical presence like Festus Ezeli, or a small forward like Darius Miller.
In the second round, names like Draymond Green, Kris Joseph, William Buford, Kevin Jones and Drew Gordon should be amongst those the Cavaliers can pick from. All of these players were exceptional talents at their respective universities and could be ready to make an impact on day one in the NBA.
With all of the possibilities surrounding the draft, the Cavaliers could seriously turn themselves into a playoff contender just on this one day.
Sign Donald Sloan
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The Cavaliers started this season with Kyrie Irving, Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson splitting up time at the point guard position.
Needless to say, things look much different now.
Irving and Gibson both went down with substantial injuries and Sessions was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for a first-round pick and Luke Walton. All of a sudden, the point guard position, the one position of strength for the Cavaliers, was totally depleted.
Enter Donald Sloan.
Sloan, in his first year out of Texas A&M, has gone from a D-League star to an NBA contributor, helping to keep the Cavs afloat during some tumultuous times. A strong, athletic and physically gifted player, Sloan plays the kind of fast-paced, defense-oriented game that will make him a good substitute for Irving.
Sloan probably won't ever become a major scorer or a guy who will compile major offensive stats, but he does fill the need of smart backup point guard who has the desire and skill to make an NBA career for himself.
The Cavs should give him another year to work and improve, and they could have their backup point guard for years to come.
Use Free Agency to Find Complementary Players
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Along with a plethora of draft picks, the Cavaliers will also enjoy some serious cap space this offseason.
Conservative estimates, without fully knowing next year's salary cap, would have the Cavaliers with about $17 million to spend before they reached the cap. That number could potentially climb to $20 or $21 million if the cap increases next year.
Assuming the Cavaliers will likely spend between $7-9 million on their four draft picks, there is certainly a reason to be hopeful for a bit of a splash by the Cavaliers in the free-agent market.
But whom will they target?
First of all, I don't think the Cavaliers will even attempt to be players in the big-name free-agent races. Chris Grant will likely try to get his stars from the draft, but there will still be plenty of solid additions to be made in the free agent market.
The first player the Cavaliers will likely target will be New Orleans Hornets' big man Chris Kaman. The Cavaliers have been high on Kaman for some time now and could benefit from his toughness, interior defense and finesse offense.
The Cavs could also look at help on the wings. Players like Sam Young, who is having a down year, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and Jodie Meeks will all be available. These are all players who could step in and contribute in a big way for the Cavaliers, a team that relies heavily on its bench.
Once again, don't expect the biggest free-agent names to sign with the Cavaliers, but they do have room to add players who will surely help the team win.
Deal with Antawn Jamison
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One of the best things that will happen to the Cavaliers this offseason will be losing the $15.1 million contract of Antawn Jamison.
The Cavaliers acquired Jamison from the Wizards in 2010 in hopes that he would be the missing link to their championship puzzle. Unfortunately, he wasn't that piece in 2010, and he was left as the veteran presence on a rebuilding team.
Jamison has handled his situation very well, considering he thought that he was joining a championship-caliber team back in 2010. He has become a leader for the Cavaliers while proving he can still play. The Cavaliers are certainly excited about losing Jamison's prohibitive contract, but do they want to lose Jamison?
It will likely be in the team's best interest to figure out a way to keep Jamison, with the understanding that his role, and pay, will be much more limited. Jamison won't be hitting the market looking for the same kind of money, so he could be had for a much more affordable price.
The reason for keeping Jamison is as much for his mentoring capabilities as it is for his basketball abilities. Jamison was/is one of the most creative, effective and unorthodox offensive big men of the last decade. It just so happens that the Cavaliers have two unorthodox big men on their team right now in Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.
Keeping Jamison would undoubtedly help in the development of their young players, especially Thompson. With his positive attitude and willingness to help younger guys, Jamison is certainly worth keeping around for another year.
Trust the Young Players
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Regardless of what happens with new additions to the Cavaliers next year, this team will still be built around Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. The organization is looking to both of those guys to be the cornerstones of the rebuilding process.
Byron Scott has to have faith in the young men next year and focus his game plan on them.
At the beginning of this season, Scott was pretty careful with both Irving and Thompson. They had limited minutes and plays run for them. As the season went on, some of those limitations were lifted, especially for Irving.
Irving proved he is a legitimate elite NBA point guard in the making. His playmaking ability was stunning for a rookie point guard, and he showed he has the ever-important clutch gene, scoring at a ridiculous clip in the fourth quarter of games. As a matter of fact, Irving was one of the best fourth-quarter scorers in the NBA as a rookie. That alone is worth getting excited over.
Scott was a little slower to unleash Thompson. Thompson is a very raw offensive player who showed tremendous potential on defense and rebounding the basketball. His energy and athleticism make him a problem for teams every night.
Offensively, he improved as the year went on and as he became more accustomed to the NBA. As a lefty who is talented with his right hand, Thompson will learn some tricks as he gets more experience in the league.
Byron Scott needs to continue to build around these two young assets, as it will pave the way for a steady and consistent rebuild.
Perhaps the most critical part of the potential 2012-13 Cavaliers playoff run will be a fast start for the Cavs. The team will most likely get a little younger with the addition of several draft picks. A fast start can pave the way for a playoff run.
Finding talented players isn't the only important thing in the NBA. Teams have to build a winning culture if they want to have sustained success.
If the Cavaliers want to build that culture, they can help themselves by learning how to win early and sustaining that success. If Kyrie Irving can lead the charge on a more talented team next year, the Cavaliers could turn out to be one of the most improved teams in the league.
Though it's not 100 percent necessary, a fast start could build a winning culture for the Cavaliers, not just for next season, but for this entire era.