Having drafted point guard sensation Kyrie Irving with the first pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally began a long, difficult rebuilding process in the aftermath of LeBron James' relocation to Miami's South Beach.
Irving lit up the league, winning the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year award comfortably.
The Cavaliers were at least respected this season, a far cry from the downright embarrassing 26-game losing streak, an all-time professional sports record, set in the 2010-11 season immediately after the departure of LeBron James.
The Cavaliers could have been in playoff contention this season had they made the right trades; the Eastern Conference is that weak, especially towards the bottom of the standings.
The top three are widely believed to be Kentucky Wildcat leader Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson, with Harrison Barnes projected soon after.
Kentucky small forward Barnes is an intriguing prospect for any team not taking Anthony Davis with the first pick. A 6' 8" 215-pound forward? A player who announced which (college) team he was going to play for on an ESPN-special program? Sound familiar, Cleveland fans?
According to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated, Barnes is firmly planted on Cleveland's draft radar.
Barnes plays terrific on both sides of the ball, is a wing scorer capable of breaking down his defender and finish at the rim, as well as a good spot-up shooter. Barnes shot 44 percent from the field, including a decent 36.5 percent from behind the three-point line.
Although his NCAA Tournament numbers took a hit, Barnes still has the potential to become a star player in the modern NBA. Averages of 17.1 PPG during the season dipped to 14 PPG on 32.8 percent from the floor and 26 percent from behind the arc.
Kyrie Irving will grow into a leader. Asking someone to be a leader in his rookie season is tough, but the young guard blossomed in the role. The Cavaliers are his team from now on.
Barnes would be the perfect partner for Irving. A second primary scoring threat from the small forward position creates a problem for defenders, as they can no longer double on Irving to force the ball to a less-threatening player.
In addition to Barnes' scoring, his credible defense means that the Cavaliers don't have to worry about keeping him on the floor during key moments of important games—the kid can stop his man.
Probably one of the more overlooked selling points for Cleveland will be Barnes' winning mentality. The Cavaliers, who once experienced 26-game losing streak, will forever be haunted by the feeling of hopelessness. Barnes, like Irving before him, comes from a college team used to winning games. That sort of winning attitude is a large part of what it takes to turn a losing team into a winning team.
Look at the Washington Wizards. They won't even let Andray Blatche near the team for fear that he damages the mentality of the locker-room, which has been slowly turning into a better place to be since the arrival of workhorses like John Wall and Brazilian center Nene.
On an even bigger note, use the Chicago Bulls as an example. Under head coach Vinny Del Negro, the team had characters like Tyrus Thomas, an uncoachable player.
When new head coach Tom Thibodeau was introduced, he instantly signed a raft of hard-working players like Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson to shore up the survivors from the Del Negro era. Luol Deng was found to be the hardest working player in the league, and Joakim Noah's energy and hustle have created a vibrant and tight-nit locker-room.
That's the blueprint for Cleveland: Get the right guys in the draft and anything is possible, especially if their first and fourth picks in successive years gel instantly and begin racking up wins in a weak Eastern Conference.
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