The Cleveland Cavaliers could soon be adding one of the league's most underrated post players, a move that would make them surprise contenders in the Eastern Conference.
According to reports from ESPN's Marc Stein, Cleveland has joined the bidding for recently-amnestied forward Luis Scola. Scola, who is still playing at a very high level, was made expendable when the Rockets decided to go all-in on acquiring Dwight Howard.
Scola isn't the type of sexy, high-upside free agent whose acquisition would lead off SportsCenter, but he is a guy who can immediately transform a bad team into an average one––or an average one into a good one.
Cleveland's record didn't reflect it in 2011-12, but they showed a lot of promise for the future. Kyrie Irving was a giant question mark as the No. 1 overall selection, but he had a better rookie season than Cleveland could have ever imagined. Fellow lottery-selection Tristian Thompson had some moments too, progressing faster than the long-term project he was supposed to be.
The Eastern Conference is in entropic flux right now, so much so that signing like Luis Scola could put a team like Cleveland in a position of power. They wouldn't be Finals contenders, not by a long shot, but they'd be playoff contenders for sure. Why?
Inside-Out Shot Creation
There's a weird paradox in the way NBA teams are reacting to the rapidly-changing nature of the game. On the one hand, the league is becoming less reliant on set plays, and more reliant on isolations. But on the other hand, GMs seem to be more enamored with long, athletic stiffs as frontcourt prospects than they are with limited athletes who can actually score in the post.
Luis Scola is the quintessential example of the latter mode. He's not super long and he's not super athletic, but he is one of the best post-scorers in the league. He's put in the requisite work, and it resulted in a myriad of advanced back-to-the-basket moves that make him tough to guard in the paint.
While the Javale McGees and Serge Ibakas of the world are regulars on the SportsCenter Top 10, Scola is a regular in opposing coaches' nightmares. He's one of the few players who can catch the ball in the post, take his man one-on-one and score.
Combine that with Kyrie Irving's ability to do the same on the perimeter, and you have a dangerous combination of players who can score once the rest of the offense has broken down.
Uncertainty in the Eastern Conference
The Miami LeBrons might be the league's best team, but the East is still undoubtedly the league's worse conference.
Here are last year's playoff teams from out East: Chicago, Miami, Indiana, Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, New York and Philadelphia.
Out of those eight, only six would be considered safe bets to make it back to the postseason in 2013. Atlanta and Orlando, meanwhile, seem reserved to blowing up their cores and starting the rebuilding process. Thus, even if you assume Derrick Rose will be back at some point, New York won't implode around its own egos and Indiana isn't a one-year-wonder, there are still two playoff spots up for grabs.
You have to figure that Brooklyn, following the addition of Joe Johnson, is a safe bet to take one of them. Even without Dwight Howard, a starting five of Deron-Johnson-Wallace-Humphries-Lopez is good enough to sneak into the playoffs.
But after the Nets, who's there to take the eighth spot? Milwaukee? Detroit? Please.
NBA Ready Rookies
In the 2011 NBA Draft, Cleveland augmented Kyrie Irving with Tristan Thompson, a prospect best described as "developing" and "loaded with potential." But in 2012, the Cavs ended up with two rookies who were readily labeled "polished" and "NBA-ready."
Dion Waiters gives Cleveland something they've sorely lacked at the shooting guard position: explosion. Watching Anthony Parker plod his way through games has been a sight for sore eyes, but Waiters will be a refreshing change of pace. He loves to attack, and should be able to get to the rim right out of the gate.
Tyler Zeller, whom the Cavs acquired in a draft night trade, wasn't the sexiest name in the draft, but he was definitely one of the safest. He's a legit seven-footer (not one of those guys who's 4 inches shorter without shoes), and has unbelievable hands around the basket. He's a little slight, and may get pushed around at first, but he has the length to compensate by contesting shots.
The Cavs showed small flashes of promise in 2011-12, and they added two immediate contributors in one night.
Before you dismiss the idea of Cleveland in the playoffs as ludicrous, take a moment to step back and really evaluate the situation. Should they sign Scola, they could march out a potential rotation that looks like this:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Alonzo Gee
PF: Luis Scola
C: Anderson Varejao
B: Tristan Thompson
B: Tyler Zeller
B: Daniel Gibson
B: Omri Casspi
It's not enough to make a serious playoff run, sure, but you're crazy if you think they can't beat out Milwaukee and Detroit.
And if all goes according to plan, Cleveland could sneak into the 8th seed next season setting up a likely matchup with, you guessed it, LeBron James and the Miami Heat.