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6 Reasons Why the Cavaliers Are the Next Playoff Team in Cleveland

Max ForstagContributor IIIDecember 11, 2016

6 Reasons Why the Cavaliers Are the Next Playoff Team in Cleveland

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    The Cavaliers kick off training camp on Tuesday, but for Cleveland sports fans, the regular season can’t come soon enough. In a city where hope itself is the remedy for championship-deprived fanbases, the Cavs currently present the city’s greatest reason for optimism.

    While the Indians are licking their wounds following a hugely disappointing season and the Browns have battled injuries, suspensions and themselves to a 0-4 start, the Cavaliers are in prime position to be the next playoff team in Cleveland. Here are six solid reasons why.

1. Youth

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    The average age on the Cavaliers 19-man training camp roster is 24.4 years. In a league where youth is the name of the game, the Cavaliers’ roster is stacked with young talent.

    Star point guard Kyrie Irving is 20, while fellow 2011 first round pick Tristan Thompson is 21. This year's first rounders, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, are 20 and 22, respectively. With these four representing the team’s core for the foreseeable future, the Cavs will have plenty of time to develop their talent while playing at a competitive level.

    Irving has already proven himself as a top 10 NBA point guard, with the potential to climb a lot higher in the future. Tristan Thompson showed that he is a very capable post player after being moved into the starting lineup, despite playing out of position at center.

    Dion Waiters was the best player on a Syracuse team that advanced to the Elite 8, despite being a sophomore who came off the bench. Tyler Zeller is a very polished, pro-ready prospect who started all four years at UNC.

    It’s well documented that the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team the Cavaliers are modeling themselves after,  are stacked with young talent. Kevin Durant is 24, while Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all just 23.

    Despite only playing together for three seasons, the team is fresh off its first NBA Finals appearance. While the Cavaliers own young quartet can’t match the talent of OKC at present, the future could be quite bright sooner rather than later.

    Why the Cavs are better than the Indians and Browns

    The Indians have some promising offensive pieces in Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis. However, their starting rotation is a mess. The few starting pitching prospects that they have in their system are still 2-3 years away from reaching the majors.   

    While the Browns have potential talent on both sides of the ball, they’ve yet to avoid the mental mistakes that prove costly in tight games. With one of the best young closers in the NBA in Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are in a good position to win more close games than they’ll lose.

2. Depth

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    Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the current Cavaliers roster is its depth. While the team is still thin at the PG position behind Irving, they have vastly upgraded their SG and SF positions with the additions of Waiters and CJ Miles.

    Re-signing swingman Alonzo Gee was another wise move, as the Cavaliers committed just $9.75 million for three more years of a player entering his prime.

    For a team that started 36-year-old Anthony Parker and an inconsistent Omri Casspi on the wings last season, any combination of the Waiters/Miles/Gee trio will provide the Cavs with viable scoring options.

    Casspi still has the ability to redeem his once-promising career with lowered expectations coming off the Cavalier bench.

    The drafting of Tyler Zeller and acquisitions of Kevin Jones and Jon Leuer provide the Cavaliers' front court with other options who each provide something different. Zeller excels in the mid-range game and can run the floor well, Jones has a nice arsenal of post moves, and Leuer can expand the floor with his perimeter game.

    Although Jones and Leuer won’t both make the final roster, each provides a nice complement to the bruising playing style of Thompson, Anderson Varejao and a slimmed-down Samardo Samuels. With the new additions, the Cavs’ front court is in much better shape without castoffs Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden.

    Why the Cavs are better than the Indians and Browns

    Injuries decimated the Indians 2011 season, and their lack of talent in the Minors made this season’s collapse unsalvageable. They were unable to find any consistently reliable starters and had numerous failed efforts at fielding a Major League caliber left fielder.

    The Browns faced an uphill battle before their 2012 season even began due to a pectoral injury to DT Phil Taylor and the suspension of CB Joe Haden. With their young offense a work in progress, the loss to successive first round picks has hurt the Browns' attempts at stopping the run and defending opposing teams’ No. 1 wide receivers.

    While they attempted to correct such losses with the drafting of other players at both positions, the defense has been unable to meet the production of Taylor and Haden, and have been major contributors to the team’s 0-4 start.

3. No Pressure to Meet Expectations

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    The Cavaliers went from perennial title contender to NBA bottom feeder the minute LeBron James chose South Beach over the North Coast. Despite grandiose statements from owner Dan Gilbert and a dedicated fanbase, no one realistically expected the Cavaliers to make a run at an NBA title with the roster they had in the aftermath of the LeBron era.

    Although things are definitely looking up with Irving, Thompson and now Waiters and Zeller on board, the Cavaliers certainly aren’t dark-horse title contenders just yet. They can, however, make a serious push for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, and would provide a tough first round match-up against likely top seed Miami.

    With little-to-no expectations for this young Cavaliers squad, they could very easily surprise a few people by not only playing competitive basketball, but potentially making some noise in the playoffs. To do so just two seasons after undergoing a history-making 26-game losing streak would be nothing short of remarkable.

    Why the Cavs are better than the Indians and Browns

    After finishing 80-82 in 2011, expectations were high for the Tribe heading into 2012. Many believed that if they could stay relatively healthy, they’d make a serious playoff push this season. Although unhampered by injury, the team fell way short of expectations, and manager Manny Acta was subsequently fired.

    The Browns have some of the most dedicated, passionate fans in the NFL. While this is great for team pride and morale, it also brings expectations of winning football. Although this has been a rare sight since the team returned in 1999, the fans continue to expect more from their team.

    Year after year, Browns fans’ seemingly modest 8-8 record predictions result in 4-12 seasons. It’s incredible to think that before the Browns move, they had winning records in 38 of their franchise’s 50 seasons.

    Since returning, they’ve had losing seasons in 11 of 13 tries, and are almost assuredly on pace for a 12th.

4. Head Coach

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    The Cavaliers are an extremely young team with a star point guard. They have one of the NBA’s best coaches at developing young point guards in Byron Scott, who has had good success coaching Jason Kidd in the prime of his career and mentoring a young Chris Paul, who has turned into one of the league’s premier players.

    Scott has experienced a lot in his two-year tenure as the team’s head coach. Within weeks of being hired, LeBron James left the entire franchise shaken to its core when he left town.

    Then the season came, and the team quickly fell apart, undergoing the long losing streak and enduring national shame along the way. With such a young roster in tow, the team needed a steady and guiding influence to weather the storm. Throughout the ordeal, Scott never once called out his players.

    He has, however, demanded that players play to the best of their abilities and put in maximum effort. When Samardo Samuels wasn’t playing with the effort deemed necessary by Scott, he was benched. Ditto Semih Erden.

    When Omri Casspi proved he couldn’t be an effective NBA starter, Scott inserted Alonzo Gee into the starting five, and allowed Gee to prove himself. He’ll undoubtedly make subsequent changes in the coming season in the event one of the players isn’t pulling his weight.

    Why the Cavs are better than the Indians and Browns

    For the time being, the Indians are managed by former player and fan favorite Sandy Alomar Jr. Manager Manny Acta was fired Thursday, despite prior claims that his job was safe for the upcoming season.

    Although a popular player’s manager who seemed on the same page with management, the Tribe brass made Acta the fall guy for the team’s struggles. After the team made strides in his second season, 2012 was a huge let down, as the Tribe is limping to the finish of another 90+ loss season.   

    The Browns’ coaching carousel has been in been in full swing since the team returned in 1999. They’ve had six head coaches in 14 seasons, and even more offensive and defensive coordinators.

    Pat Shurmur is 4-16 in his year and change in Cleveland, and doesn’t look poised to lead the team back to respectability anytime soon. His offensive play calling is horrific, and his deadpan press conferences do nothing to endear him to Browns fans.

5. Star Potential

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    Kyrie Irving has superstar potential, and Tristan Thompson will have every opportunity to prove himself this season now that Antawn Jamison is gone. His game is very much like that of teammate Anderson Varejao, as he’s a great hustle player and rebounder.

    Dion Waiters may have been a reach for Cleveland as the fourth overall pick, but that by no means limits his potential in the NBA. Although he’ll carry the weight (no pun intended) of being a lottery pick, Waiters should fit in just fine in Byron Scott’s system.

    With Kyrie Irving already running the show, Dion knows he wasn’t drafted to be ‘the guy.’ He’s confident in his game, able to create his own shot, and might be a great option for bench scoring, a role he specialized in at Syracuse.

    He may never be the Cavs’ D-Wade, but being their James Harden (who was drafted third overall) would certainly vault him to near ‘star’ status.

    When the Cavaliers dealt their No. 24 and both high second-round picks, they were making a clear investment in Tyler Zeller. In what was considered a deep draft, picks were at a premium, and many fans believe the Cavs may have given up too much to acquire the UNC center.

    Only time will tell, but Zeller looked great in Summer League, started all four years at Chapel Hill, and has a very well-rounded game. He doesn’t look like the kind of player who will amaze you in the highlight reel, but he does look poised to have a very respectable NBA career.

    To me, Zeller's game resembles that of a young Zydrunas Ilgauskas. People may think of ‘Big Z’ as a slow-footed spot-up shooter, but before his numerous foot surgeries, Ilgauskas had a dynamic offensive game, and could run the floor well in addition to knocking down the 18-footer.

    Perhaps the Zeller selection is no coincidence, as Ilgauskas is now the team’s Assistant GM.

    Why the Cavs are better than the Indians and Browns

    The Indians’ 2012 season has proven just how good they really are. Unfortunately for the Tribe faithful, their young core doesn’t have what it takes to stack up on its own. Until the Tribe can sign some effective veterans, the core of Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis is nothing more than a .500 team at best.

    While all of those players are talented contributors, none of them have the potential to be the true ‘face’ of a franchise, as Grady Sizemore once was. All are talented enough to endear fans, but none will ever prove themselves the premier talent at their respective position.

    The Browns look to have invested wisely in third overall pick Trent Richardson. Although his yards-per-carry aren’t through the roof, he’s done something his teammates can’t do, and that’s score touchdowns.

    He’s looked good in the limited chances he’s had to run the ball, but that he’s averaging just 16 carries a game shows the Browns are lost in terms of play calling and game planning. He should be getting at least 20 carries a game, preferably closer to 25-30.

    Joe Haden has established himself as one of the league’s elite defensive backs, but no one outside of Cleveland seems to have taken note. His four-game suspension has proved the death of the Browns secondary this season, however, and until the team starts winning, he won’t be recognized nationally as a star.

6. Ownership

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    Dan Gilbert’s infamous Comic Sans letter has given the wrong impression of the Quicken Loans founder. The national media labels him a venom-spewing, bitter owner whose vindictive actions embody the sorrow of Cavs fans everywhere. In reality, he’s been the best thing to happen to the city of Cleveland’s professional sports scene since Dick Jacobs.

    Gilbert is a passionate owner whose shown willingness to spend and improve the team, upgrade the arena, and the revamp the team’s importance to fans. It’s obvious that he cares about putting a competitive team on the floor, while GM Chris Grant has done a fine job since taking over for his predecessor, Danny Ferry.

    Scoring the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft was absolutely essential after the LeBron fallout, and just one year after he left, the Cavs have found the new face of their franchise in Kyrie Irving. We’ll have to wait to see how Thompson, Waiters and Zeller pan out, but getting Irving alone was nothing short of brilliant, especially considering we gave up just Mo Williams to acquire the rights to draft him.

    Why the Cavs are better than the Indians and Browns

    Dan Gilbert’s passion is music to the ears of Cleveland sports fans who know the same can’t be said of Indians owner Larry Dolan. The 82-year-old Dolan is out of touch with an Indians franchise that has teetered on mediocrity since he bought the team 12 years ago.

    Not only do the Indians never sign effective free agents, they haven’t been able to consistently draw fans since their 455-game sell-out streak ended over a decade ago. I challenge you to find an Indians fan that wouldn’t be happy if Dolan sold the team.

    Many Browns fans didn’t know how to react when former Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Jimmy Haslam bought the team for over $1 billion this summer. The Pilot Flying J founder clearly has the money to sign free agents and pay what it takes to make the team competitive. Although he has not fired Team President Mike Holmgren just yet, such a move could be imminent if the team doesn’t show improvement sooner rather than later.

    While GM Tom Heckert has a relatively good record of success with his draft picks, he’s failed to acquire the impact free agents the team needs to complement its young talent. While many fans have embraced the sale of the team, you probably won’t find many who would be upset if ‘$8 million Mike’ was let go.

Conclusion

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    The Cavaliers are still at least another piece or two from becoming established contenders, but the foundation is there. Two years after their roster was filled with D-Leaguers and aging veterans, Cleveland has built four-fifths of its starting rotation in two drafts.

    They'll need to acquire more shooters before getting anywhere in the playoffs, as their roster is full of athletic swing men whose game is best driving to the hoop.

    The Indians need to get their managerial situation handled first and foremost. Sandy Alomar Jr. is apparently very popular amongst players and beloved in Cleveland.

    If former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona is serious in his interest at managing the Indians, it'd be hard to say 'no' to a manager whose won two World Series. Even with Francona in charge, the Tribe has a long way to go before becoming a contender again.

    The Browns may be in better ownership hands now that Jimmy Haslam has bought the team, but they too have a long road ahead of them before making the playoffs again. It's not for a lack of young talent, but rather getting the right people on the sidelines and adding veterans who can still contribute.

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