The offseason couldn't have come soon enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as they struggled through a season mirrored in injury, youthful mistakes and poor defense.
If the Cavaliers truly want to make the jump from pretender to contender, there are some very key issues that must be addressed before the start of next season.
Some may be obvious, while some may require a little more thought and work.
Even with such a porous season, the Cavaliers have a chance to be a very, very good team in the not-so-distant future. With the right amount of work put into this offseason by players and front office personnel alike, the Cavs could make a huge jump in the Eastern Conference next season.
First and foremost, the Cavs need to find a head coach before heading into free agency and the draft.
Firing Byron Scott after three seasons, the Cavs are now headed out of rebuilding mode and into playoff contenders. They need a coach who's been around young teams and successfully turned them into winners.
Possible names for the Cavs search right now are Brian Shaw (pictured, left), Mike Malone, Flip Saunders, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles and maybe even a Van Gundy brother.
Technically Mike Brown is a possibility, even though I shudder to think the Cavs would even seriously consider bringing back quite possibly the worst offensive mind in professional basketball.
While I don't see someone of Jackson's prestige taking over a rebuilding team like the Cavaliers, it would certainly be wise of Cleveland to see just how interested the 11-time NBA champion might be.
Varejao was limited to just 25 games this season after splitting a muscle in his leg and doctors later finding a blood clot in his lung.
Expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2013-14 NBA season, the Cavs have to make a decision on Varejao. The now 30-year-old center has played in a total of 81 games the past three seasons and has seen his trade value plummet in the past six months. Even with a career year in 2012-13 (14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds per game), it would be hard-pressed for the Cavs to get much back in trade value due to his recent injury history.
There's no question about his skill level when healthy, but how does Varejao fit into a rebuilding Cavs team?
The upcoming draft and free agency period will certainly give us a better idea of Cleveland's plans for Varejao moving forward. While he's a borderline All-Star when on the court, the Cavs simply cannot rely on Varejao to stay healthy over a full season and should either attempt to trade the big man this summer or severely limit his minutes next season.
It doesn't matter who the Cavs draft, sign or trade for this offseason if they don't defend.
In 2012-13 the Cavaliers ranked near the bottom of almost every defensive category. They were 25th in points allowed per game at 101.2 per contest. They allowed the highest opponent field-goal percentage (.476) of any NBA team and allowed opponents to attempt 24.2 free throws per game, ranking them 28th overall.
To put it simply, the Cavs on defense were tough to watch.
Part of the problem is that their leader, Kyrie Irving, has shown little defensive interest in his two seasons. To truly be considered one of the NBA's best, Irving must assume a leadership position on both ends of the floor. Those spinning, winding layups don't mean much when your man blows by you the next possession down the floor.
Another big issue for the Cavs on defense is their lack of a rim protector. Not a single player on the Cavs even averaged a single blocked shot per game. The Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings were the only other teams that held this same distinction.
The Cavs need a better defensive effort from their leader, Irving, and someone who can instill a little fear into opposing guards who want to drive the lane.
The 2013 NBA free-agent class is good, but the 2014 class is unbelievable.
For this reason, the Cavs should be very mindful of their spending this offseason.
The past few years they've used this strategy: making low-risk signings while keeping their future salary cap open. Players like C.J. Miles, Shaun Livingston, Donald Sloan, Kevin Jones and Samardo Samuels were all signed to short-term or non-guaranteed deals to keep the Cavs' finances as flexible as possible.
With an estimated $32 million in cap space this summer, I'm not saying the Cavs should be completely frivolous in their spending but rather, to make sure they save some of that space for next summer.
In June, 2014 players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Paul George, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe can all become free agents, and the NBA could be facing a complete realignment of championship contenders.
This is the time where an up-and-coming team like the Cavaliers really needs to make their mark.
This summer the Cavs can still make a few low-risk, calculated signings with a possible gamble (see picture) that will help them with their team development while still setting some money aside for next season.
The 2013 draft will be crucial for Cleveland.
Perhaps no team is in better position to improve themselves than the Cavaliers, with four draft picks in the top 33 overall.
We already know the Cavs own picks No. 19, 31 and 33, and have a chance at winning the first overall pick as well.
Cleveland had four picks last season as well but packaged three of them to move up in the draft to select center Tyler Zeller. I believe they'll look to do more of the same this season, as adding four rookies to an already young team would simply be too much.
The Cavs' biggest needs are at small forward and center, with plenty of intriguing prospects available at both positions. General manager Chris Grant isn't afraid to "reach" on a player if he feels he's the right choice, as demonstrated before with the selections of Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
So far both have worked out, and Grant will need to hit another home run in this draft for the Cavs to finally climb out of the NBA basement.