This is as big of a season for the Cleveland Cavaliers as it is for Kyrie Irving. While Irving will enter the 2013-14 campaign with an opportunity to establish himself as an All-NBA player, the Cavs can also take steps in proving to Irving that Cleveland is where he can win long-term.
After acquiring salary cap flexibility and a series of draft picks since selecting the All-Star point guard first overall in 2011, the Cavaliers acted aggressively this summer in hopes of building a winning roster. But will the Cavs' offseason gambles, heading into Irving's third NBA season, define his future in Cleveland?
The two-part component to that answer includes a short-term reason for Irving to be encouraged by his team's philosophical shift toward winning basketball games now as opposed to building for a more distant future.
The way those gambles play out in terms of wins and losses, however—which include signing an injured All-Star in Andrew Bynum, selecting Anthony Bennett first overall and rehiring a coach previously fired by Cleveland in Mike Brown—will ultimately go a long way to define both Irving and the Cavaliers' future for years to come.
Plenty Of Reason To Be Encouraged By Cavs' Offseason
The Cleveland Cavaliers re-acquired defensive guru Mike Brown as head coach this offseason after ranking last in opponent field-goal percentage at 47.6 percent in 2012-13.
They also added veteran guard Jarrett Jack, coming off a year with the Golden State Warriors where he averaged 12.9 points and 5.6 assists, who is more than capable of backing up both guard positions.
Cleveland then took a gamble on former All-Star Andrew Bynum with an incentive-laden two-year, $24 million contract that guarantees Bynum only $6 million. With the top pick of the NBA draft, the Cavaliers also surprised most pundits by selecting Anthony Bennett from UNLV first overall.
The Cavs completed their summer by signing free agent Earl Clark and drafting a 19-year-old wing from Russia named Sergey Karasev with the 19th overall pick.
When comparing this offseason to the previous two that Irving experienced in Cleveland, highlighted by the free-agent signings of Anthony Parker in 2011 and C.J. Miles in 2012, there is plenty of reason to be encouraged by the reward these gambles could offer in 2013-14.
The Opportunity To Develop A Co-Star For Irving in Cleveland
But will a second star emerge from the new roster? That will determine this summer's impact on Irving and the Cavaliers' future.
Will Andrew Bynum, for example, be healthy enough in 2013-14 to become at least 85 percent of the All-Star he was in 2011-12?
Or can Anthony Bennett, as the top overall pick, prove to be the unique offensive weapon the Cavaliers expect while doing enough defensively to win Rookie of the Year honors?
Furthermore, this season will also answer how much of an impact Jarrett Jack's veteran presence will have on Dion Waiters' development in the backcourt. It's also possible that Waiters, with Jack as his mentor, could make major strides during year two of his professional career.
If at least one star emerges from the series of moves Cleveland made this summer, that could go a long way toward defining Irving's future with the Cavaliers for many years to come.
Will This Roster Help Irving Win Basketball Games?
Beyond the individual potential surrounding Irving on the Cavs roster, Cleveland's rebuild will begin to be measured by wins and losses in 2013-14.
Since Irving arrived, despite winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 and earning a trip to the All-Star game in 2013, the Cavaliers have compiled a record of 45-103. Under Mike Brown moving forward, that combined winning percentage of .304 must change both immediately and dramatically.
A player of Irving's caliber deserves the opportunity to perform on the postseason stage, and the Cavaliers will need to win much more often than they have to get him there.
Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Earl Clark and Tyler Zeller will be critical in developing that winning formula, in addition to the impact of Bynum, Bennett, Waiters and Jack. Yet, it's up to Coach Brown to make all these pieces work together effectively alongside Irving.
But if Brown can help Cleveland back to the playoffs this year, in addition to helping Irving improve defensively, the Cavaliers' future will look extremely bright heading into next summer.
Kyrie Irving's Immediate Future With The Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers can offer Kyrie Irving a max-contract extension next summer worth approximately five years, $80 million.
It's an offer the Cavaliers will most certainly make just as soon as they're able to, and also one that seems unlikely Irving would turn down.
No player in NBA history, for example, has ever turned down a max contract offer coming off his rookie deal.
More than reinforcing Irving's desire to stay in Cleveland, however, this offseason will go down as a critical moment in Cavaliers' history for determining how successful the Irving era might actually become.
If Mike Brown once again becomes the Coach of the Year, Bynum an All-Star and Bennett follows Irving as Cleveland's next ROY, this offseason could eventually prove to be the greatest summer in the history of the Cavaliers franchise.
But even if these moves provide modest, positive returns individually, the combination could be enough to support a winner in Cleveland alongside Irving for many years to come.