Optimism is the key word for the Cleveland Cavaliers entering into the 2013-14 season. The last three winters have been long, cold ones for Cavalier fans, watching their team struggle just to peak at 24 wins.
The Cavaliers bring to the table a new (old?) coach, a new No. 1 overall pick, a former All-Star center and plenty of other pieces that should finally make this an exciting, and hopefully successful, season.
Before we look ahead, let's take a peak back at how the Cavs finished up last year.
- 24-58 record
- 5th place finish in Central Division
- 13th place finish in Eastern Conference
While the final record wasn't anything to celebrate, there were certainly some positives to come out of last season. The first and foremost being the rise to stardom by point guard Kyrie Irving. Irving went from rookie surprise to can't-miss star talent in a single season. He made his first All-Star team, won the NBA 3-Point Contest, and finished the year with 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals and a shooting line of .452/.391/.855.
Despite Irving's success, the Cavaliers still finished last in their division. A key reason was their complete and total lack of defensive commitment. Cleveland allowed 101.2 points per game, 25th in the NBA last season. They allowed opposing teams to shoot 47.6 percent from the field, the highest mark in the league. Such poor numbers on the defensive end would ultimately lead to a coaching change and some strategic free agent moves.
Health will be key for the Cavaliers to reach where they want to go in 2012-13. So many question marks surround players like Irving, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum who have all spent major time dealing with injuries in the past. The Cavs will be at their absolute best if they can keep their big men upright and their star point guard on the court.
- Andrew Bynum, C (free agent, Philadelphia 76ers)
- Anthony Bennett, PF (1st overall pick, 2013 draft)
- Jarrett Jack, G (free agent, Golden State Warriors)
- Mike Brown, Head Coach
Bynum was a huge (literally) pick up for the Cavaliers in free agency. He signed a two-year, $24 million deal that includes a team option for the second year. If he can't regain his All-Star form, the Cavaliers can get out of the contract for just $6 million.
Anthony Bennett was a shocking first overall pick, but general manager Chris Grant described him as the best overall talent in the draft. It's rare that number one picks get the luxury of coming off the bench and not have the weight of a team on their shoulders. Jack is a combo guard that provides playoff experience and leadership. Cleveland snagged him after he helped lead the Warriors to the postseason after landing in the draft lottery the year before.
Mike Brown is back. Yay? The offensively-challenged coach has a great career record in Cleveland (272-138 in five seasons), but how much of that was Brown and how much was LeBron James? I guess we'll find out this year. If nothing else, that 25th-ranked team defense should be much better.
- Byron Scott, Head Coach
- Marreese Speights, PF (signed with Golden State Warriors)
- Daniel Gibson, SG (free agent, unsigned)
- Shaun Livingston, PG (signed with Brooklyn Nets)
Cleveland didn't lose a whole lot this offseason, unless you count Luke Walton's expiring contract as a valuable asset.
The Cavaliers fired Byron Scott, maybe unfairly, after Cleveland showed little life on defense. Scott was thrown into a bad situation, and he probably should have gotten this year to prove his value. If nothing else, he had a great impact on Kyrie Irving's development and all Cavalier fans should thank him for that.
Speights, Livingston, Gibson and Wayne Ellington were nice role players, but their absence certainly won't hold Cleveland back. All have signed on with new teams except Gibson, who's struggled to stay on the court the past few seasons.
When Will Andrew Bynum Be Back on the Court?
While the Cavaliers insist they haven't set a timetable for his recovery, all signs are pointing towards a return sooner rather than later.
In an article on October 17th, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal states that Bynum is progressing nicely, saying:
Andrew Bynum is down to his “game weight,” a league source said, and continues to inch closer to a return to the court with the Cavs. Bynum has hit every milestone the team has set before him without any setbacks, including participating in 3 on 3 half-court scrimmages with teammates during Wednesday’s practice.
Game weight for Bynum has been around 285 pounds, meaning Bynum has dropped 20 pounds since signing with the Cavaliers this summer.
When asked in his weekly chat when Bynum would take the floor, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio said that, "I think it'll be before the end of November".
Only missing a month would be great news, given that Bynum missed all of last season due to knee surgeries. Let's hope Amico's right.
Who's Going to Start at Small Forward?
Judging by the preseason, it's hard to tell.
Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark have split time starting games at small forward, but one can't count C.J. Miles out either.
The good news is that the Cavaliers have options. The bad news is that none of these options have taken control of the job.
Gee started all 82 games for the Cavs last season and is a versatile defender. He's not a strong shooter or rebounder, however, something Mike Brown desires. Clark played briefly under Brown for the Los Angeles Lakers last season before Brown was fired, and he signed a two-year deal with the Cavs this summer. He's 6'10", can rebound, defend and play both forward positions. Miles is the best shooter of the three, but is probably best at shooting guard and hasn't proven to be a particularly strong rebounder or defender in the past.
So who wins the job?
I'll say Clark for now, although it could change from day to day. In the end, whoever starts won't be a big deal. Whoever finishes close games at small forward will really be what's important.
Will Anderson Varejao Finally Last an Entire Season?
The last time Varejao played more than 31 games in a season, Mike Brown was still in his first coaching tenure in Cleveland.
Maybe Mike's good luck for Andy?
Through a combination of overuse and freak injuries, Varjeao has played 81 total games the past three years. Since Zydrunas Ilguaskas signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, Varejao has been thrust into the starting center job.
Brown can help keep Varejao healthy by using him less. In five seasons playing under Brown, Varejao never averaged more than 28.5 minutes a night. The past three years as a starter, Varejao's average minutes per night rose to 33.2.
Getting Bynum back and moving Varejao to a reserve role would be great for his preservation. Besides the playing time relief, it would also mean the difference in going up against Brook Lopez or Mason Plumlee. A pretty big difference if you ask, well, anyone.
Will Varejao last an entire season? Probably not, but 50 games or more is considered a good bet if Brown can manage him properly.
|Position||Starter||2nd String||3rd String||4th String|
|Point Guard||Kyrie Irving||Jarrett Jack||Matthew Dellavedova||Elliot Williams|
|Shooting Guard||Dion Waiters||C.J. Miles||Carrick Felix||Jermaine Taylor|
|Small Forward||Earl Clark||Alonzo Gee||Sergey Karasev|
|Power Forward||Tristan Thompson||Anthony Bennett||Henry Sims||Kenny Kadji|
|Center||Anderson Varejao||Andrew Bynum||Tyler Zeller||DeSagana Diop|
With 19 players currently on the preseason roster, Cleveland will need to make four cuts before the regular season begins.
Expect Diop and Williams to be the first on the chopping block, and Taylor likely the next to follow. Sims, Dellavedova and Kadji should be considered the favorites for the last two spots. Best guess? Sims and "Delly" grab it, thanks to strong preseason play and positional needs.
Varejao will begin the season at center, but expect Bynum to take over when he's medically cleared.
Point Guard: A
With Irving and Jack, the Cavs have an exciting and versatile combo. Both can also play off the ball and are lethal three-point shooters. If Irving has to miss a game here and there with some minor injuries, Cleveland can feel confident that Jack can step up and and steer the ship.
Dellavedova shouldn't see a lot of playing time, hopefully. He's a nice game manager, but hasn't shown any ability to create a shot for himself. In his first seven preseason games, Delly is shooting just 25.8 percent from the field and 20.0 percent on threes.
Shooting Guard: B
A leap in performance for Waiters could push this to an A, especially if Miles has a solid season as well.
Waiters excels at getting to the basket and came into camp in great shape. Don't be surprised if he averages around 18 points a game this season. Miles is a good, but inconsistent shooter who may end up starting at small forward. Carrick Felix is a nice defender, but has missed most of the preseason with a hernia and should see a lot of his time in Canton with the Charge.
Small Forward: C-
This may be generous.
We're close to the beginning of the season and so far no one has stepped up and taken control of the starting job. Gee, Clark and Karasev together form a nice overall player, but none look like a starter in the NBA so far this preseason.
The starting job should come down to Gee or Clark, but it's likely we'll see both starting games for the Cavaliers this season, possibly depending on the matchup on any given night.
Gee leads the pack with his 40.9 percent shooting from the field this preseason, topping Clark (34.0) and Karasev (33.3). Not exactly inspiring numbers to start the season.
Power Forward: B+
Tristan Thompson may have come into the league looking like an adolescent deer still learning to run and leap, but he's quickly becoming a full-fledged buck.
Thompson is averaging 12.7 points and a team best 9.3 rebounds in just 25.1 minutes a game this preseason. His right-handed shot looks strong, contributing to his 54.7 percent shooting from the field in the first seven games.
Anthony Bennett has shown some nice flashes as well. The first overall pick took over the fourth quarter in a preseason game against the Orlando Magic, scoring 14 points in the final period. Despite being severely out of shape due to rehabbing a shoulder injury all summer, he's hitting the glass regularly and appears to be getting his legs back.
Thanks to Canada, Cleveland is set at power forward.
Center: A (With Bynum) B (No Bynum)
Grading the center position is tricky.
If injuries strike and Cleveland is forced to play Zeller 30 minutes a night, these grades plummet. If Zeller can come in during mop-up duty after Bynum and Varjeao have finished demoralizing opponents that night, we're looking at a solid "A".
As cursed as Cleveland may or may not be, the basketball gods have to allow the Cavs to have either a healthy Varejao or a healthy Bynum, right? Please?
Either one healthy and productive is going to give the Cavs a great chance at the playoffs. Both would mean a possible playoff series win.
For more insight into the individual players, a complete power ranking and breakdown can be found here.
What to Watch For:
Breakout Player: Tristan Thompson
As touched on before, Thompson switched shooting hands and it seems to be paying off.
His 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game last season was a nice start, but it appears he'll be topping those numbers this year. After the All-Star break last season, Thompson was a double-double machine with 12.1 points and 10.1 rebounds a game.
Thompson has a big fan in coach Mike Brown, who sees a ton of defensive potential in the 6'9" power forward as well.
Brown had this to say about Thompson to the Akron Beacon Journal:
“He’s so athletic and so long, he can be one of the best in the league if not the best ever. The biggest thing he has is a work ethic. In order to be great, the game of basketball is not easy and you have to have the mindset you want to outwork your opponent. He’s got a lot in the tool package to be one of the best, if not the best, when it comes to defending the post, defending weak side, defending pick-and-roll."
One of the best defenders, ever?
Let's just start with an All-Defense team and go from there, shall we?
Regardless, Thompson should have a true breakout year by contributing on both sides of the ball for the Cavaliers.
Team MVP: Kyrie Irving
If this is anyone besides Kyrie Irving, I shudder to think how the season ended up.
Irving is the heart and soul of this new era of Cavaliers basketball. He's the reason the national media is once again discussing the Cavs and why Cleveland is a popular pick to reach the postseason. If Irving truly wants to be the best player in the NBA like he's claimed this preseason, he'll have to lead Cleveland not just to the playoffs, but to a title in the upcoming years.
Expect stats of around 23 points, 4.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists for Irving this year, with a bump in assists the result of a better supporting cast.
Most Disappointing Player: Earl Clark
The fact that the Cavaliers gave Clark $9 million this offseason to come in and take the job of an undrafted free agent shows their confidence in him.
The fact that he's failed to do so is a little disheartening.
Clark was Cleveland's first free agent signing this summer, but could turn out to be their worst. In his first six preseason games, Clark is averaging just 5.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 22.2 minutes a game. He's shooting just 34.0 percent from the field and 12.5 percent on three-pointers. The incredibly-high arch on his shot could potentially set off a sprinkler system at some point this season.
Player Most Likely to Be Traded: C.J. Miles
My head says to list Varejao here, but my heart just won't let me. Varejao has seemingly popped up in trade rumors the past three seasons but has seen his value diminish due to injury-plagued seasons.
Miles, however, could be traded for a number of reasons.
First, his contract with the Cavaliers runs up after this season and they could try to get some value from him before he walks in free agency. Anthony reason is the need for playing time for rookie Sergey Karasev. If the Cavs like what they see in the sweet-shooting Russian, they may move Miles in order to open up more minutes for Karasev.
That being said, if Bynum is playing well and Zeller looks like a capable backup, Varejao and his $9.8 million salary for next season could be moved.
Biggest Rivalry: Detroit Pistons/Washington Wizards
This should be fun.
The Cavs met the Wizards and Pistons a combined six times in the Eastern Conference playoffs from 2006 to 2009. Cleveland won all three series against the Wizards while taking two out of three from the Pistons.
Lately, all three teams have swapped playoffs spots for lottery picks, slowly rebuilding their previous postseason rosters.
This season, all three should be back in the hunt for a playoff spot. The names have changed, but the rivalries should remain the same with tough, hard-nosed basketball.
This should be a dog fight all season between these three teams, but at least that's better than watching ping pong balls in the spring.
As previously mentioned in the training camp preview, I believe the best the Cavaliers can finish this season as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
There is a sharp drop off in talent from the top-five teams to the bottom 10 in the East. I also think that Cleveland could swing a first-round upset, if they have Andrew Bynum playing like 2011-12 Andrew Bynum.
By that time, Irving will have three full regular seasons under his belt and could have an All-Star center in Bynum, a walking double-double in Thompson and a go-to scorer beside him in Waiters. Who knows how good Bennett and Karasev could be by then, too. If Cleveland can get a first-round matchup with an older team like the Brooklyn Nets, they could definitely advance to the second round.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors have both had 24-plus win increases in a single season in recent years, why not the Cavs?
Mike Brown takes control of all offensive play-calling.
Just kidding, but not really.
Health is the one thing that can bring the Cavaliers down this season. They just have too many good pieces to not have a good year otherwise.
We know what could go wrong with Bynum and Varejao, and Irving hasn't been the staple of durability, either. Cleveland has to make the playoffs for this to be considered a successful season, period.
Missing the postseason, injuries racking up and going to the draft lottery again would be a major step back for the franchise.
Final Projected Record and Placing
44-38, 6th place in Eastern Conference
Cleveland is a playoff team if they remain healthy. The defense will be better, the younger players more mature and the overall talent of the team is much better than in past years.
The Cavaliers have more collective talent that teams like the Wizards, Pistons and Hawks. Now it's just a matter of molding that talent into a collective, functioning team.
It may take some time, especially with all the new players and coaching staff, but we should once again see Cavalier playoff basketball this spring.