For the Cleveland Cavaliers, the toughest part about the 2013-14 campaign is that it's just not going anywhere. It may be a nightmare, but the team is stuck in it and can't wake up.
Even with Luol Deng on the roster, the Cavs bottomed out against the Sacramento Kings. En route to its third loss of the season by at least 29 points, Cleveland scored only 80 points on Jan. 12, allowing 124 to Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Co.
The loss dropped Cleveland to 13-24 on the season. Even in the ridiculously weak Eastern Conference—one in which a .405 winning percentage is good enough to make the playoffs—that leaves the Cavs at No. 11. Not exactly what the franchise was dreaming about heading into the season.
Visions of playoff games and championship dreams have been replaced by red "L"s, shots clanging off the rim and fighting between the members of the squad. It's not a pretty sight.
Obviously, there's a lot of blame to be doled out for the disappointing season.
It all starts out with the front office.
Poor Free-Agent Signings
When was the last time the Cavaliers signed a marquee free agent?
The two biggest names brought in were Jarrett Jack—who was expected to be a backup point guard from the very beginning—and Earl Clark. Well, Andrew Bynum probably counts as a big name, and the Cavaliers did a masterful job of risk management, guaranteeing only $6 million of his two-year salary.
However, there's a big difference between proper risk management and proper talent evaluation. The signing of Bynum didn't hurt the team much from a financial standpoint, but it was another ineffective move when it comes to actually improving the team.
As for Jack, he's been far less impressive than Cleveland hoped when inking him. Though he's a solid offensive backup, the 30-year-old floor general isn't much of a difference-maker, and the same can be said about Clark.
In fact, there are very few contributing members of this struggling team who actually came aboard via free agency: Jack, Clark, C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee. That's it.
Miles has been having a surprisingly effective season while playing at the 3, especially since he's been lighting it up from downtown. The small forward is shooting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc, and that's allowed him to be more successful closer to the basket as well.
But still, that's as good as it gets.
Cleveland—even in this era of the NBA in which so many contending teams are built via free agency—is attempting to turn into a competitive squad without making much noise in the open market. The franchise is relying on the draft and internal development, and it obviously isn't working.
It's the same reason that LeBron James ended up leaving the team for the more-promising Miami Heat.
Dan Gilbert is willing to spend money, but his front office has consistently failed to identify talent in proper fashion. We've gone from management signing a washed-up Shaquille O'Neal and expecting Daniel Gibson to serve as a Robin to management looking completely incapable of acquiring many quality players.
This would be fine if the front office were capable of hitting on its draft picks, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Awful Draft Selections
Other than Kyrie Irving, please identify the last selection that the Cavs absolutely nailed.
Here's some music to entertain everyone else who's waiting.
While you ponder fruitlessly, let's just run back through the last five drafts and see if Cleveland made any picks that might be flying below the radar.
In 2009, the Cavaliers had the final selection in the first round, and they picked Christian Eyenga. The Congolese small forward played only 50 games with the team before he was included in a four-team trade, played one game with the Los Angeles Lakers and then failed to stick in the NBA.
That year, Danny Green was the second-round pick, but he didn't become a draft-day gem until he was waived after his rookie season and picked up by the Spurs. So it's not like the Cavs get much credit for that one, even if he'll always be associated with Cleveland in draft conversations.
2010 was a non-event, as Cleveland didn't have a single selection. But then we get to 2011, when the Cavs landed Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick.
Obviously, selecting Uncle Drew did wonders for the struggling franchise, giving it a marketable star with some serious on-court skills. But his development has been slowing down, and it's not like there were many other reasonable options at No. 1 in 2011.
Plus, the rest of that draft wasn't very successful.
Tristan Thompson was the surprising pick at No. 4, as Cleveland left guys like Jonas Valanciunas, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard on the board. There are a few other standouts from this draft class, but none of them were discussed as potential top-five picks, so it's hard to pin much blame on the Cavaliers.
But still, it's not like Thompson was thought of that highly.
In DraftExpress' final mock draft, the site had the Texas product going at No. 15, and No. 8 was the highest he'd ever risen (at the end of his freshman season with the Longhorns). I had Thompson going at No. 9 in my last mock draft that year.
He's developed into a solid player—which can't be said about the other Cleveland selections in 2011, Justin Harper and Milan Macvan—but he hasn't become anything close to a star. Even in his third season, he's averaging 11.9 points per game on a lackluster shooting percentage with a sub-average PER.
In 2012, the Cavaliers again made a shocking decision with the No. 4 pick, this time selecting Dion Waiters out of Syracuse. It's now safe to call him a bust—though he could develop with another team as Cleveland's internal grumbles are growing louder, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Tyler Zeller was the other addition in the 2012 first round after he was traded from the Mavericks, and I wouldn't blame you if you forgot he was even on the team. Failing to crack the rotation, Zeller has averaged only 11.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Cleveland, and he's certainly not living up to the expectations typically associated with lottery picks.
Speaking of not living up to expectations, how about Anthony Bennett?
Remember, he's the same guy who was such a shocking pick that hearing his name led to this reaction from ESPN's Bill Simmons:
Now, Bennett is emerging as arguably the worst No. 1 pick of all time. It's too soon to say with any certainty that he'll never be any good, but Bennett has displayed more signs of complete indifference than an upcoming turnaround.
That doesn't look very good.
Bennett has just been that bad, and it's not like the other three additions in the 2013 draft—Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix—have made up for the misfire at No. 1.
"Futility" is the only word to use here. If you look it up in the dictionary, you may well see a picture of general manager Chris Grant scratching his head with a draft board in front of him.
It's telling that the Cavaliers have consistently bucked trends and convention near the top of drafts and failed to come up with success stories. Maybe it's time to reevaluate the scouting process.
Is Mike Brown a Good Coach?
The front office isn't just in charge of putting together a quality roster; it also has to place a head coach on the sidelines who is actually able to steer that roster into the promised land.
Mike Brown shouldn't be that guy.
When a team completely quits, that's a reflection on the head coach. There obviously isn't enough motivation, and pride hasn't been taught. If you watch 10 NBA blowouts, you generally see the end of the bench competing and trying to win the final minute for the sake of pride in nine of the contests. That 10th one—the one in which no effort is displayed—is the one with the lame-duck coach.
After the 44-point loss to the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 12, Brown essentially threw his team under the bus during that proverbial 10th contest.
"The only thing we need to think about is how did we react when we were down?" the troubled Cleveland coach told the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd. "Did we fight or not? We didn’t fight. That’s disappointing. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again, but I don’t know. I’m not sure with this team yet.”
How are you not sure? Isn't it your job to make sure that it doesn't happen again, and shouldn't you be confident in your ability to do that job?
This quote should inspire confidence: "I never thought it would be like this again. But knowing my team, it could happen again to us. You hope it doesn’t. You hope tonight is a lesson learned.”
Hopefully you caught the dripping sarcasm in the introduction of that statement.
Problem is, Brown isn't a good coach.
The man has a defensive reputation, but the results just aren't there. This season, Cleveland has allowed 106 points per 100 possessions, which leaves it ranked in the NBA's bottom half, per Basketball-Reference. The Lakers weren't very good defensively while he was there, and his last stint with the Cavs was aided greatly by LeBron James' presence.
In fact, LeBron is responsible for almost all of Brown's success on the sidelines. The head coach hasn't done much with any team that the league's best player hasn't been on, and that's coming to a head this season.
It's time for change in Cleveland.
The roster needs dramatic altering, and a new head coach is needed on the sidelines. But neither of those is the first priority.
First, the front office needs to undergo a seismic shift, replacing the ineffective members of the current regime with ones capable of bringing a winning product back to Cleveland.