Did Cleveland Cavaliers Hit the Contend Button a Year Too Early?

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Did Cleveland Cavaliers Hit the Contend Button a Year Too Early?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Have the Cleveland Cavaliers lied to us, or did we just lie to ourselves?

Every conversation regarding the Cavs last offseason had the word "playoffs" thrown in there somewhere. After three disastrous seasons, this was surely the year they would make that postseason leap.

After all, Cleveland made their first real noise in free agency since the rebuilding project began.

The Cavs and then-general manager Chris Grant committed a potential $58 million to Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark. Kyrie Irving would be entering his third pro season, having already been named an All-Star. Anderson Varejao was once again healthy, looking to pick up on his 14.1-point, 14.4-rebound injury-shortened season of 2012-13.

The Eastern Conference looked especially vulnerable, with at least three spots up for grabs. With all the moves Cleveland made last summer, they looked to be strong contenders for one of those remaining seeds.

Finally, the Cavs were destined for the playoffs once again, right?

 

Why Win Now?

With guys like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid up for grabs in the 2014 NBA draft, why in the world would the Cavs try to grab an eighth seed instead of picking one of these future phenoms?

The answer may have something to do with their current star player.

It's been well documented that Kyrie Irving can sign an extension with the Cavaliers this summer. We've also learned, thanks to Chad Ford of ESPN, that Irving may not be so interested in committing to Cleveland.

If there's any team in the NBA worried about losing a star player, it should be the Cavs.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images
Moves like the trade for Deng were likely completed with Irving's extension in mind.

Knowing they'd be presenting Irving a five-year extension offer in the summer of 2014, Chris Grant and company had to send a message to the former No. 1 overall pick that they were trying to win now.

Had they spent another offseason standing pat while choosing not to spend in free agency, it could have hurt Cleveland's chances at re-signing Irving even more.

The signings of Bynum, Jack and Clark, along with the trades for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, may not have gone as expected, but it should tell Irving that the Cavs are willing to spend money and give up future draft picks for immediate help.

The moves Cleveland completed were no doubt made to reach the playoffs, but don't underestimate the impact of Irving's upcoming extension offer on these transactions, either.

 

Bad Ingredients or Bad Chef?

Now sitting at 26-43, it's easy to say the Cavaliers' postseason dreams were a bit premature.

The offense has been awful, rumors and drama have plagued the team and Mike Brown is still the head coach. All of this adds up to a lethal combination of basketball futility.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

That doesn't mean that all the moves Grant pulled off were a mistake.

The signings Grant made were actually well calculated, and with a better head coach running the team, they could have been more beneficial. Andrew Bynum showed a lot of promise and returned to the court the first game of the season, but he quickly wore out his welcome. As it turns out, Mike Brown may have been the reason. Candace Buckner of the Indy Star tells us more:

But after only a few weeks, as the losses piled up, Bynum grew frustrated. He did not work well under coach Mike Brown's detail-oriented structure. "It's kinda like, if I send you to the grocery store and I give you three choices for peanut butter, you'll probably pick one easily. But if I give you 25 choices, you might stand there for half an hour. Having it be too detailed may not always be the right thing," Bynum says.

Because of Grant's unique structure to Bynum's contract, Cleveland was able to swap him for All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Cavs ended up paying just $6 million of Bynum's potential $24 million deal.

Jarrett Jack was heralded as a great signing at the time. Coming off a playoff run with the Golden State Warriors while serving as a mentor to their young backcourt, Jack seemed to be just what Cleveland needed. In Brown's offense, however, Jack has been terrible. He's averaging just 8.9 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 40.3 percent from the field.

Earl Clark was a mistake that I can't even blame Brown for. It happens.

The point being, these moves should have been enough to sneak into the playoffs. Especially with the trades for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes.

The fact that a team with Irving, Dion Waiters, Varejao, Jack, Tristan Thompson, Deng and Hawes isn't in the Eastern Conference playoffs is a bit alarming.

One has to ask, is this more of an issue with the coaching or the personnel?

 

Will Next Year be Different?

One can only hope.

Dan Gilbert has some decisions to make. Does acting GM David Griffin get to keep his job? Does Mike Brown stay or go? Can the Cavs convince Irving to sign an extension and stay in Cleveland for six more years?

Did Cavs try to contend too early?

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There's also a deep draft class to make a decision on; the same goes for a big free agent that used to call Northeast Ohio home.

Things could most definitely change in a year.

While another offseason of workouts and the NBA Summer League will certainly prove beneficial for the young Cavaliers, perhaps no move will benefit them more than finding a new head coach.

Peaking ahead to the 2015 playoffs, there should still just be two elite teams. Cleveland's goal, as it was heading into this year, should be to make the postseason.

Next time around, they may actually be ready.

 

-GS

 

All stats via Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

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