Biggest Needs for Cleveland Cavaliers During 2014 Offseason
The Cleveland Cavaliers have put yet another losing campaign in the record books. They’ve now missed the playoffs for four straight seasons dating back to when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach following the 2009-10 NBA season. The franchise is in a state of turmoil, which makes the 2014 offseason vitally important.
Much like the New York Knicks (with J.R. Smith's shoelace incidents) and Los Angeles Lakers (posting the worst record since moving to L.A. in 1960-61), the Cavaliers made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Andrew Bynum was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team and subsequently traded to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng. The veteran forward reportedly wasn’t fond of his new situation, telling a close friend the organization is “a mess,” according to a February article by Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.
Those reports should be taken with a grain of salt, but when there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. And there’s plenty of smoke billowing out of Quicken Loans Arena at the moment.
The Cavs have some solid pieces in place, but they’re still not close to competing for a playoff berth even in the hapless Eastern Conference.
Cleveland’s front office has plenty of questions to answer, and former general manager Chris Grant—who was fired in February—won’t be part of that process.
All salary information courtesy of Shamsports.com.
5. Establishing Roles
During the 2013-14 campaign, the Cavaliers had 11 different players start at least 17 games. Due to a combination of roster turnover, injuries and shoddy coaching, players have been kept on their toes all season long in terms of what role they need to play on this team.
Establishing every player’s niche needs to be a big priority moving forward, because consistency can’t be expected when numerous players have a different responsibility on a game-to-game basis.
Is Waiters considered Cleveland’s starting 2-guard, or a sixth man?
Should Jarrett Jack expect to be utilized as a point guard to allow Irving to play off the ball, or simply aim to attack the basket and score as a shooting guard?
Will former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett get consistent court time as a sophomore after a disastrous rookie campaign?
Carving out and establishing players’ respectively roles will be paramount for this organization in 2014-15.
4. Drafting Safe
By selecting UNLV standout Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Grant took a significant risk—one that eventually helped cost him his job.
Granted, there wasn’t a clear-cut “best available player” in last year’s draft due to Nerlens Noel’s torn ACL, Alex Len’s ankle injuries and questions that Victor Oladipo was “still very much a work in progress as a complete offensive player,” per NBADraft.net.
Nevertheless, picking Bennett was a surprise. So much so, in fact, that it made ESPN analyst Bill Simmons yelp in shock on live television. “Woah!”
That decision came a year after the Cavs organization decided to select Waiters fourth overall in 2012—which was considered a reach for a guy who had played the role of sixth man at Syracuse.
In the process, Cleveland passed on Damian Lillard (understandable, considering it already had Kyrie), Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond.
That isn’t to say all those guys are significantly better than Waiters already, but it’s difficult not to label the Waiters selection as a risky one.
Simply put, the Cavaliers can’t afford to make any more shocking picks. After a season filled with disorder and chaos, they need to avoid further distractions.
B/R’s Alex Kay has the Cavs selecting Creighton forward Doug McDermott ninth overall in his mock draft, which certainly qualifies as a “safe” choice.
The 2014 John R. Wooden Award winner is what he is: a knockdown three-point shooter who will likely struggle to defend opposing players at the NBA level.
Essentially, whoever gets McDermott is adding a role player like Kyle Korver. He can spread the floor by knocking down threes and may develop into a capable defender with the right coaching.
As long as the Cavs don’t make another “wait, what?” selection, their fans will be able to live with the outcome.
3. Interior Defensive Presence
Even though the 2013-14 Cavaliers played under defensive-minded head coach Mike Brown, they ranked 19th in the league by posting a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 105, per ESPN.
Andrew Bynum wasn’t around long enough to make much of an impact.
Anderson Varejao is still a tremendous rebounder, but his career average of 0.7 blocks per game leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, he’s only eclipsed one block per contest once during his injury-riddled career—in 2010-11 when he played just 31 games.
Tristan Thompson, meanwhile, is allowing opponents to shoot 59 percent at the rim, according to NBA.com. That’s significantly worse than various guards, including Klay Thompson (50 percent), Victor Oladipo (47.1 percent) and Jeremy Lin (47.7 percent). The 23-year-old is slightly undersized for his position—listed at 6’9”—but allowing opponents to shoot nearly 60 percent at the basket is just plain unacceptable.
Thompson has made a negligible defensive impact this season, as he’s blocking a paltry 0.4 shots per game. That’s fewer than he swatted last year (0.9) and as a rookie (1.0).
Even sophomore Tyler Zeller (0.5 per game) is swatting more shot attempts than Thompson despite notching fewer than half of his teammate’s minutes (14.8 versus 31.7).
The Cavaliers have to do something about their interior defense. Adding a shot-blocker in the post who can make opponents think twice about taking the ball to the cylinder would help take pressure off Kyrie Irving—who is still a very poor perimeter defender.
Cleveland should consider targeting a big man in the draft who can alter shots in the post. It's a bummer for Cavs fans that Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein tweeted he'll return to school for his junior season.
2. Changing the Culture
All of the negative storylines getting churned out of Cleveland are just the tip of the iceberg.
Firing Grant was a step in the right direction after failed signings of Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack coupled with a woeful start to Anthony Bennett’s NBA career. But what other changes could be on the horizon?
Owner Dan Gilbert distanced himself from Grant by saying, “Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group,” per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
But what should fans make of Brown? Grant brought in the current and former Cavs coach, after all. And while the roster constructed in Cleveland isn’t ideal, Brown can’t be free of blame for the organization’s fourth straight losing season.
The defense has been mediocre at best, and it has only been trumped by Cleveland’s woeful offense; the Cavaliers ranked 23rd in the Association by scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN.
Brown may be brought back, but he’s been part of the problem—not part of the solution.
That fails to mention the GM situation. Assistant GM David Griffin took over for Grant, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be “the guy” moving forward.
1. Figuring out Kyrie
In the words of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld, “Maybe he’s an enigma, a mystery wrapped in a riddle.”
That essentially sums up fans’ thoughts regarding Irving. He’s an All-Star and an incredibly gifted offensive talent—with arguably the best handles in the game. However, he’s also a poor defensive player, and the Cavaliers are now 78-152 since he entered the NBA in 2011-12.
Can he be the No. 1 option and alpha dog on a championship team? That remains to be seen due to a variety of factors—including injury woes and a lackluster supporting cast. Nevertheless, Cleveland needs to figure out what to do with the former first overall pick during the 2014 offseason.
In an interview with Robert Attenweiler of ESPN’s TrueHoop affiliate, Cavs: The Blog, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the following of Irving’s future:
The truth is [Kyrie’s] camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. That they don’t want him in Cleveland. He doesn’t like Mike Brown. He didn’t like Chris Grant. He doesn’t like Dion Waiters. He’s already gotten a General Manager fired. He might get Mike Brown fired. This is the last time – once he signs he loses all of his leverage – so this is the last time he gets to enact leverage. I know he’s said all the right things so, fine, on July 1, when they offer a max contract – which they will – and I don’t even know if he’s a max player, but you have to sign him – sign a five year, no out.
Irving didn’t take kindly to those words, saying via Twitter, “At least be man or woman enough to come and ask me. There’s no such source as ‘Kyrie’s camp’, nothing but nonsense.”
Respected journalists are saying that Kyrie wants out, while the young floor general is refuting those claims. Regardless of which angle is true, fans will soon find out where Irving’s loyalties lie.
Will he accept a long-term extension to stay with the Cavs?
Will he decide to ride out the remainder of his contract through 2014-15 and reevaluate next summer?
Will he accept a qualifying offer in 2015 of approximately $9 million for one final year before unrestricted free agency?
Only time will answer these pressing questions. Irving is still a Cavalier—for now.
The front office needs to gauge his interest during the offseason and decide once and for all what the future will hold.