NBA: How To Rebuild The Cleveland Cavaliers Without LeBron James
We all know how bad the Cleveland Cavaliers have been since LeBron James left.
They've gone from the best record in the league to the worst, set the record for the longest losing streak in NBA history and have generally become the doormat of the league.
There's no point wishing for the past, though. The Cavaliers need to look to the future and rebuild the team in as secure a fashion as possible. The team won't win this year, so we must look forward to 2011-2012 and beyond for when the Cavs will be competitive again.
All of these moves I will outline point toward the goal of winning in the future. This season (and probably next season as well) is lost. The Cavaliers will not be winning a NBA Championship anytime soon. What they can do now is build a young, exciting team (ala the Oklahoma City Thunder) that will compete for years to come.
Note: The stats I used to analyze these players were Player Efficiency Rating (PER), points, rebounds and assists per 36 minutes (to equal out starters and bench players), field goal percentage and three-point percentage. I took these ratings over the last three years to average out one out-of-character up or down season, and to see what players have been worth more recently. Also note that the average PER for a player is 15.0, and that I used this as the most important overall rating for any player.
Players To Let Go: Jamison, Williams, Parker and Moon
Regardless of what players come back, trading away Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon will help the Cavaliers in the long term.
Jamison is the best player on the Cavs, boasting an 18.5 PER with 19.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per 36 minutes. Since he's 34, however, he doesn't fit into the youth movement the Cavaliers need to embrace.
Trading Jamison to New Orleans for Marcus Banks, Willie Green, Marco Belinelli, D.J. Mbenga, Jason Smith and a first round pick works out money-wise. More importantly, these five players all have expiring contracts that won't clog up cap space.
Including the other three players the Cavs should trade, I'm going to assume they'll end up with a mid-level first round pick and some second rounders. This will leave them with at least a top four pick, one around 16 and a handful of second round picks in the 2011 draft.
Offseason Moves and Draft: Acquire Oden, Sullinger and Fredette
You may laugh, but the Cavaliers should acquire Greg Oden in the offseason.
If the Cavs could keep Oden healthy, he's the top center they've been missing this season. He holds a 19.5 PER with 15.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, far above anyone on the Cavaliers now. Even 40 games of Oden makes the Cavs better in 2011-2012 and beyond.
Picking high in the draft, I think Jared Sullinger fits into what the Cavs need. He's a 6-foot-9, 280-pound power forward with 20.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes in college. He may not be the tallest, but his big frame will help him rebound at the NBA level in addition to his scoring ability.
With their mid-first round pick, the Cavs should pick Jimmer Fredette. Granted, this one includes a bit of luck, but he fits right into what the Cavaliers need. Fredette, who checks in at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, averages 26.9 points and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, and would be a great energy player to lead the Cavs' second unit.
These three players (and any second round picks) will help the Cavs get younger and better. They aren't all the Cavs need, but it's a start.
Players 11 through 15 on the roster don't get much playing time, but Leon Powe and Ryan Hollins could be effective pieces for the Cavs to have on their bench.
Powe is still recovering from numerous knee surgeries, but if he can come back healthy, he can really help the Cavs. Registering at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, with the ability to play power forward or center, Powe has a PER of 15.7, 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. Teams can always use big men, and Powe, who helped the Celtics win the NBA Championship in 2009, would be very useful to the Cavs going forward.
Ryan Hollins' worth falls under the, "teams can always use big men" much more than Powe. The 7-foot, 230-pound Hollins scores 12.2 points and grabs 6.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, but only has a PER of 11.2. Still, he's not a bad big man to have available on the bench.
The final three roster spots should either go to second round draft picks or current PF Samardo Samuels (10.0 PER) and SF Alonzo Gee (10.9). Since they're rarely used though, this competition is largely unimportant.
Second-Team Point Guard: Jimmer Fredette
Regardless of his defensive struggles, Jimmer Fredette would be very helpful to the Cavaliers coming off the bench. His 26.9 points per 36 minutes are exactly the sort of thing the Cavs have been missing this year.
Though it'd be good to see a little more on defense and an increase in his 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, Fredette would bring plenty of energy and talent to the Cavs' second unit.
Second-Team Shooting Guard: Manny Harris
Manny Harris is only 21 and completing his rookie season this year. Given his youth and the lack of talent on the Cavs this year, his 11.1 PER, 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes might improve in time.
Regardless, it's too early to give up on Harris. His 37.9 three-point percentage isn't bad, and his 6-foot-5 frame should help him on defense. With Fredette drawing the attention of the defense, Harris should find more open looks and help the Cavs off the bench in 2011-2012.
Second-Team Small Forward: Christian Eyenga
It's been a rough rookie campaign for Christian Eyenga. The 2009 first round pick of the Cavaliers has been looked upon to fill some of the hole that LeBron left, but has only responded with a 9.7 PER, 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.
There is still hope for Eyenga, though. He's still a very talented, but a raw, overseas player adjusting to the NBA. At age 21, there's still a good chance he could develop along with fellow 21-year-olds Harris and Fredette into a strong second unit.
Second-Team Power Forward: J.J. Hickson
The Cavaliers seem to be looking toward J.J. Hickson to become the next star for the team. The numbers don't back that viewpoint up, though. Hickson has accumulated 15.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, but only has a 14.1 PER, below the league average.
The thing about Hickson is he excels when the pressure isn't on him. When the Cavs try to run the offense through him, it goes stagnant. When Hickson is able to play off someone else though, he is impressive. He is a good player, but one is unable to rise above other good players.
Putting Hickson on the second team allows him to compete against lesser competition, thus performing at a higher level overall. Especially with Fredette leading the offense, Hickson will be able to avoid the limelight, which is how he tends to perform best.
Second-Team Center: Anderson Varejao
One of the best parts of the good Cavaliers games of the past six years was the energy Anderson Varejao brought off of the bench. When he came into the game, the entire tone of the Cavs' game changed. That burst of energy is the biggest contribution he brings to Cleveland.
After having plenty of time to recuperate after his season-ending ankle injury, Varejao should be able to resume his role off of the bench in 2011-2012 with a healthy Oden to man the starting rotation. His 10.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, coupled with his 15.2 PER, will give the Cavs' second unit something it has sorely missed this year.
And, when Oden inevitably gets hurt, Varejao can just slide into the starting rotation.
First-Team Point Guard: Ramon Sessions
If there has been one bright spot in the dim season the Cavaliers have had, it has been Ramon Sessions. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard has a 16.2 PER, 15.6 points and 6.7 assists per 36 minutes. When Mo Williams was injured this year, Sessions filled in admirably.
At age 24, Sessions is primed to fill the point guard position for the Cavs for years to come. He isn't an elite player, but he is the sort of guy you want in your starting lineup to complement your stars. While the Cavaliers don't have any stars yet, as they acquire them, they can fill in around Sessions.
First-Team Shooting Guard: Daniel Gibson
Daniel Gibson's greatest contribution to the Cavaliers is his three-point shooting. He shoots 42.5 percent from downtown and scores 13.2 points per 36 minutes.
The problem with Gibson is three-point shooting is basically all he does. He only has a 11.6 PER, 3.0 assists per 36 minutes and isn't the best on defense. He's not an elite player, but he is useful to the Cavs.
Gibson shouldn't be starting for Cleveland, but for now, he's all they've got. Ideally, down the road, he'll be coming off the bench, but for now, his three-point shooting complements Sessions' slashing style.
First-Team Small Forward: Joey Graham
No one said the Cavs could be rebuilt in a year.
Joey Graham is not all that bad of a player, though. He averages 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, Graham has the frame to play the small forward position well.
While those stats aren't bad, Graham would never be a starter on a playoff team. He only has a 10.9 PER, and the Cavs would be much better off with him coming off the bench than starting full time.
Graham is 28, probably too old to still be with the Cavaliers when they are competitive again. For now, though, while Cleveland waits for someone (maybe Eyenga) to take the small forward role, Graham will have to do.
First-Team Power Forward: Jared Sullinger
The thing to remember about Jared Sullinger (or whoever the Cavs draft this year) is they won't turn things around overnight. This year's pick will only be the beginning of the rebuilding process.
Sullinger and his 20.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes aren't the only thing the Cavaliers need, but adding another strong, young, big man certainly won't hurt them going forward.
First-Team Center: Greg Oden
In case you haven't noticed, Portland's had multiple players with knee troubles in recent years. Maybe it's something in the water.
What if getting out of Portland and coming to Cleveland is the catalyst to Greg Oden staying healthy? He's still only 23 (no matter how old he looks) and productive when healthy. What team can't use a center capable of 15.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes and a 19.5 PER?
On the off-chance Cleveland could keep him healthy, Oden is worth a flier for the Cavs. At worst, Cleveland wastes a year or two with him where they wouldn't be contending anyway. At best, the Cavaliers have an elite big man to anchor the team for years to come.
This roster/lineup is what I think should make up the Cavaliers for the 2011-2012 season. By no means is it complete; Joey Graham and Daniel Gibson should not be starters, and some of the bench players probably will be cut soon enough.
Hopefully, the Cavs can rebuild in the image of the Oklahoma City Thunder. When they drafted Russell Westbrook in the 2008 NBA Draft, he didn't fix them overnight—he was a building block for the future. Teamed with star Kevin Durant, Westbrook developed into a star as well.
Sullinger (or whoever the Cavs draft) is our Westbrook. In all likelihood, we'll be bad again next year, then hope to find our Durant in the next draft. If we pair those young players with the young talent we have now, we can see a team grow up and mature into a contender within the next five years.
Or at least that's the best plan I can come up with.