10 Bold Predictions for the 2011-2012 Cleveland Cavaliers
Six months of bickering, complaining, whining and insulting have finally come to a close. The NBA players and owners have finally come to an agreement to allow them to play ball once again, but not before robbing a newly intrigued fanbase of two months and 16 games. After a couple weeks of digesting, coming to terms and forgiving, the fans of the NBA are just excited to watch their favorite teams and players hit the hardwood again.
Few fanbases are more ready to see their team on the court than the fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it's not very hard to see why.
Sure, the Cavaliers might have been one of the worst teams in the NBA in 2010-2011 after more than a half decade of challenging for the Eastern Conference. But a well-respected second-year head coach, a few new veteran faces, some old fan favorites and two high draft picks have drawn the attention of Cavaliers fans, who are anxious to see if the ship can be righted quickly.
As the city of Cleveland again prepares for the excitement of Cavaliers basketball at the Q, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2011-2012 Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers Will Impress Right out of the Gate
The Cavaliers surprised a lot of people when they started the 2010-2011 campaign (a.k.a. Year One a.LBJ.) with a 4-3 record and a big opening-night win over the Boston Celtics. It was, in many ways, the perfect way to start the season following the most difficult offseason in team history.
Then, reality set in, and the Cavaliers finished the season with just 15 more wins in 75 games, including a winless streak that lasted nearly two full months.
The 2011-2012 Cavaliers season is not filled with high expectations. However, the new 66-game schedule looks to start favorably for the Wine and Gold, with games against Toronto, Detroit, Indiana, New Jersey, Charlotte, Toronto (again) and Minnesota to start off the season. Expect the Cavaliers to win four or five of their first seven games and finish with 10 to 15 more wins than they had last year in total.
Baron Davis Will Be a Former Cavalier by Season's End
February 24, 2011 was a day that will be looked at as the turning point if the Cavaliers are truly going to turn the franchise back into a perennial NBA title contender. It was on that cold Thursday in Cleveland that Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant sent point guard Mo Williams and high-flying Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers for former superstar Baron Davis, and most importantly, the Clippers' 2011 first-round draft pick, which turned into the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Kyrie Irving.
Immediately, Davis' willingness to play in Cleveland and his character were called into question by the local and national media alike. Nobody seemed to foresee Baron putting his supposed ego aside and playing hard for a losing team, but that's just what happened.
Davis was a pleasure to watch. He was almost solely responsible for multiple wins during the last half of the season. He seemed to embrace the fans, and the city, and became a very popular player.
All of that being said, it's not realistic to think that Davis is a part of the vision of the future Cleveland Cavaliers. The explosive Davis of the Warriors or Hornets days is no longer around, though he does still manage to have moments of greatness. With a veteran like Ramon Sessions on the roster and No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving ready to play, it seems better to let Baron go sooner rather than later.
The rumors of Baron's wishes have been swirling for quite some time now, and realistically, how long will he be able to keep up the good guy attitude with a team that's building?
Manny Harris Will Evolve into a Big Contributor off the Bench
Last season was an interesting one for the undrafted free agent out of the University of Michigan. By the end of his college career at the school up north, Manny Harris was one of the most decorated basketball players in the history of the Big Ten Conference.
A member of the 2008-2009 First Team All-Big Ten Team, Harris was top 10 in the conference in scoring, rebounding and assist average. It was his lack of size and overall athleticism that led to Harris being passed up by every team in the NBA draft. After impressing during the 2010 Summer League, Harris made the final cut and joined the Cavaliers.
To begin the 2010-2011 campaign, Harris was basically the last guy at the end of the bench, rarely getting any playing time until December. Once the Cavaliers began their slide, head coach Byron Scott began shuffling his rotations, and Harris became a regular player.
The problem was that Harris never really settled into a position with the Cavaliers. Some games, Harris started at point guard, others saw him playing shooting guard and others still saw Harris in the small forward role. As a player who had to work just to get off the bench, Harris had to deal with finding an identity.
The influx of new players in the Cavaliers back court this season should see Manny Harris settle into a defined role as a scorer off the bench. Look for Harris to succeed as a spark off the bench as he replaces starting shooting guard Anthony Parker.
Scoring in the Paint Will Be the Biggest Challenge for the Cavaliers
Perhaps the No. 1 thing the Cavaliers management and fans are looking forward to heading into the 2011-2012 season is the return of Anderson Varejao, who missed the majority of the 2010-2011 season with an ankle, shoulder and rib injury.
On the defensive end, Varejao, along with the No. 4 overall pick of the draft, Tristan Thompson, should be an absolute force to be reckoned with. Both are long, quick and physical, and both take pride in their defense and rebounding. Varejao and Thompson are the kind of guys you can't get enough of on your team.
As good as they will be on defense, the big men for the Cavaliers are best described as offensively challenged. Forwards like Luke Harangody and Omri Casspi prefer to play their games from the outside, and Varejao, Thompson, Samardo Samuels and Semih Erden are not exactly skilled in back-to-the-basket post offense.
Forward Antawn Jamison will definitely show some veteran craftiness with his running underhand shots and amazing finishes near the rim, but the Jamison of 2011-2012 is not the same as the Jamison of 2006-2007.
The Cavaliers are hoping that a young rookie like Tristan Thompson will develop offensively under Byron Scott; otherwise, scoring in the paint is going to be a major shortcoming for this team.
Quicken Loans Arena Will Remain the Best Place to Watch a Game in the NBA
Two years is enough time in the NBA to see a team go from being a model franchise in the league to being the team that can't seem to attract anyone to their games. As soon as the franchise player took his talents to South Beach, the Cavaliers seemed to be the logical candidate to fall into oblivion. While the attendance will most certainly take a dip, due to lack of success last season and league lockout, the Cavaliers organization will continue to take the cake in game presentation and fan interaction.
Having traveled to many NBA arenas across the country, it's always surprising to return to "The Q" and see just how impressive the game presentation is. From the booming voice of Olivier Sedra, the public address announcer who always knows the right time to get excited or to stay calm, to the Street Team, who you see in just about every corner of the arena interacting with fans, the Cavaliers truly provide a unique atmosphere that specializes in fan entertainment.
The team may have another tough year, but the front office hasn't lost sight of keeping the fans happy, and that will continue to drive people down to "The Q."
Zydrunas Ilgauskas Will Have His Name Hoisted into the Rafters
Mark Price was the last player to have his number retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers when they lifted his banner to the rafters in 1998. Only one other name has been officially retired since then, and that was the banner put up for legendary Cavaliers play-by-play man Joe Tait in 2011.
Former Cavalier center Zydrunas Ilgauskas will join Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Austin Carr, Bingo Smith and Nate Thurmond as the seventh player to be immortalized in Cavaliers history.
"With the 20th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Zydrunas Ilgauskas..."
Those words were the starting point of a roller coaster career that spanned 14 years in Cleveland. At the start, "Big Z" was relatively unknown. He was a very tall, very skinny player from Lithuania. Ilgauskas made a splash during his first year, winning the MVP trophy for the NBA Rookie Challenge. Just like that, Ilgauskas' career took a nasty turn, as he battled foot injuries for the next few years.
His career looked to be in doubt when, just as quickly as he seemed to fade away, he came right back to the forefront of the franchise, which is where he stayed until 2010. By the end of his Cavaliers career, Ilgauskas held the franchise record for games played, rebounds and blocks, while he is second in points scored.
"Big Z" became a fan favorite and a valued member of the community, and he will be rewarded for it when the Cavaliers raise his banner.
Omri Casspi Will Make Fans Forget the Name J.J. Hickson
In their biggest move of the unforgettable 2011 offseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers sent power forward and former first-round pick J.J. Hickson to the Sacramento Kings for Israeli forward Omri Casspi. Hickson was a player that showed flashes of promise when playing alongside LeBron James, but found himself struggling and pressing when looked at to be a cornerstone in the post-LeBron era.
Fans drooled over his athleticism and highlight-reel dunks, but J.J. never had the substance to stick as a solid NBA starter. For all of that athleticism, he fell in love with his below-average jump shot and showed little interest in defense or rebounding.
The Cavaliers, realizing that they were comfortable with their power forward situation without Hickson, decided to ship him off. In return, they got a skilled, young player who will step in and start at a position of need.
A Euroleague star, Casspi was selected with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Kings. Casspi is a guy who is used to dealing with fanfare, being the only Israeli-born player in the NBA, and he has shown the ability to perform at a high level from the minute he stepped into an NBA gym.
Is he LeBron James? Not at all, but take a look at the small forwards from last year, and you will have no trouble seeing that Casspi is a major improvement over the likes of Christian Eyenga, Alonzo Gee and Joey Graham.
After a productive offseason, Casspi looks to be surrounded by more talent than he was during his two years in Sacramento, and that should help his numbers increase, making him a fan favorite in Cleveland and a player who will help the Cavaliers improve from last year.
It Will Be the Season of Dan Gilbert and His Antics
If there's one thing that Cleveland sports fans were not used to before the arrival of Cavaliers principle owner Dan Gilbert, it was the eccentric, outspoken, spotlight-seeking type of owner. The owners of the Browns, Indians and the previous owner of the Cavaliers were relatively hidden, quiet and distant. Gilbert has most certainly broken that mold since he purchased the team in 2005.
Cavaliers fans got to see the evolution of Gilbert, from a guy trying to get his bearings in 2005 to the owner who wrote the most famous letter ever written in Comic Sans the night LeBron skipped town. That night was Gilbert's coming out party to the rest of the country, and he hasn't stopped since.
During the lockout, Gilbert was the voice for the small to middle market teams, often getting criticized as being a main reason the lockout lasted as long as it did. Most recently, Dan Gilbert wrote an angry letter to Commissioner Stern condemning a potential trade which would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, in which he asked, "When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?"
The trade was called off that night.
Gilbert is a powerful figurehead in the NBA, and Cavaliers fans love the fact that he's representing Cleveland. Gilbert is just starting to see what kind of influence he can have, especially if he makes his arguments in public. He is starting to become viewed as the man who will stand up for the "little guys" in the NBA, and that makes him popular with the public. I foresee many more letters and newsworthy events from the Cavaliers owner as the NBA continues to deal with its shakeup.
Byron Scott's Offense Will Click by the End of the Year
At the end of the 2009-2010 season, the Cavaliers parted ways with head coach Mike Brown after failing to meet expectations in the postseason for the previous few years.
One of the main problems the front office had with Brown was his lack of an offensive game plan during games. Brown was a defensive guru, and the Cavaliers were continually a top tier defensive team year in and year out. Unfortunately, Brown struggled to do anything on offense other than get the ball into LeBron James' hands and tell everyone else on the court to be ready to shoot.
Enter, Byron Scott, a disciple of the Princeton offense, who successfully implemented his style in both New Jersey and New Orleans. Unfortunately for Scott, it was near this point in time when he lost what would've been the focal point of his new offense.
2010-2011 was a learning season, both for the Cavaliers and for Byron Scott. The players had to learn to play without the one guy out there getting them open looks, and the coach had to realize that these guys were used to someone else creating their shots. They were not prepared, or skilled enough, to handle the new system.
Enter, Kyrie Irving, Baron Davis (for now), Omri Casspi, Anderson Varejao (back from injury) and Tristan Thompson. With a new group of talent and a full year under his belt, Coach Scott has to be excited to implement his system again with players, especially Irving, better equipped to run it.
2010-2011 saw a Cavaliers team that struggled to score points. The beginning of the 2011-2012 season might see a little more of that, but, by the end of the season, the Cavaliers won't have any problems scoring points.
Irving Will Win ROY, but Thomson Will Be the One Who Really Impresses
OK, OK, I know what you're saying. Predicting Irving to win the Rookie of the Year award is like predicting that the sun will set in the west or that there will be snow on the ground in Cleveland this winter, but I see Kyrie Irving, a bright, quick, talented scorer, flourishing under Byron Scott, who just might be the best coach in the NBA when a team has a young point guard.
Unlike last season, the rest of the Cavaliers will be more prepared to help Irving's cause this year. There is more perimeter offense and quickness underneath, both of which will allow Irving to rack up the assist numbers, along with his scoring numbers. Coach Scott has a young player to mold into exactly what he sees as a prototypical NBA point guard, and he won't waste that opportunity.
Here's where the twist comes in. Even though Irving will garner plenty of national attention, Tristan Thompson will steal the show with Cavaliers fans. After one year at the University of Texas, most people in the Cleveland area don't know much about the native Canadian.
They will quickly find out that Thompson is a big man with an endless motor who takes tremendous pride in his defense and rebounding. Coach Scott should hang a picture of Dennis Rodman in Thompson's locker, and that's who Thomspon should strive to emulate with his career.
Thompson will certainly have some things to work on, namely his offense. He is extremely athletic, but he's not a great post player, nor does he have a great jumper. His biggest flaw will be seen when he gets to the free-throw line, where he is a poor shooter. He is good at putting the ball on the floor and finishing at the rim, however. Plus, he is a lefty, which does give him an advantage when finishing among taller players.
While the offense does have room for improvement, Tristan Thompson will endear himself to fans with his hustle, defense and personality.