RAISING THE CADAVALIER - many, many thoughts on the Cleveland Cavaliers by ROBERT ATTENWEILER

Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving’

NBA Basketball

2013/03/14

The Answer to the Uncle Drew Question…

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With the news earlier this week that Kyrie Irving had suffered a sprained shoulder in a collision with one-time Cavalier’s draft target, Jonas Valanciunus, I couldn’t decide what depressed me most about the injury expected to keep the Cavs’ star guard out for 3-4 weeks, if not the rest of the season: was I bummed that I wouldn’t get to see Kyrie play for (another) month or was I dreading the slew of “Kyrie is injury prone” articles we’ll get between now and … sigh… whenever?

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I, for one, am leery of making the argument that the fact that Kyrie’s injuries are so varied – that he does not, say, keep blowing out the same knee … or pair of knees … or feet – means that he is not injury prone. Don’t get me wrong: I love that argument. But I’m leery of going to that well too strongly this time because the very same argument blew up in my face just earlier this year. That’s what everyone (everyone who I chose to agree with, anyway) was saying about Anderson Varejao before … you know, Anderson Varejao ended up hurt again.

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Still, there are reasons to not jump off the now-slightly-faster-moving Cavs wagon:

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I’ve been racking my brain to find a comparable talent to Kyrie whose career was derailed by a continuous series of “minor and unrelated” injuries that came because of the way he plays (except … you know, that guy Kyrie shares a locker room with) and I can’t do it. “Derailed by injury” are the devastating ones – the Odens and the Jay Williamses and the (sorry) Livingstons and the Ilgauskuseseses.

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The closest comparison for a guard who misses games for “getting a little beat up” (a nice way of putting it” – and it’s a comparison I’ve been hearing more and more to Kyrie – is Allen Iverson.

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Iverson was a fearless on the court, constantly driving through (and sometimes bouncing off of) much larger defenders on his way to the basket.  He did this, in part, because he was awesome … and, in (large) part, to compensate for the fact that he was never a great shooter. I remember commentators praising Iverson’s grit, determination – and, hell, he was just so damned fast – but worrying about the beating he was taking game after game. Iverson was listed at 6’0”, 165lbs. and just rammed himself into the defense seeing what offensive opportunity might crack open up for him. Remember how Iverson spearheaded the body-sleeve craze? By the end of his career, he had both arms and both legs wrapped in protective sleeves and looked like he was balling in a wetsuit.

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Allen Iverson also only played in 82 games twice in his 14 NBA seasons (via basketball-reference.com). But he did have eight seasons where he played more than 70 games (including the strike-shortened 1999 season where he played the statistical equivalent). He only played 48 games in 2003-04. But, excluding his lost final year in Memphis/Philly, he only averaged 12.3 games missed a year.

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Conventional wisdom is that Iverson’s career could have been longer if he had adjusted the way he played – or developed other strengths (a consistent jumper, the willingness to involve teammates, etc.) to off-set the drop off in his speed that came as a result of age and NBA-inflicted abuse. But, still, it’s a career you’d take. Just under 27 points a game. Just over 6 assists. One NBA Finals appearance. One MVP. Four-time scoring champ. 11-time All-Star. Two-time All-Star MVP. When he hit the wall, though, he really hit the wall. But, still…

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If Kyrie is, in fact, done for the season, he’s played 49 games this season. That’s 2 games fewer than last year. It’s one game better than Iverson’s most injury-riddled campaign. But the team is clearly taking a long-term approach with Kryie in particular and team-building in general, so it’s not crazy to imagine a world in which the Cavs are in playoff contention – or, heaven forbid, in a playoff series – and some of Kyrie’s injuries don’t keep him out for as long as they do now (same, frankly, with Varejao). Byron Scott repeatedly refers to the player development that is made between seasons, rather than in-season, and it’s long been agreed-upon that the organization saw this season as another chance to pick up a lottery pick before going all-in on making the playoffs with their new core.

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That assumes your new core can actually get to the playoffs in one piece, though.

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I’d be shocked to ever see him play a full 82 game season. I think something in the Iverson-ian neighborhood (where, coincidentally, I’m now looking to purchase property … right down from Ricky Davis Way) of 70-ish games a season might be what we end up getting (if we’re lucky). The organization’s hope, though, has to be that the core they’re building will eventually still win 50-60% of games when Kyrie’s out and more like 75% when he’s in. And I’ll take that. I’m less concerned with his ability to hold up for 82+ games a year, than in his ability to perform well (and at all) in the games that matter, when they matter.

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Assuming the injury bug regulates for Kyrie at some point, he’s already ahead of Iverson in developing the more mature game. He’s already a deadly shooter and shows a developing understanding on how to get his teammates involved. But, hopefully, we’re talking about a drop-off that’s still 12-14 seasons away and that a combination of “getting stronger” and “maturing physically” (Byron Scott’s go-to salves), along with a well-constructed supporting cast that allows Coach Scott to dole out the physical toll on his star more judiciously, will keep Kyrie on the floor more … and keep the “freak” injuries from becoming the “derailing” kind.

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Next up: how Kyrie falling down after converting contorting difficult shots at the rim will ruin everything (and not just our transition defense)!

NBA Basketball

2012/11/27

2 Things About the 4 and 5…

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1. I won’t necessarily say I’ve done a 180 when it comes to the “trade Anderson Varejao argument.” I never fully thought it would net the Cavs a player that came close to doing what Andy does – and is doing even more of this season – for this particular team. I did think (and, partly, still do) that the team would feel the need to move him, likely at or around the 2013 Draft. I think he still might be traded at some point while still under this contract to this team because he’ll be coming off this contract right around the same time that the team will be figuring out how they want to divide their duckets among its new core crop. Andy will be 32 and staring at what will likely be his last contract. I don’t see any reason for his production to drop off while under his current contract, so you’re looking at a guy (CBA willing) that could command a 3 or 4-year contract at a hefty clip. This could be like a less crazy, more offensively useful Dennis Rodman hitting the market at right around his prime. That is what Andy is playing like now—and that player is useful no matter what team he plays for and, you’d think, especially if he plays for a team of up-and-coming wing players who might appreciate a good number of their outside misses being snagged. But using him to bring in some additional picks (those LeBron picks won’t last forever … the trick to this thing is to always have some accrued first rounders to look forward to) should the CBA make re-signing Andy less sensible for the Cavs (though, let’s face it, if the Kyrie Era’s getting it done, Gilbert will likely pay), they might see flipping their biggest asset as sensible, if they don’t see being contenders in the next 5 years. The biggest problem is equal value, since the league-wide perception of him is still that he’s a perfect off-the-bench “energy” guy, not one of the best centers in the East playing efficient offense, active defense and just sucking in rebounds.

Meanwhile, watching Andy play this year has been nothing short of amazing. If the young guys continue to progress (i.e. learn to play defense), Andy absolutely has more value here than anywhere else, because of how perimeter and pick-and-roll oriented they are/will be and how fun a Irving/Varejao/Waiters combo could potentially become (and, let’s face it, sometimes is already).

2. Now, Tristan Thompson…? Everyone I’ve either talked to or read can see all the problems with Thompson’s game this season. It’s that obvious: to slow making decisions, still too often blocked, not blocking shots, often out of position, still bad at free throws, still no shot at all. All that said, he’s averaging about 9 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes a night with a PER just a click or two below the league average. His FG% (always one of my worries with him) is up to 47% (needs to get well over 50%) and, even given his struggles, he looks like he could get into the 12/10 range that was reported as the goal he was set by coaches this year. I think the biggest thing with Thompson is that he probably shouldn’t be playing as many minutes as he is right now. The Cavs are tossing him out into the fire and he is getting more than his share of burns. But it’s waaaaay premature to label him “bust” or try to trade him (or even, really, to bring up the Valanciunas non-pick). He’s not an instant player – and non-superstar big men in particular need time. The test with him will be steady progress on his weaknesses – and we’re more likely to see that stuff in March of 2014 or 2015 than in 2013 … unfortunately. But there’s some Kurt Thomas potential to him that I think has value to this team going forward.

NBA Basketball,Uncategorized

2012/11/03

2 of the roughly 358 Things I Think…

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About the Cavs first 2 games.

The start of the NBA season began for me (and, let’s be fair, for millions of others) a few days later than it should have. With Hurricane Sandy plunging me into a dark, cold, connection-free existence of reading books by candlelight like some petty 18th century criminal (or, let’s be fair, some 18th century king) the 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers campaign kicked off about an hour before their second game, at home against the Chicago Bulls. And, through the magic of a still maddeningly inconsistent NBA Broadband experience, I did some watching and rewatching and here, viewership, I am with you again, as it should be.

I will keep these brief because a.) two games tell you very little about the big picture stuff of a season and b.) everyone’s already written stuff about these games … so, you know, there’s that. So, welcome to the 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers season here at RAISING THE CADAVALIER (which will be our third season covering this blessed little filthy child of a basketball team that I love so dearly) and here are a couple things that may not (or, let’s be fair, may) have been said yet.

1.) Anderson Varejao’s single greatest basketball skill is his ability to execute a reverse lay-up off a pick and roll. Yes, Andy has many great basketball skills and, often, I’ve found myself wondering what this team will look like once they trade him (because I’m resigned to that happening by the 2013 draft). His activity and rebounding and defense and … activity are such great teaching points for everyone on this team but especially a couple of offensively limited, but athletically gifted, big men (okay, mainly one of those big men, Tristan Thompson, but we’re willing to make the reach and say Samardo Samuels might be, in a very basic way, if not in a basketball way, considered athletically gifted). But watching Andy work the pick and roll with Irving and Waiters, even against the Bulls, Andy’s reverse lay-up seems like his most indefensibly weapon. That might, in fact, be the team’s most indefensible play. If this team can consistently get Andy buckets like this – and can figure out a way for Thompson to excel in this area, as well – they’ll be able to get easier baskets than they have been able to the last couple of years.

2.) These are the things I like most about Dion Waiters: a.) I do believe he can get past a great variety of NBA players and I like his instincts – especially passing – once he’s past the initial defender b.) he seems like he’ll be an above average on-ball defender and, maybe, he’ll break the curse of Syracuse players not being able to adjust to the man-to-man pro game c.) it actually looks like someone shoots him in midair every time he takes a shot – like there is a sniper in the rafters whose only job is to shoot Dion Waiters when he takes jump shots – that’s how awkward his shot looks. Luckily, though, some have gone down. I might just start calling him Bulletproof, though and d.) I mentioned this during Summer League – I think Waiters has amazing body control for a slasher. In Summer League, he was trying to finish a drive when a defender slid in front of him and Waiters seemed to pull back to avoid making enough contact to commit an offensive foul. He also converted the shot. In the Wizards game, it was Bulletproof driving through the defense, jumping, finding that he’d jumped just a bit early for a slam and half-rolling/half-willing the ball through the hoop. I’ll admit, I look for reasons to like this guy. But, so far, he’s giving me enough. Very excited to see what/if anything he can do against a less-than-interested defender in Monta Ellis.

Misc,NBA Basketball

2012/10/22

Cavs 2012-13 Roster Outlook Pt.2: The Assets Phase

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Much of the talk about the “Oklahoma City Model” of team building centers, understandably, on Sam Presti’s drafting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden – all top level NBA talents — in three consecutive drafts.

The amount of attention that their three draft day home runs makes sense, because (as any NBA fan — perhaps, especially a Cavs fan — knows) you need 2-3 high level NBA players to compete at a high level in today’s NBA. But a GM getting his franchise’s cornerstone, buttress and gorgeous bay window all through the draft – meaning that he doesn’t have to part with any additional resources (i.e. money or other good players) – frees that GM up to maximize Phase 2, The Asset Phase.

See, OKC had another lottery pick in that incredible draft run from 2007-2009 (that also got them Serge Ibaka, though later in the 2008 draft at #24). Jeff Green was taken with the 5th pick in the same draft where Kevin Durant went #2. Originally the Celtic’s pick, #5 went to OKC in the draft day trade that sent Ray Allen to Boston. Green has developed into a nice player, but he’s never really lived up to the promise of a top-5 selection. So, why aren’t we saying, “Gee, Sam Presti nailed those Durant, Westbrook and Harden picks. But, clearly, he’s fallible. Look at Jeff Green”? It’s because Presti’s draft success in 2008 and 2009 allowed Green to not have to be a big-time player to justify his selection. He was no longer part of OKC’s 2-3 star future. Jeff Green was now an asset and he let Presti go out and get Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics when his team was one very wide body from taking the leap from up-and-comer to contender.

All this is to say that, while local and national writers spend quite a bit of time connecting Chris Grant’s rebuild of the Cavaliers with what Presti did with the Thunder – and Cavs fans spend a lot of time wringing their hands about if the trio of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters will develop into as strong a foundation for this team as Durant-Westbrook-Harden – what Grant is doing with The Asset Phase of the rebuild is almost more interesting.

Assets, to think of them very generally, are not things that increase a GM’s chances of success as much as they are things that decrease the terrifying prospect that every decision they make has to be the right one. Assets are wriggle room – and with enough of them (be they draft picks, promising young players on rookie contracts, diamonds in the rough and, while less so now, big-money expiring deals) a GM should have a much longer length of rope, even if the results are that he still hangs himself with it.

So, in Presti’s case, downgrading Green from “Top-5 pick(!)” to “key asset” was fine because he’d found the stars he needed elsewhere – and it allowed him to cover over another of his rare draft whiffs (or, to be more fair, while the jury may still be out on the long-term success of center, Cole Aldrich, he was not good enough fast enough for a Thunder team ready to take the leap and needing a quality center) by turning Green into Perkins. The lesson, clearly, is this: in the NBA, if you manage your assets well and hit well enough on enough of them, you receive what few GMs really have—the necessary ability to fail.

If you’ve paid even modest attention to Chris Grant’s tenure with the Cavaliers, you’ve heard the same words over and over: “assets” and “flexibility.” And when we look at the team he’s assembled – talented young players like Irving, Thompson, Waiters and Zeller – we spend, perhaps, too much time inventing scenarios in which they all achieve the ceilings of their draft day promise or they just fail miserably. What has to be kept in mind is the middle ground – the Asset Phase – where a talented young player, even if he does not become Serge Ibaka or Russell Westbrook still has value and can help this team going forward (of course, they help them much better if they all just become All-Stars, but y’know…).

That’s also why Grant is being smart about bringing in undrafted players, like Kevin Jones or Michael Eric (or, in the past, like Samardo Samuels, Alonzo Gee, Donald Sloan or Manny Harris). While the odds are against these players reaching the promise or performance levels of a player picked high in the draft, the risk is very low and the reward, should the organization be able to develop this player into someone who can help the Cavs or (sometimes more importantly) interest another team, is very high. The true payoff of this is down the line when you can see if, say, Samuels is included in a draft day deal that helps net us a higher pick – or Eric develops into a rotation big, soothing the sting when Grant trades Varejao – or if Gee is included in that Varejao trade, getting us something more (another player to develp, more picks, etc) back. And, maybe, none of those things happen. Likely, none of those things will happen. But Grant is lengthening his rope – bringing in high-level talent, as well as developmental projects that should (should) allow the team, once it’s ready, to be competitive in the long term because they’ve done enough that’s smart to allow or make up for the riskier moves.

Or maybe I just want Waiters to be as good as Russell Westbrook. Yes. That would do, as well…

NBA Basketball

2012/02/06

Is Kyrie Irving THE GUY?

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It’s great when I get to start a post by quoting Eric Snow (the specter of whom Mike Brown must be seeing when he looks at his starting point guard, Derek Fisher).  Snow said, “You’ve either got The Guy or you’re trying to get The Guy.”

Snow was saying this in relation to the Cavs’ situation when they had LeBron James.  He was saying (if it’s not already clear) that in today’s (or any day’s, I guess) star-driven NBA, teams either believe they have the player they can build a championship around – the guy who will take them to the top and when he’s gotten them to the top, keep going up, up, up until the air gets so thin that everyone passes out and aren’t even conscious for the horrible plummet back to earth and the splattering on the sidewalk and … well, that’s where the figurative language meets its end.  They either have that guy or they don’t and want one really, really bad.

The Cavs, at the time of Snow’s quote, felt they had The Guy.  Then they didn’t.  And now…?

I’ll admit, I thought Kyrie Irving was going to be a very good player (pat, pat, pat on back).  I actually thought (and I don’t think I was in the minority here) that his ceiling would be as the second or third best player on a contending team, that the Cavaliers were still a The Guy away.  But, as our rookie point guard is progressing at a mind-thrilling piece, we can, however tentatively, nervously and with qualification, ask the question: Is Kyrie Irving The Guy?

I’m going to blow the end of this argument right here.  Who the hell knows?

But there are some promising signs-

The fact that Irving is scoring at an advanced-for-a-rookie-guard clip (18.1 PPG through Monday) in relatively limited minutes (29.6 – but increasing) and shooting 50% from the field is pretty ridiculous. Irving’s at an even 50% from the field, an even 40% from 3, his assists are up (he and Varejao are getting a great feel for each other on the pick-and-roll) and his turnovers are down (he hasn’t recorded more than 3 in 2 1/2 weeks) and he seems moderately more present on defense.  What this means, should this all prove the rule and not the exception is not that Irving is going to take 30 shots a game – make 15 with a sprinkling of 3s and get to the line a bunch (where he is “down to” 83% … practically Price-ian on this team) and be a 40PPG scorer.  I think we’ll see some stupid (the complimentary one) scoring nights over Irving’s career, but that can’t be his end.  Going forward, Irving will be much more valuable as a 20/8 guy who doesn’t need a ton of shots to get his and spends most of his time making it easier for his teammates to score (and, yes, hopefully playing steady, strong defense).

It’s just tough when your best player is your point guard. A team’s point is so crucial to their success (just ask the 2011-12 New York Knicks) and so much is asked of the position, that it’s difficult to also ask your point guard to be your leading scorer.  But isn’t Chicago considered a contender with reigning-MVP Derrick Rose?  They are – and I love Derrick Rose.  Is Derrick Rose The Guy? Absolutely, he’s The Guy.  But the last two teams to win an NBA championship with their point guard as their leading scorer were the Pistons (once, with Isiah Thomas) and the Lakers (once, with Magic Johnson) and those were both on incredibly balanced teams.

Your point guard can be your The Guy but, by all indications (and the Bulls haven’t proven this wrong yet), it’s then even more important to get balance and the ability to score big out there on the floor along with The Guy.  Or, to put it differently, at the end of close games, opposing teams should have to deal with the fact that the guy with the ball in his hands – while capable of taking and making the shot – at least, may not.

But, no, you say? Kryie will just blow by – spin by – cross-over past – dribble through the defense on his way to the game-winning lay-up.  Okay, great.  End of discussion.

Or we can talk about how, while he might develop into The Guy, the real Kyrie Irving Era won’t begin until we get one more elite offensive talent to pair with him.

Still, it’s a hell of a start.

Uncategorized

2011/11/28

AND WE’RE OFF…

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Well, that was fun, right? BRI, flex-cap, super-max-rookie-contract-extension… Every single last wonderfully, dripping piece of legal or financial jargon that had us all in knots of anticipation about what each new day would bring. Decertification, competitive balance… Days where I got to read that wonderful word “escrow” were, by far, my favorites. Now we just have basketball to talk about – that boring, boring game of basketball – and those lock-out days of yore are just a sweet memory. Here’s to hoping that some B-issues get in the way and we can keep the lock-out dream alive!!

Ahem.

Well … um … yes, clearly that sucked. But we are now (by all reports) less than a month away from seeing real unionized basketball players playing for actual NBA teams (sorry, Canton Charge, you had me for about 7 hours…) and that calls for a quick look-ahead at some of the issues facing your 2011-2012 Cleveland Cavaliers.

1.) Amnesty, shamnesty… There are already reports that the Lakers are hoping that Baron Davis is a victim of the new amnesty clause that allows teams to waive a player with an undesirable contract. The team will still have to pay the remainder of said player’s contract, but the contract would no longer count toward the team’s salary cap. Said player would then, clearly, take the league minimum to get a ring with the Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Mavericks or Knicks (who will not be netting said player a ring, but you get the idea). So, after an off-season griping about competitive balance, the owners who have mismanaged their team in giving big contracts to currently unproductive (or underproductive) players can sit back and see a Heat team starting Baron Davis, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Eddy Curry with Brandon Roy and Elton Brand coming off the bench (but no longer Mike Miller who will, himself, likely be an amnesty casualty). There are ways this clause can be useful to teams (who can exercise it at any point during the new CBA, though only on players signed before July 1, 2011) but not for the Cavaliers. Yes, Baron Davis makes a crap-ton of money over the next two years. It’s definitely more money than his on-court production warrants. And, it’s been argued, no owner would want to have Beardly’s bad attitude and overall … well, fatness … negatively affecting his young team if he didn’t have to. However, as far as my eyes could see, Baron Davis was nothing but an asset when he got to this team last year. Remember how the Cavs actually started resembling a competitive basketball team at points once Beardly’s leadership and *ahem, again* talent came on board. Oh, and there was that number 1 overall pick that came with him.  But the point is that if I’m Dan Gilbert I a.) just belched up a handful of gold dubloons … sorry, it’s reflux and b.) don’t see the point of paying a good player to play for someone else. Sure, the team that picks up a member of team amnesty will be taking the amount of his new contract off his previous team’s books, but it just doesn’t make sense for teams who don’t have to get below the cap to sign a big free agent. And that’s not us.
That’s why the same thing goes for Antawn Jamison. Both he and Baron are still more talented than many other points on our roster, so keep them, hope that Byron Scott keeps telling his young players to ignore Jamison when he gives them defensive tips, and use them in trades down the line to continue to improve the future of this team.
Not to tip my hand too much, but I’m a little obsessed with our getting one more first round pick in the 2012 draft. In fact, with the lock-out on, I spent most of my free time reading articles about how stacked this draft is likely to be (though not so likely if the NBA, as part of their B-list of issues, raises the minimum draft age). If the Cavs can have a top-5 pick (based on their own performance) and another one in the 10-18 range, that’s a lot of added talent over the past two drafts. Now, that pick may come through Sacramento making the playoffs *cough … cough…* or it could come by some team needing Jamison to shore up their push for the playoffs. We can’t assume that all rival GMs just became smarter because of this new CBA. In fact, whether this deal makes for more good moves or bad will be interesting to see once free agency and trades can begin again on Dec. 9.

2.) Health… Now there is the possibility that the Cavs caught a break with the delayed start to the season. There were reports that, while healthy enough to play, Kyrie Irving’s bum toe would not be fully healed until mid-December … exactly when he is now going to begin playing competitive professional basketball. I don’t think I’m nervous about the toe, but I have been making jokes like “Now that there’s a season, we can just sit back and wait ‘till Kyrie’s toe explodes” which maybe proves otherwise. Besides “The Toe” (sorry Mr. Groza), we’ve got Anderson Varejao coming back from his injury last season (where he missed enough time for me to do a double-take to make sure I spelled “Varejao” correctly) fully healthy. Likewise for Omri Casspi. While, Semih Erden just had surgery on his broken thumb, so we’ll have to wait at least 6 weeks to see if he’s worth anything at center for us. Other than that, there are no reports that Baron Davis has ballooned to 312 pounds during the summer+, but we’ll just have to wait and see on that.
3.) Not Jonas… I think I have a reasonable expectation for Kyrie Irving’s play this season. That’s not saying he’s always going to play as I imagine, just that I think he’ll shoot pretty well, show some rust, struggle against the stronger/faster guards, but have some games where it will make sense why he was the number 1 pick (of that draft, anyway) and we’ll be happy to have him. Tristan Thompson, though, is a bit more polarizing. Now, I said after the draft that Chris Grant’s got me drinking his juice a little bit, so I’m willing to see what he thinks he got in Thompson. If I’m a betting man, though, I bet the rookie’s gonna go through some rough patches this year even if, in the end, he proves to have been the right pick at 4.
I’ll also be looking to see 1.) if we have enough competent players to actually run Byron Scott’s Princeton Offense this year (not that I could necessarily recognize it) and 2.) if we can shore up our … how shall we say … impactful (negatively, but still…) perimeter defense.

Basketball is back, boys and girls (even though basketball never left, just this particular professional version of it … okay, I’ll shut up now)!

NBA Basketball

2011/03/29

LEBRON’S LAST GIFT TO CLEVELAND

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You remember four months ago, don’t you? Four months ago, you were up to your shins of Holiday Season 2010.  Having done away with the residual lethargy from your utter attack of several styles of pie and bird available to those willing to but give thanks, you were back to your plucky and optimistic self, despite the almost audible fizzle around the Browns as they wrapped up their season and the moths that circled the Dolans’ back pockets looking for the tiniest speck of green peaking from their wallets to attack (in the same way you attacked those pies) but, alas, finding none.  But you, your plucky and optimistic self, still had the 2010-2011 Cleveland Cavaliers.

Remember four months ago when we were still in blissful ignorance of the travesties we were going to witness on the basketball court this season?  Was that really only 120 days ago when the Cavs were exceeding most pre-season projections (it’s just occurred to me to give serious consideration to having my next tattoo be a 7 and a 9 … the record we were all pleased as punch to have before the wheels fell off because … why exactly?) and we were all set to purge ourselves with a collective vomiting up our of pea soup on the figure who … wait, who was it again?  How did this all happen?  Only four months ago and I can’t seem to remember what all the fuss was about anymore.

Of course, I do remember what the fuss was about – and anyone who has been following, thinking about or stringing together any words about the Cavaliers this season has described the roadmap in some detail: Cavs win nearly half of their first 16 games, play a December 2nd game against the Miami Heat and LeBron James (ah, yes, there’s his name…), retroactively put quotations around how much they did “play” that game, and then go on to have a bad season (that was, by turns, historically bad and just plain bad).  That game is the moment in many minds when Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Boobie Gibson, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao and everyone else wearing a bit of gold with their wine grabbed the collective wheel of the team and sent it careening off a cliff and into an ocean where it waits, occasionally emitting tiny bubbles as proof that some life still remains, for the USS Kyrie Irving to dredge the ocean floor and bring that soggy, kelp covered mess back to the surface (… and just in time for a player lock-out!).

My point here is (yes, I have a point) not to rehash that roadmap but, rather, to point out how nearly closed the LeBron James chapter of Cavaliers history really is. I know many of us still feel things (and with the Heat’s second game of the season in Cleveland set for tonight, many of us will be tempted to feel those things again) about LeBron James, the person, the player, the defector … the franchise maker and franchise destroyer.  But he’s not ours anymore (unless, of course, as one Cleveland native shamefully admitted to me the other night, you are still a LeBron James fan … which you should know is your right as an independently thinking man or woman but, yes, you are wise to wear that close enough to vest that it’s actually under the vest … it’s us … we don’t get it) and we’ve got a mostly new group of players (who, it’s true, do occasionally put quotation marks around the word “players” as well) who are not horribly unlikable, even as they are occasionally horrible.

In hindsight, I was completely wrong about what should happen this season.  I wanted to see the Cavs be competitive, make the playoffs (had that prized 7-9 record continued, we’d have only won 36 games – good enough in the Eastern Conference for the 7th or 8th seed), show that they weren’t just a one-man team and prove wrong everyone’s conception of these guys I put so much effort into rooting for.

And that would have been fun – but it wouldn’t have accomplished any of the things I wanted it to.  LeBron wouldn’t care. Anyone who thought we weren’t good enough would still think that – and we’d be drafting one player at 14 or 15 in the draft who might or might not end up being a piece we could use when we finally turned the corner and blew up the bus.

So, in lieu of proving a point, let’s become a good basketball team again. And, really, we should thank LeBron for the ass-whooping he and the Heat gave us back in December for both speeding up our own realization of what we had and for so thoroughly pummeling the team’s psyche that they wouldn’t even think of exerting the effort it would take to over-achieve this season, allowing us to be patient and head straight toward a top draft pick while waiting on the best deal for our assets.

That being said – and having a top pick locked up since mid-January – of course I would love nothing more than to beat LeBron and the Heat.  And that will happen … eventually.  But, for now, I’m going to paddle into dangerous waters and say something I haven’t said since sometime last April.  Thank you, LeBron (you douche).  Sure, you gave us this awful team to watch this season – but you also gave us the chance of a quicker rebuild than we’d been able to realize on our own.

Apparently, you can not know the word “contraction” and still know all.

NBA Basketball

2011/01/29

NBA Draft: College Stud vs. Injured Guard who only played 8 games of D-I ball

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Last night, the Cavaliers tied their franchise’s longest losing streak by crapping out their 19th in a row in a loss to the Nuggets in Cleveland (although, let’s be fair, in those 19, they really only “lost” 15 or so, saving the others with such moral victories as J.J. Hickson grabbing more than 6 rebounds or, say, holding their opponent to under 65 points in the first half … Your 2010-11 “moral victory” Cavaliers currently sit at 12 wins – or good for only third worst in the league.  Perspective, Cavs fans … perspective).

But we awake to a new day – and when that day happens to be a late-January Saturday and, if we have not already, we should probably spend a little time thinking about college basketball (or, as I like to call it, “slightly less professional basketball”).

Specifically, let’s spend a little time with the players most likely to be available and worthy of taking on all of our psychological baggage for the next several years.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way about where it looks like we will be drafting.  First, barring a scorching three months of basketball, the Cavaliers will end up with one of the three worst records in the league.  Though they’ve given me no reason to believe this is the case, they will most likely win again this year.  But, by the time they do, the next worst team could easily have 3-4 games of betterness on them.

Second, we could never win another game – finish the season with only 8 wins, none of them coming in 2011 – and end up picking 4th in the 2011 NBA Draft.  Just worth thinking about.  The way the basketball gods have been shoving our collective head in the toilet this year … well, just don’t be shocked if we don’t get the number one pick.  In fact, be shocked if that does happen. Since this is a draft that looks to have four or five really intriguing prospects, that may not be the worst thing either.  Yes, we want the best available player wherever we pick, but this draft may have screw-up potential written all over that first pick – and, remember, the guy making our picks now was part of the management that picked Marvin Williams ahead of Chris Paul.

You may now lock yourself in the bathroom and scream.

Welcome back…

So, who are the guys we’ll most likely be looking at in the top of the draft?  If you watch college hoops – or, as I did, quickly started figuring out who the top prospects were when it was clear this Cavs season was going to be … um … not entirely fulfilling – you know these names already: Jared Sullinger, Kyrie Irving, Perry Jones III, and Terrence Jones (some other names have started appearing atop the board, such as Derrick Williams from Arizona and Enes Kanter from … well, nowhere right now, I don’t think … but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch them play yet so, Derrick and Enes, just know you’re in my thoughts).  None of these guys is a can’t-miss player, but they should all end up being good-to-very-good and, as far as the Cavs go … you know what they say about beggars being choosers and all.

Today: Sullinger and Irving.

Jared Sullinger – 6’9” 280lbs. Forward from The Ohio State University.

There’s a lot to like about Jared Sullinger.  He’s come in as a freshman and anchored the current No. 1 team in the nation to a tune of 17.8PTs and 10REBs a game.  Most of the detracting talk has been about how “NBA” his body-type is.  What’s his body-type, you may ask?  I think it’s called “Leon Powe with good knees.”  He is not an explosive athlete and, combined with the fact that, yes, there are some guys out there taller than 6’9”, he sometimes has problems getting his shot off against bigger players.  I saw this last weekend, when Ohio State played Illinois.  I thought I was reliving J.J. Hickson’s rookie season, as several of Sullinger’s looks close to the basket were easily stuffed by the longer Illinois defenders.  But, you know what Sullinger ended up with?  27PTs and 16REBs.  Not too bad going against a team who is exploiting your weaknesses.  While we have plenty of examples of dominant college players who were just not able to translate those skills into NBA success, I think it’s a mistake to overlook Sullinger’s production because of athletic shortcomings.  Players who rebound well tend to always rebound well.  And Sullinger definitely has the strength to compete against NBA players. In fact, the two things he should have no problem bringing to the NBA – rebounding and toughness – are two things sorely lacking on the Cavs this year.  I keep thinking of Sullinger ending up like Michael Cage (who, we should remember, wasn’t all that bad).  Not exactly top-4 level production, but a solid contributor.

Kyrie Irving, 6’2” 180lbs. Point Guard from Duke University.

Okay, here’s where I really start betraying my hopes and dreams for the Cavs going forward: I don’t care if Kyrie Irving has to have his (currently) busted toe amputated before the pre-draft camps, I want us to take Kyrie Irving.

Irving was shaping up to be the breakout player of this freshman class when he went down with a toe injury and, yes, yes, yes, while I understand that the toe is not where you want a guard developing any sort of injury history (though Boobie’s hasn’t resurfaced since it cost him much of his production two seasons ago) we can’t keep dumping out a steady string of average point guards who get destroyed by the best 10 point guards in the league.  Irving has great point size and quickness and, at the time of his injury, was shooting 53% from the field and 45% from 3.  Irving looks like he has the skill set to be an above-average defender on the wing and might just keep us from getting destroyed nightly – not just by top-flight guards like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Deron Williams – but by … ahem … last night, the Denver player who killed us the most when we were trying to come back was Ty freakin’ Lawson.

If he’s healthy (I’ll backtrack just a bit from my amputated toe declaration), I can’t see why we don’t pick Irving, unless someone has picked him already.