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The Cavaliers lost one of the game’s biggest names when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach to complete Miami’s All-Star ensemble in 2010. But for a team that lost their franchise centrepiece, the consolation prize for Cleveland wasn’t so bad.
After only one season without LeBron, the Cavs once again found themselves at the top of the draft board thanks to a savvy trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and some luck in the lottery – Cleveland traded Jamario Moon and Mo Williams to LA for Baron Davis, who was subsequently amnestied, and a future first round draft pick which despite having just a 2.8% chance of winning the lottery did in fact earn the Cavs the first overall pick.
With that pick, Cleveland selected Duke freshman Kyrie Irving who has since become one of the league’s most exciting young talents – earning two All-Star selections, Rookie of the Year and All-Star MVP honours in his first three seasons in the league.
However, Cleveland has failed to reach the postseason during Kyrie’s tenure with the team, and with the team remaining stagnant in the standings despite an influx of lottery picks in recent years, there have been constant whispers that, like James, Irving is intent on leaving Ohio as soon as the opportunity arises.
Irving has refuted such claims many times, but basketball is a business and players want to win, so there is some merit in the rhetoric.
Alongside Irving, Cleveland have several promising but unproven prospects – Dion Waiters (22-years-old, 15.6 points per game this season) and Tristan Thompson (22, 11.8 points & 9.3 rebounds). Both have yet to fulfil the lofty expectations that come with being high draft picks – both were selected fourth overall.
The Cavs also acquired Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes midseason, but both become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
Rating: 11/15 – Irving is one of the best young players in the league, and Cleveland’s other young players are full of potential. However, uncertainty will continue to be the Cavs biggest foe until they can secure the signatures of each of their young building blocks.
Location, Location, Location
They might not boast the global attraction or appealing climate and nightlife of some of the league’s blue-chip franchises, but Cleveland do offer one of the most supportive and vociferous fan bases in the league.
LeBron felt the vitriolic criticism of Cavs fans when he departed for Miami, and Irving is oft touted as the league’s best point guard by rabid Cleveland fans.
Despite under performing in 2013-14, falling short of playoff-or-bust expectations, the Cavs are 17th in attendance.
Rating: 2/5 – It isn’t a sexy pick, but there are worse places to play basketball than Cleveland.
It has been a disappointing season in Cleveland, but one bonus of falling short of their playoff aspirations is that the Cavs still own their lottery-bound first-rounder this year.
Currently projected to receive the ninth overall pick, the Cavaliers are well positioned in such a deep draft to select a player that could make an immediate impact on their roster.
The lack of certainty surrounding every position besides point guard means Cleveland is in a position to take the best player available – Creighton scoring Machine Doug McDermott, Duke sharpshooter Rodney Hood, and UCLA pair Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine should all be in play around the Cavs projected pick.
However, besides selecting Irving in 2011, Cleveland has not proven to be a great evaluator of talent at the draft – they selected Thompson ahead of Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard in 2011, 2012 fourth overall pick Waiters has yet to reach his potential, and 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett (picked ahead of Victor Oladpio, Michael-Carter Williams, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr.) has endured one of the worst rookie seasons in NBA history.
This year, the Cavaliers should focus on bringing in the best talent they can select at their pick to avoid anymore draft night mishaps trying to fill specific roles on a shallow roster.
Cleveland could also see two additional first-round picks heading their way in 2015 thanks to Memphis (protected 1-5 and 15-30) and Miami (protected 1-10), which would be great building blocks or useful trade assets heading forward.
Rating: 8/10 – The Cavs have a valuable pick in this year’s draft and potentially three picks next season, however, their track record on draft night has left much to be desired over the past few seasons.
Head coach Mike Brown’s future in Cleveland is likely to be a short one.
The Cavs made no secret that their goal for this season was to make the playoffs. They gambled unsuccessfully on Andrew Bynum and subsequently made a move for Deng in a desperate attempt to launch themselves into the playoff picture despite their season slowly unravelling around them.
Brown’s inability to lead a team which held such promise before the season into the postseason, coupled with rumours of locker room unrest, is likely to see Cleveland looking for a new head coach in the near future.
Perhaps a clean slate is just what Cleveland needs (again), and with experienced mentors like Lionel Hollins and George Karl, who led the Grizzlies and Nuggets to franchise-best records only a season ago, available, Brown’s job is anything but secure.
Rating: 1/5 – Unless by some miracle LeBron James does decide to return to the Cavaliers and stands behind Brown, it seems inevitable that their will be a coaching vacancy in Cleveland soon.
Salary Cap or Cuffs?
This offseason, Cleveland has only $32 million on the books, giving them roughly $26.5 million to play with according to the projected salary cap for next season. And that is including roughly $14 million worth of team options available for the services of Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee.
So, the Cavaliers do have money to spend this season, but will also have several holes to fill on their roster.
Most worryingly for Cleveland is securing the services of small forward Deng, who hits the open market at the conclusion of the season and is likely to receive interest from around the league. Cleveland may be forced into overpaying to retain his services.
Fellowing midseason acquisition centre Spencer Hawes and veteran shooting guard CJ Miles also become unrestricted free agents after this season. While their will also be new rookie contracts and a potential extension for role player Matthew Dellavedova to factor into the mix.
Last offseason, the popular suggestion was that Cleveland was clearing cap space to make a run at prodigal son LeBron. However, after chasing the playoffs this season, that already unlikely scenario seems even more improbable.
Rating: 8/15 – The Cavs will potentially have roughly $30 million to play with this offseason, but their cap space comes from expiring contracts to required players and is likely to disappear quickly as they try to re-sign players they acquired midseason. However, there is still room for them to bring on board a valuable contributor or two.
All hope is not lost in Cleveland.
They entered this season as a playoff hopeful – an aspiration that many believed they would achieve – but they under performed as a whole through the early stages of the year and dug themselves into a whole that even a late-season resurgence could not help them escape.
Irving is a stud, but Cleveland will need to show some signs of improvement in his fourth season if they stand a chance of not losing another disgruntled star in the future.
Waiters and Thompson continue to show glimpse of potential, but will need to improve to help ease the workload for Irving.
Cleveland will see another influx of valuable draft picks head their way over the next two seasons. Hopefully they can show some better decision making at the draft table and bring in some players that can contribute and help improve their promising roster.
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