Starting Five: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Dion Waiters, SF Earl Clark, PF Tristan Thompson, C Andrew Bynum
Key Bench Players: SF Anthony Bennett, PG Jarrett Jack, PF Anderson Varejao, G-F CJ Miles, F Tyler Zeller, G-F Alonzo Gee
Notable offseason additions: Coach Potato Head (Mike Brown), C Andrew Bynum, PF Anthony Bennett (#1 overall pick), PG Jarrett Jack, SF Earl Clark, G-F Sergey Karasev (#19 overall pick), G-F Carrick Felix (#33 overall pick)
Notable offseason subtractions: SG Wayne Ellington, G-F Omri Casspi, G Daniel Gibson, F Luke Walton, PG Shaun Livingston, G Chris Quinn, PF Kevin Jones
FACT OR FICTION: The Cleveland Cavaliers are a playoff team in 2013-2014.
FACT. Following the implosion of both Boston and Milwaukee this off-season, there looks to be a four team race for the seven and eight seeds. The usual suspects (Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Knicks, Nets, and probably Hawks) appear safe, but the Cavaliers, Wizards, Pistons, and Raptors (?!) are in the running for the next up and comer in the East. While each fanbase has lots of reasons for optimism, I really like where Cleveland is sitting right now and think they’ll take the 7/8.
Even if Anthony Bennett is a stretch at #1, they had a promising core already with Irving, Waiters, Thompson, and Varejao, a group that will only get better and is now complemented by some stellar off-season signings. Jarrett Jack was an absolute ROCK for Golden State and will bring the kind of moxie in the clutch that can bail out Cleveland in big moments. Earl Clark was a great signing who will provide a lot of depth, defense, and versatility. The Cavs managed to get both for just $11M next season, which is perfectly reasonable.
As a Lakers fan who bleeds forum blue and gold, I have mixed feelings on the Bynum and Mike Brown additions. Let’s start with Bynum. He’s a huge risk, but (when healthy) he’s one of the most skilled big men in the league and can be a game changer on defense. Although erratic, the rumblings of Bynum lacking a motor were overrated – anyone who watched him help the Lakers win a title with one knee should say the same. Regardless, the thought of a locked-in Bynum and Varejao defensive pairing should be a terrifying prospect. I don’t believe that Bynum is anywhere close to a sure thing, but he’s not the star of this team or getting paid like one. His reasonable 2 year, $24M contract contains only $6M in guarantees, giving Cleveland an ejector switch if Bynum becomes a problem child. This is definitely a risk, and also a coup.
My views on Mike Brown are more complicated. The Cavaliers offense will get better with the addition of veterans who can fill it up, but their putrid 27th ranked defense is where they need help and that’s where he can plug in. We learned that Brown is not a chess grandmaster and he failed to turn around the defense in LA, but he’s a hard worker that will help this young squad develop a better understanding of how the game is played at an NBA level. Beware Cleveland fans: you may want to pull your hair out when he mismanages the game and he’s far from inspirational, but you could do a lot worse.
Cleveland may have the talent and depth to make moves, but the mindblowing part is that Dan “Comic Sans” Gilbert has learned his lesson. Last time he tried to build around an all-world #1 pick, they got entrenched in long-term contracts with washed up veterans that became unmovable. LeBron got sick of it and peaced out. Not this time. Cleveland has $30M in team options this summer, with the ability to cut ties with everyone but Jack and the rookies next summer. They have 2 1st rounders coming (Sac 2014, Memphis 2015) and still possess all of their picks. If things don’t work out, there’s plenty of flexibility moving forward.
Best case scenario: 6th seed in the East, promising performance in first round exit. Across the board, the team stays healthy and the new pieces fit right in. Mike Brown figures out how to handle his logjam in the frontcourt with aplomb. More importantly, Irving shows that he can carry the load on offense and D up as well. Jack and Kyrie look like a terror in the clutch for years to come. The Cavs may not have beaten Miami to a championship, but they look like a real competitor moving forward.
Absolute Apocalypse: Health, health, health. No team in the league is more susceptible to the injury bug than the Cavaliers – who could be totally lost without Irving, Bynum, and Varejao in the lineup. Completely overwhelmed, Mike Brown shows that he’s only an NBA-caliber coach when he has LeBron on the roster. Gilbert hits the reset button, hoping his son can hit jackpot a third time in the loaded 2013-14 draft.
Expected outcome: I will remain skeptical about Kyrie’s ability to stay healthy until he proves me wrong, but I hope this is the season he finally does. I love his game and believe he’ll show he can lead a playoff team when surrounded by NBA caliber talent. They won’t make it out of the first round in a top-heavy Eastern conference, but there’s plenty to like about this Cleveland team. I think they’ll lose to Indiana or Chicago in a way that is totally respectable and gives their shell-shocked fanbase hope for the future.
4th in the Central, 8th in the Eastern Conference
Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series: