Archive for the ‘Off-Season Moves’ Category

Cavs sign Michael Eric?

Friday, August 10th, 2012

The Cavs have signed Michael Eric. Following Summer League, Cavs:the Blog briefly mentioned him here.

Last year at Temple, he was a really good rebounder and shot blocker.  He is also 24 and was not remotely on anyone’s draft radar.  I do not have a lot to say about this; hopefully he is the next Marcus Camby?

Maybe I have misunderstood some of the Cavs off-season moves, but I thought Kevin Jones received one year guaranteed, in addition to Jon Leuer being snagged off waivers.  Luke Harangody signed a $1.1 million qualifying offer.  Luke Walton spent most of his time at power forward last year, as the athletic ability to play on the wing eluded him some years ago.

So…the team has eight big men…only one of which is an accomplished NBA big…I guess, goodbye, slimmed-down Samardo Samuels?  I am relatively confused.

Cavs trade for Jeremy Pargo

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Pretty sick dunk here...Look up "Jeremy Pargo Kevin Seraphin" on youtube.

Cleveland and Memphis completed a trade where the Cavs receive 26 year-old point guard Jeremy Pargo and a 2014 second round pick for D.J. Kennedy.

Pargo finished his NCAA career at Gonzaga in 2009, before playing in Isreal for a while, then making his NBA debut last year.  He was not very good in Memphis, finishing with a PER of 4.  Long story short; an aggressive and athletic driver, he struggles with turnovers and shooting.

The Cavs apparent philosophy here is, “We have cap space.  We don’t have a back-up point guard.  What the heck, let’s buy a 2nd round draft pick.”  Memphis appears to be thinking “with Pargo, we own 11 contracts for $66.5 million next year.  The luxury tax is $70.3M.  Josh Selby was awesome this summer, and we just drafted Tony Wroten.  He’s kind of a point guard too, right?  Can we get someone to take Pargo’s guaranteed $1 million off our hands?  Cleveland’s offering DJ Kennedy?  Is his contract guaranteed?  No?  Tell them we have a deal.”

This trade is inconsequential enough that I do not have much of an opinion on it.  Apparently a decent back-up point guard may still be at least one year away .  Does this mean, so long, Donald Sloan?  With Leuer, Kevin Jones, and Pargo on board, a lot of roster spots are taken.  One thing is certain; I will need to give up on Jordan Taylor.

Andrew Bynum Trade Machine Fun

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

So, I’ve been toying around with the NBA Trade Machine over on ESPN for the past couple of hours trying to figure out what a Lakers/Magic/Cavs deal would look like, which has been edifying in a couple of ways that I’ll get to in a minute. First, let me present to you a handful of trades that work:

Trade A

Lakers get: Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson
Magic get:  Andy Varejao, Luke Walton, Josh McRoberts, Omri Casspi, Christian Eyenga, and Cavs’ 2013 first-rounder
Cavs get: Andrew Bynum, Quentin Richardson, Glen Davis, and Chris Duhon

The Cavs get their man (Bynum), the Lakers get theirs (Howard), and the Magic get a clean slate by offloading nearly all their bad contracts for expiring ones. They’ll be terrible next year and have a decent shot at the number one pick, and they will have tens of millions of dollars of cap space once the 2012-13 season ends. The one thing that doesn’t make much sense to me is why the Magic would want a thirty year-old defensive big man, but according to Ric Bucher, the framework of the deal involves Varejao-to-Orlando, so I’ll just assume they covet him for whatever reason.

Jason Richardson is overpaid, but it’s not like the Lakers can sign any more free agents, so that point is moot. He played poorly last season (shot 40.8% from the field; he’s a career 44.1% shooter), but he’s only 31 and could be a good bench scorer, especially if he gets a steady diet of open threes when defenses collapse on Howard and/or Gasol. He would also be sharing some court time with Steve Nash, which never hurts one’s offensive game.

Glen Davis shouldn’t make upwards of six million dollars a year, but he would be similarly useful for the Cavs, who don’t have a PF who can knock down an open 13-footer. Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson are dead weight, but that’s the cost of doing business.

You could also sell me on a variant of this trade where the Cavs also give up the Heat/Lakers pick they have in the 2013 draft. If they’re going to roll the dice on a super-talented injury risk with attitude issues, it’s not like the 24th pick in the 2013 draft should be the stumbling point.

(To anyone saying, “Why wouldn’t LA make a play for Andy V?”: it’s a cap thing. The Lakers are paying Kobe/Gasol/Nash a combined $56 million next season and are well over the soft cap, so they can’t take on Howard and Varejao without moving Gasol.)

Trade B

Lakers get: Howard and Richardson
Magic get: Varejao, Walton, Boobie Gibson, McRoberts, Casspi, and Eyenga
Cavs get: Bynum, Hedo Turkoglu, Duhon, and Davis

By offloading that egregious Hedo deal that pays him $11.4 mil and $12.2 mil in 2012-13 and 2013-14, respectively, the Magic get rid of their worst contract. They also dump Davis, J-Rich, and Duhon. The only bad contract they keep is Quentin Richardson’s, which pays him a little under $6 mil over the next two seasons. Every player they acquire has either a team option for next year or is off the books entirely. I didn’t include a draft pick in this scenario because the Magic shed a ton of salary, but if the Cavs were to throw in a first-rounder, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

Trade C

Lakers get: Howard and Turkoglu
Magic get: Varejao, Walton, Gibson, McRoberts, Casspi, Eyenga, and Andrew Goudelock
Cavs get: Bynum, Davis, J. Richardson, Steve Blake, Q. Richardson, and Duhon

Again, a hunk of expirings for Orlando (give or take a draft pick), but this time Turkoglu goes to the Lakers and the Cavs absorb a cornucopia of bad contracts. The difference between the abominable contract amalgam of Q Richardson, Duhon, and Blake and the singular abominable contract of Turkoglu is negligible, since both Quentin Duhon-Blake and Turkoglu make about the same amount of money and their contracts expire in two years. (Technically, Turk’s got a player option for the 2013-14 season, but who wouldn’t cash in a season of mediocre basketball for $12.2 mil?) But the J-Rich and Davis deals run for the next three years, paying those guys a combined $38 million over that time period. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, because those guys are legitimate NBA players, and it’s not like the Cavs have a phenomenal bench, but if the Magic ask for a pick in this scenario, they had better ask the Lakers, because the Cavs are going to be tied down with salaries and will need their draft picks to help fill out their roster over the next couple of years.

Trade D

Lakers get: Howard, Turkoglu, Richardson, and Duhon
Magic get: Varejao, Tristan Thompson, McRoberts, Eyenga, and Andrew Goudelock
Cavs get: Bynum, Metta World Peace, and Steve Blake

so much depends

long tristan

dazed in wine

beside the black

(But seriously, your opinion of this trade revolves entirely around whether or not you like Tristan Thompson. Also, I apologize to William Carlos Williams. Remember when you used the phrase “penniless rumsoak,” and I swooned? I’m so sorry.)

What Does It All Mean?

Nothing right now. We have no idea how close this thing is to fruition or who the principals are outside of—again, I’m leaning on Bucher here—Howard, Bynum, and Varejao. What’s clear is: a.) the Magic want to get rid of some bad contracts, b.) the Lakers are aggressively pursuing Howard, and c.) the Cavs have lots of cap space and expiring contracts. The trade, if it happens, will look something like the ones mentioned above. These deals and very similar variants are the only ones that work cap-wise unless you start getting crazy and throwing Gasol into the mix.

A bit of experimenting leads me to this conclusion: the Cavs’ cap/expiring contract situation makes them an ideal facilitator for this sort of trade, and they can pretty much dictate their terms. While the Magic are desperate to get a fresh start out of the impending departure of their best player and the Lakers are fervently pursuing Howard, the Cavs can be dispassionate about this deal. If they don’t want to take an additional bad contract or give up another first-rounder, they can always pass. They’re not desperate to acquire Bynum, and, if the swap falls apart, they can return to their original plan of building through the draft.

What throws a wrench in this whole thing is the presence of the Houston Rockets, who have a bunch of young players and picks. I’m mildly perplexed about why they think Bynum would put them over the top. Bynum-Irving is a lot more appetizing prospect than Bynum-Lin, but then, they’re in Houston, which is a more desirable free agent destination than Cleveland. Regardless, they’re very capable of facilitating a Howard’s departure for LA, and they would be more able than the Cavs to provide the Magic with decent draft picks (they shipped out Kyle Lowry for a Toronto first-rounder) and recent draftees (Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lamb, and Royce White).

No matter what happens or doesn’t happen on the Bynum-to-Cleveland trade front, this is the first great example of what valuing cap flexibility and acquiring tradable assets can do for a rebuilding team. By carefully managing the cap and his assets over the past couple of years, Chris Grant has put the Cavs in a situation where they might be able to acquire an excellent player because they’re one of the only teams in the league that can help the Lakers land Howard and the Magic push the reset button on their franchise.

Man on Fire

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

On Thursday, after a Heat practice before Friday’s game against the Cavaliers, LeBron James responded to a reporter’s question about a possible return to Cleveland by stating it would be “fun to play in front of [Cavs] fans again. I had a lot of fun times here… I’m here as a Miami player and I’m happy where I am now but I don’t rule that out in any sense. If I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me.”

Bron’s statement is the latest Twitter-exploding product of the weird psychodrama in which he has participated since sometime in 2008 when Sportscenter producers, attempting to kill time during slow news days, filled empty content blocks with speculation as to where he would land in the summer of 2010. After two years of playing coy with the media, a summer of placating his id, and a season and a half playing for the most hated team in the league, LeBron now reminds me increasingly of Jeffrey Beaumont. He struck out for the idea of Miami—balmy weather, sex, neon—but the rabbit hole went deeper than he could initially fathom. He’s being beaten to the tune of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” He just wants to go home.

Metaphorically speaking. I don’t think LeBron James wants to play basketball in Cleveland again. Rather, he wants everything to be like it was when he played in Cleveland, when he was the closest thing the league had to a nationwide fan favorite. He wants fans in other NBA cities to admire, even covet, him. He wants to win a championship and say he did it for his hometown, even though I think it’s pretty irrelevant to LeBron where and for whom he wins a title. He wants 2008 again, but without Mo Williams clanking wide-open threes. He feels bad, too. Remorse hit him like a sneak-attack hangover. He wants Cavs fans to not hate him anymore, perhaps not so they won’t feel anguished, but so that he won’t have to bear the burden of being the cause of their anguish. His motivations for tone-deaf half-promises of a return to Cleveland are selfish, but also well-intentioned in their own ineffectual way.

The Akron Beacon’s Jason Lloyd, in an article about the feasibility of an LBJ Cleveland homecoming, described Bron as “fairly calculated and savvy with the media,” which was true two years ago. For most of his time in Cleveland, LeBron was an opaque amalgam of talent, team-first platitudes, and exuberance. On a macro scale, he talked about championships; on a micro scale, he wanted “get better” every day; on the court, he conducted himself like a superhero who realized, each day anew, that he could fly. NBA fans knew almost nothing about him. This formula—being great, never saying anything controversial, and playing joyfully—endeared LeBron to even non-Cavs fans. Since deviating from that formula, LeBron has grown increasingly translucent; it’s now apparent that Cavaliers Era LeBron’s immense popularity was an essential component of his identity.

We know this because James spent last season in Miami trying to figure out who he was after realizing he had taken a blowtorch to LeBron James, Universally-Beloved Superstar. He made a token attempt to embrace the villain tag many fans and commentators placed upon him, but when LeBron buried a pair of clutch threes in an overtime game against the Blazers and taunted the Portland crowd, it didn’t feel right. The black hat doesn’t suit him because he’s not a spiteful player. A Kobe-like inferiority complex is the incorrect fuel for his engine. If his on-court actions in seven seasons with the Cavaliers are any indication, a crucial element of LeBron’s game is how much fun he has playing basketball. And fun is sort of an inclusive process: it’s difficult to have fun when the crowd wants to murder you in a well. The experience of knocking that crowd on their ass is fun for some athletes—I recall Derek Jeter once saying that he liked nothing more than to silence Fenway Park—but I’m not sure a stone-faced assassination of 20,000 ornery Bulls fans is LeBron’s ideal night. He would rather those Bulls fans harbor an awful respect for him. Which is why his post-Cavs career, as it unfolds, seems as much a nomadic quest to be liked again as it does the pursuit of a ring. If Kobe’s MJ emulation act is about equaling or surpassing Jordan’s greatness, LeBron most admires Michael’s near-unblemished approval rating. Becoming a global icon, after all, is only incidentally about winning.

Of course, LeBron has probably put the global icon thing on the back burner. He has championships to win, and when he arrived at the Quicken Loans Arena for a Thursday practice, he had fences to mend. This newfound concern over the damage he has inflicted is why Bron gives us puzzling quotes like the ones he made Thursday. He has finally realized that the antipathy generated by The Decision was mostly his fault, and he’s trying to salve the wound without much understanding of how he can repair his relationship with Cavaliers fans. He did all he could do when he admitted that he made a mistake, but the strange prognostication that followed came from a place of unabsolvable guilt. Maybe if I tell Cleveland fans that there’s a slight possibility I will play for the Cavs again, they’ll understand that I didn’t mean to hurt their feelings. It’s logic lifted straight from Kanye’s 2010 apology tour: if you can’t apologize sufficiently, do so in as bizarre a manner as possible.

The timing of this augmented expression of regret is awkward because the mourning process over LeBron’s departure concluded some eight months ago. Or it should have. The popular analogy among embittered fans and commentators is that of being abandoned by a significant other, but that’s lazy and inexact. Free agency isn’t a concept that has a parallel in the romantic sphere, and LeBron didn’t leave Cleveland in its sleep. He held an ill-advised press conference, and ruined exactly one Cavaliers season. Did he crawl into your heart and slash its wiring? Has your self-esteem disintegrated? Do you have trust issues now? I’m sorry, then.

What do you do when you can’t go home again? Or, more pointedly, what does LeBron do? Apparently he tries to convince others that he might go home again. One of the greatest athletes of his generation is experiencing an identity crisis while having the best season of his career. It’s like watching fire try to figure out its motivation. And maybe that’s the best way to think about LeBron James: he’s an exhilarant and nothing else about him makes sense. I hope he can come home one day, maybe after he retires, and start making sense. In the meantime, he’s a ball of flame with nowhere to go. There are worse things in this world.

Building a Winner, Part 2

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Part 2a: How did the best teams of the last 10 years get there?

The first step I took when researching this was to check if high-lottery teams were more likely to be better in five years than mid-lottery teams or borderline playoff teams.  The answer was no; on average, every draft range regresses to the mean.  From the 2001 – 2002 season through 2005 – 2006:

  • The teams with the five worst records in each season (23 wins per season) averaged 39.8 wins in the 5th season after their ineptitude.
  • The teams finishing with the 6th – 10th worst records (33 wins per season), improved to 41.2 wins 5 years later.
  • The teams with the 11th – 15th worst records (40 wins per season), decreased to 38.4 wins per season.

All this really told me was that there’s nothing simple and draft related about building a winner.  From there I started digging deeper, into what lead to the greatest success stories of the last 10 years.  San Antonio, Dallas and the Lakers were the three teams that averaged 50 or more wins per season from 2001 – 2002 through 2010 – 2011.  How did they get there?

San Antonio

The Spurs averaged 58 wins per season.  That’s really amazing, but what’s even more astounding is the personnel they started the period with.  In October 2001, Spurs fans probably thought re-building was imminent.  Their under-30 core was basically one player.  Fortunately, Tim Duncan was one of the best big men of all time, but there appeared to be very little around him.  Antonio Daniels, Malik Rose and Charles Smith were already in their “primes” as average to below average NBA players.  The newcomers were the 28th pick in the draft (19 year old Frenchman Tony Parker), Bruce Bowen (30 year old all-defense wing with 37% career field goal shooting and only 33% on threes), and Stephen Jackson (signed to 2 year, $1.2 million contract).  David Robinson was 36 and Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson, and Vinny Del Negro were retired.  With no lottery picks on the horizon, everyone must have been scouring the lists of upcoming free agents.

Except we know how this story ends; two seasons later the Spurs are again the NBA’s best.   Parker averages 16 a game with Jackson tallying 12.  Bruce Bowen continues a streak towards 8 straight all-defensive teams, while becoming a 3-pt marksman (41% during his Spurs career).  The player they drafted 57th in the 1999 draft comes to the US and embarks on a hall-of-fame career.  A series of well-considered free agents (Robert Horry, Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto), trades (Nazr Mohammed), and late draft picks (George Hill, Dejuan Blair) leads to two more championships and the nearly 60 wins-per-season decade.


The Mavericks won 57 games per season over the last ten years.  Their early decade success required the use of one top 8 draft pick.  And that was an indirect use, as they traded Jason Kidd (2nd pick in the 1994 draft) for Michael Finley.  Another player responsible for a lot of wins, before leaving as a free agent is Steve Nash, who was acquired by trading a Mavs 9th pick (Shawn Marion).   Also contributing to a lot of wins from 2003 to 2009 was Josh Howard, who was drafted 29th.

The construction of their champions is convoluted, but it never required higher than a 9th pick (Dirk Nowitzki).  I’ll again note that when referring to not requiring better than a 9th pick, I mean Dallas’ picks; several players were drafted by other teams at better spots in the draft, but the Mavs acquired them through other means.  Basically, Dallas’ success was built on always being willing to take on longer term salary, while upgrading to the right mix of players.  It started when they traded Tim Hardaway and Juwan Howard for Raef Lafrentz and Nick Van Exel.  LaFrentz eventually became Antoine Walker, who became Jason Terry.  Van Exel became Antawn Jamison, whose value returned Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse.  Harris and two late 1st rounders brought back Jason Kidd, while Stackhouse’s expiring contract (plus cash) was eventually used towards acquiring Shawn Marion.  Finally Tyson Chandler was acquired for Erick Dampier’s expiring contract (who was acquired via trade, essentially for two late 1st round draft picks and cash) and JJ Barea was an undrafted free agent.

In summary, Dallas’ 10 years of success was built by indirectly using one high-lottery draft pick from seven years prior, two other top-ten draft slots, a video-game like series of trades, and cash.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Shaq and Pau acquisitions could basically only happen to the Lakers, so they’ll be addressed briefly.  Still though, they were built while never using a pick higher than 10th.

Aside from Shaq landing in Hollywood as a free agent, Kobe was scored with the 13th pick in the draft, when NBA teams still weren’t sure about drafting high-school kids.   The rest of the core of their three-peat team consisted of Derek Fisher who was picked 24th in the draft, Rick Fox a free agent, and Robert Horry gained through trading Cedric Ceballos.  The 2009 & 2010 champs relied on Andrew Bynum being snagged 10th.  Pau Gasol came aboard through what appeared to be a heavily lopsided trade; Kwame Brown, Pau’s brother Marc (48th pick in previous year’s draft, had not come to NBA yet) and two future, surely end-of-first-round draft picks.   Shaq was then eventually traded for Lamar Odom, which rounded out this squad.

What this means for the Cavs

None of these teams are easily duplicated (Shaq’s not walking through the door), but that’s not the point.

The top 3 teams of the last ten years relied on two total draft selections inside the top 8 to build their cores: Tim Duncan and Michael Finley (We can debate about including David Robinson.  He was the #1 pick fourteen years earlier and played only the first two seasons of these ten, while averaging 10 & 8).  Compared to the less capable teams that drafted early in the lottery  repeatedly, either immediately proceeding or early in these ten years (Memphis, Clippers, Toronto), that’s a pretty sharp contrast.  The teams were built by signing free agents at a good value, making great talent evaluations later in the draft, and always getting the better end of a trade.

Besides LA, I can’t say market size was a huge influence either.  San Antonio was the original small market model team in the NBA.  Dallas was an atrocity before Nowitzki and Mark Cuban came around, averaging 20 wins per season through the 1990’s.  Their “big three” top 5 draft picks of Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson brought them to a summit of 36 wins before needing to be dismantled.  Cuban’s willingness to spend was immensely important in building their championship team, but they never had to lure a free agent through “big city, bright lights!”  Assembling the original Nowitzki, Nash, Finley, Howard core occurred very organically.  Through trades; Tim Hardaway and Juwan Howard eventually became Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd.  Basically they made a lot more good decisions than bad decisions for a long time, with wheels greased by Cuban’s money.

The Cavs have one blue-chip talent, tons of draft picks, and plenty of cap space; they should be able to reasonably duplicate the Spurs.   Probably not to the tune of three championships, but at least a 55 win contender.

Perhaps based on the Dallas model of “never let a good expiring contract go to waste”, the Cavs can flip Jamison’s expiring contract to a floundering team for a longer, non-horrible contract that could also eventually be traded as an expiring contract for another upgrade.   Maybe this was even a reason to keep Baron Davis around.   It is interesting that neither the Spurs nor Mavericks assembled their cores with a big free agent signing; Dallas in particular always chose to trade expirings instead of waiting & gaining the cap space.

I don’t want these posts to be misconstrued that the high lottery is inherently worthless.  If the Cavs fail this year and end up with a top 3 pick, my reaction will not be “what a disaster!”  At the same time, the likelihood has to be acknowledged that the losing may not result in the asset everyone hopes for.  This recent-NBA history lesson leads to the conclusion that there’s no reason to hope for losses.  The assets and cap flexibility the Cavs have accumulated are sufficient, without needing further failure.  Tomorrow we’ll look at the next best teams of the last ten years: Detroit, Phoenix, and Boston, and continue to build on the themes of “good management / decision making = winner, high lottery = crap shoot”.

Building a Winner, Part One

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Since the Cavs descended to the NBA’s bottom last year, everyone has been thinking about moving back to the top.  There are alot of ideas: Accumulate draft picks…don’t get too good, too fast…don’t build a losing culture, etc.  Every idea has merits, and leaves me questioning what moves really build winners in the NBA.

This month, instead of a Destination: 2013, I will be posting a five part series on Building a Winner.  The posts will look at most of the signature teams of the last twenty years, looking at the personnel moves that drove their success.  Lessons learned from these teams will be applied to the Cavs current situation.  Obviously there is no one rule for constructing a great team, but these posts basically boil down to:

  • There’s no magic associated with picking high in the lottery for a few years in a row.   Continued trips to the lottery are more likely to result in mediocrity, rather than building a championship contender.
  • Good teams make the right personnel decisions.  It’s really that simple.  This happens through all sorts of means, but the exemplary teams make the most of what they have; the lesser teams squander it.

In Part one, I’ll start by exploring the first bullet.

Part 1: Why the “OKC plan” is barely a plan

The Thunder are current NBA darlings; they’re young and exciting and poised to be an NBA contender for at least the next half-decade.  This was accomplished through accumulating draft picks, maintaining salary cap flexibility, and pulling off shrewd trades using those assets.  This post certainly is not intended to downplay the brilliance of what OKC has assembled; it’s intended to show that the plan rarely works this well.

The list of solid role players acquired through excellent scouting and taking advantage of other team’s cap mismanagement is impressive: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, Daequan Cook; each player occupying valuable roles within the OKC system.  Still though, the difference between the Thunder and any number of 45 win teams is their back-to-back-to-back high lottery draft picks: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Unfortunately, this is where the whole setup fails to be a “plan”.  Making this work requires a lot of luck; the Sonics had an 80% chance of NOT drafting 1st or 2nd when they picked Durant.  In 2009, they had a 37% chance of their ping-pong ball rising to the top three.  Beyond that, they had to rely on other teams selecting lesser players instead of their stars: Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo, and Greg Oden all came off the board prior to their picks.  If the paint on a ping-pong ball is a little heavier or Memphis was better at drafting, then OKC looks a lot different.  A recent John Hollinger post on ESPN explains that this year’s Thunder rely on their “big 3” for a higher proportion of scoring than any other team in the league.  If one or two of these picks goes differently, the Thunder are probably not dreaming of championship parades.

No amount of genius can guarantee three stars in three drafts (or even two in two).  For reference, the other three year runs on the high lottery in the last ten years include:

  • As an expansion team, Charlotte drafted #2 in 2004, #5 and 13 in 2005, #3 in 2006 and #8 in 2007.  Emeka Okafor, Ray Felton, Sean May, Adam Morrison, and Brandan Wright aren’t raising any Bobcats banners anytime soon.
  • After scoring Chris Bosh at #4 in 2003; over the next three years, the Raptors chose Rafael Araujo at #8, Charlie Villanueva at #7 (with Joey Graham at #16 that year) and Andrea Bargnani at #1.   Ummmm…Bargnani hasn’t been a complete failure.
  • From 2007 – 2009 (same three years as the Thunder), the Grizzlies ended up with Mike Conley Jr, OJ Mayo, and Hasheem Thabeet in the top five (Mayo and Thabeet came before the Thunder picks).  For good measure, they also drafted in the top six for eight years from 1995 to 2002, all for the eventual benefit of building a 50 win team.
  • Minnesota has picked in the lottery forever, making seven top-seven picks in the last six years (with three additional first round picks).  They’ve finally got a few keepers and should be a playoff team soon.
  • Atlanta accumulated losses to the tune of a top six every year from 2004 – 2007, eventually building the playoff road-bump that they are today.
  • I’m starting to get depressed; the Clippers picked in the top eight for four years in a row, including #2 and #3 picks.  Alas, they are not retiring Darius Miles’ jersey.
  • Finally, over the last three years, Sacremento has finished with the league’s worst, 3rd worst and 5th worst records.  For their pain; they’ve built a nucleus of Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmer Fredette.  That group at least surpasses OKC at one thing – getting coaches fired.

Many of these teams drafted poorly, but the ratio of “teams that built contenders from lottery scratch” to “teams that did not” is really lopsided.  The lottery is a crap shoot, starting with the need to get your ping pong balls vacuumed out of glass sphere.  Add that to projecting the future exploits of 19 year olds, and the result is pretty frequently continued mediocrity.  Speaking of, there is another young NBA contender built through the draft.

The Chicago Bulls are not a “lottery success story” in any easily definable way.  From 2000 – 2007, the Bulls picked #4, #9, #2, #4, #2, #7, #3, #7, #2 and #9.  Where did that leave them?  Back in the lottery, as a 33 – 49 team.  Fate smiled on them and with a 1.7% chance to win the lottery, they were able to add Derrick Rose, who became the youngest MVP in league history.  Besides the fact it took ten years, that’s pretty irreproducible.  Luckily for Cleveland, Irving came with the first dip into the lottery.

What this means for the Cavs

The concept for this series of posts as well as much of the writing happened before the Varejao injury.  This whole five day series started with the simple question, “Is it really that bad if the Cavs end up with the 11th pick?”  Based on the experiences of the nine teams discussed above and the construction of the thirteen teams covered over the next four days; my answer is no.  Really good teams are built through all sorts of means, and most rarely relied on picking in the lottery.  The eight championship franchises of the last twenty years relied on a total of 10 of their own top eight picks, either directly or indirectly (i.e. trading a player they drafted in the top 8 for something useful).  The signature teams of this timeframe were built by making good personnel decisions, using whatever was available to them.   There’s minimal correlation between having multiple high lottery picks and eventually winning championships.

Obviously recent injuries have increased the likelihood of failure for the Cavs this year, but over the next five days, I’ll show why it’s not justified to feel the need to root for losses.   The difference between 20 and 28 wins in 2011 -2012 is one of a multitude of factors that will influence Cleveland’s path to contention.   With Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, seven more 1st round draft picks, and plenty of salary cap flexibility; the Cavs are able to build a contender regardless of 2012’s draft position.  Whether they do so, is up to them.

Cavs reportedly interested in Chris Kaman: is it a good idea?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

According to this report, the Cavaliers are apparently one of the teams in the Chris Kaman sweepstakes. The great Rohan Cryuff of At The Hive emailed me tonight asking, essentially, why the Cavs would want Chris Kaman. Here were my guesses at what’s going on behind these rumors:

- The Cavs want to make the playoffs this year. Badly. I’ve been on the record for a while saying that I hope the Cavs take their time and do a nice, long, patient, rebuild, but Dan Gilbert clearly doesn’t want to have to swallow the pill of a full 3-5 year rebuilding plan, and I think he really likes the idea of a potential Heat-Cavaliers playoff series, no matter how slim the chances of the records matching up or the Cavaliers winning the series — is it unfair to say that if the Cavs did pull of a win in that series, regardless of what happens through the rest of the playoffs, it would be a bigger Cleveland sports history moment than the 2007 Conference Championship, especially since that playoff run was all about LeBron, and all things LeBron are now tainted?

- Kaman’s value is that he’s a true center who can knock down a jump shot, which is important when the Cavs’ two best young frontcourt players who can’t knock down a jump shot, like at all. Kaman isn’t lights-out from midrange, but teams have to respect him from out there, which would free up Varejao and TT to attack the rim instead of being forced to fire up hopeless jumpers whilst paired alongside each other or play out-of-position defensively next to Antawn Jamison.

- The best deal we can figure (it works on Real GM’s trade checker): The Cavs deal Jamison and Hollins’ expiring, along with Sessions and a possible 2nd-rounder, for Kaman and Ariza’s ugly contract. The Ariza piece is the key for me: the Cavs desperately need a wing, and would get to talk themselves into Ariza as a potential above-average 3-and-D wing, just like Houston and New Orleans did, while New Orleans gets to get rid of a guy who’s still riding the high of one hot-shooting playoffs, wasn’t good offensively at all with CHRIS PAUL setting him up, and is currently enjoying a god-awful 44.7% True Shooting percentage.

The real issue here is Sessions — he’d clearly be backing up Jack, and is he really THAT much of an upgrade over the much cheaper Greivis Vasquez? I love Razor Ramon, but his PER is 14.92, and he doesn’t stretch the floor, isn’t much of a playmaker, and plays no defense. Vasquez’s PER is 14.67, and he’s better as a passer and a defender than Ramon, pretty much by default.

Anyways, that’s my run at a justification for this rumor. Have a good Thursday — I know everyone loves a good trade rumor. For the record, I put the chances of Kaman coming to Cleveland at 7%, and that might be generous. But, as always, stranger things have happened.

Sessions to Lakers?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

The LA Lakers are potentially interested in acquiring Ramon Sessions, using a first round draft pick and a trade exception.

“Cleveland is interested in stockpiling draft picks in potential deals, sources said. Several teams have inquired about Sessions lately, front-office sources said. The Lakers have a handful of players on short-term deals who can’t be traded until March 1.” [Adrian Wojnarowski]

I’ll reserve comment on the rumored trade for now, and instead just say that it seems Ramon Sessions’ value has fluctuated about as wildly as it can over a short career.  He was drafted 56th (low value), before playing two solid seasons in Milwaukee.  Minnesota signed him to a $16 million contract that alot of people thought was a bargain (high value).  One year later, Minnesota basically gave him to Cleveland in a salary dump (low value); Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins AND a second round draft pick, essentially for Sebastian Telfair.   Since that trade, Sessions has primarily expanded his resume as a focal point on a 19 win team, then shooting 34% this season.  So of course, now “several teams have inquired about Sessions” (high value?).  The NBA is a wacky place sometimes.

On the Lockout and Lungfish :: Colin McGowan

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I know we’re not really feeling the effects of the NBA Lockout yet. Were the Lockout—as it manifests itself in my fever dreams—a be-fanged lungfish the size of skyscraper, which speaks only in the wails of immolating children, most of us would now only be nervously tittering in the front of the evening news, as Lungfish Lockout Monster ravages a metropolitan area some 600 miles away. (Brian Williams, in this scenario, continues to remain unflappable and charming). Free agency and Summer League are fun and all, but as the playoffs remind us each year, we like the NBA primarily because we like to watch ten players at a time play basketball at its pinnacle.

But Lungfish Lockout Monster looms. He’s in the Nevada desert now, popping the roof off of Treasure Island, and consuming its residents as if they were fleshy Pez. In your nightmares, you are awakened by the smell of his breath, and his breath smells like your family being digested. He may be hundreds of miles away, but he will surely drink the blood of your child, and worse, just before slicing your daughter open like a juicebox he will whisper softly in her ear I spoke with that cute boy in your biology class. He thinks your haircut is stupid.

How can you avoid such a tragic end? You must prepare! So here is, like, some stuff you can do when the Lockout runs into the NBA season. (Just for the sake of avoiding anyone taking legal action against me, these things probably will not help if a monster pulled from a particularly terrifying narcotics binge becomes flesh and rampages across the United States. If that happens, my only suggestion is to buy a harpoon gun and go down swinging.)

Suggestion No. 1: Read a Book.

I’m a big advocate of the works of Robert Musil, particularly The Man Without Qualities. And this thing’s probably gonna take awhile, so if you’ve ever wanted to read an incomplete, 1824-page novel that is ostensibly about pre-WWI Austria, but is also about art and beauty and the horrific effects of inaction, now is as good a time as any.

But maybe you’re not one of the eight people on the planet to whom that sounds appealing. No worries: there are a lot of terrific basketball books, and John composed a pretty comprehensive list of them a couple of years ago. I’m not terribly well-read when it comes to sports books, but I’m taking it upon myself to select a few tomes from John’s list over the coming months, if only for educational purposes. I do find, from what I have read, that reading well-written non-fiction on the NBA, especially about bygone eras, has enhanced my appreciation of the league; I would imagine leafing through Breaks of the Game or Pistol has done the same for others.

On top of that, there are always back issues of Sports Illustrated (which had some exceptional NBA-related stuff in the 70s and 80s) if you can find them. And FreeDarko’s still up. The guys over there were so thorough that it might take you two NBA seasons to sift through their archives.

Suggestion No. 2: Youtube

Have you guys realized there is tons of old NBA footage on there? If you missed the Bird and Magic Era or any of the Jordan Years, a lot of it is available on Youtube if you’re willing to dig for it. Plus, there are old dunk contests, awkward press conferences, and Mark Madsen yelling stuff in Spanish. Well done, Internet.

Suggestion No. 3: Buy Lungfish Repellent

Won’t work. It’s like a marinade to them. And that lungfish thing was a metaphor, so I don’t know why we’re still talking about this.

Suggestion No. 4: There’s Always College Ball

Unless Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are the next coming of Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley, the Cavaliers will still be pretty lousy this season. Or at least I hope they will be (Harrison Barnes!). Next year’s draft class is supposed to be loaded with talent. Those two factors mean a.) the NCAA might not be completely painful to watch this year and b.) you can rationalize watching a bunch of 18 year-olds spend half the game dribbling the ball 26 feet away from the basket as “scouting.” I might buy a clipboard and occasionally scribble things like “No. 18 for Kentucky’s got a cool haircut” during games while wondering how many households I would have to rob in order to accumulate the $300 million it’s going to take to get the NBA up-and-running again.

Suggestion No. 5: Rob Enough Households to Accumulate the $300 Million It’s Going to Take to Get the NBA Up-and-Running Again

I mean, if we all pooled our collective resources… Actually, we probably shouldn’t talk about this on a public forum. Hit up my Gmail.

Suggestion No. 6: Argue

One luxury the shutdown of the NBA affords us is that we don’t need to sift through free agency rumors or watch the Summer League and wonder how Kyrie Irving’s assist rate against scrubs and rookies will translate against NBA starters. We’re untethered to the minutiae of the offseason which, while sorta fun, isn’t substantive or useful. During free agency, one doesn’t actually need to know their team is pursuing Dwight Howard. The only bit of news that has a shelf life of more than eight hours during the offseason is “Player X traded for Player Y and a first-rounder” or “Player Z signs with Toronto for $28 mil over 4 years,” and even then, we endlessly debate the merits of these transactions while, in a few months, that analysis will be rendered meaningless by actual basketball taking place.

So, not being required to worry about what the Cavs will do with Ramon Sessions is freeing. We can take a step back and assess the big picture or even the minute pictures of past seasons. Now would be the time to have that argument with a friend over the legitimacy of Steve Nash’s MVP trophies, is what I’m saying. Now would be the time to talk capital letter stuff: Race, Sexuality, Fame, Truth. Now would be the time for brainstorming and good ideas, since the AP newswire and Sportscenter aren’t feeding us narratives. I know we all have the tendency not to discuss topics that aren’t immediate, but—take heart, NBA Lover—there’s still so much to talk about.

On the Hickson trade

Friday, July 1st, 2011

I think Omri Casspi is a fine player. He can run the floor, he can knock down open three-point shots, he’s athletic, and he plays hard. I think he’ll be a solid player in this league for a long time, and now he’s wearing a Cavalier uniform. Oh, and he fills a gaping hole at the small forward position.

To be honest, though, I feel like this trade was more about Hickson than it was about Casspi. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I worship two things: defense and efficiency. I feel teams should be build around those two things.

For all his talent, J.J. Hickson was neither an effective defensive player or an efficient offensive player. The Kings got more upside in this trade. There’s no real getting around that. If Cousins decides to play in the paint instead of launching jumpers next year, Hickson refines his mid-range game and gets easy buckets off of Cousins’ passing instead of launching his own mid-rang jumpers, and Hickson learns to play defense like an NBA 4 should, than Hickson and Jog DMC could be one of the best frontcourts in the league. Casspi doesn’t offer that kind of upside.

However, what I think we’re seeing with the Hickson trade and the Thompson pick is an admission that the original run-and-gun Cavaliers idea didn’t work out. A defensive mentality needs to be put in, and the team used its fourth pick on one of the best defenders in the draft. The offense needs to become more efficient, and the team used the 1st overall pick on a floor general who also happens to be a hyper-efficient scorer.

Hickson showed flashes of greatness throughout his time as a Cavalier, especially after Baron came aboard. Some people probably believe he was talented enough to wait for. However, the management feels differently, and I can’t help but agree with them. I wasn’t willing to spend another year waiting for Hickson to get comfortable with his jumper, learn proper post footwork, or learn how to show and recover on defense. Rebuilding is different from waiting, and building a team around what Hickson could someday become is the definition of waiting.

The Cavs aren’t ready to contend for a playoff spot, but they appear to be done playing the waiting game. They’re ready to build a solid team, build around good defense and efficient offense. It won’t happen overnight, but if the team stays the course on the court and in the front office, it will happen offensively. I’m much more willing to wait for that team to come together than I was willing to wait for J.J. Hickson to put it all together.