The Lebron-to-Cleveland tumors rumors have started back up again. Here’s a link. I don’t have much to say about this, and I don’t feel like arguing with anyone. The idea of Lebron coming back leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure many people feel that a chance at getting the best basketball player in the world is something you don’t pass up. But I sincerely hope that the Cavs don’t handicap our next two years of basketball for a shot at the hometown hero who stabbed us in the back, then twisted the knife.
Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category
Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.
Question 1: Will Anderson Varejao’s torn quad (out 6-8 weeks) affect the big picture rebuild much?
Dani: Sadly, it will. Andy’s trade value has plummeted, and will remain low even when/if he returns. Fair or not, he already had a reputation as an oft-injured player, and this will make him very tough to trade. Now, there’s another line of reasoning you could take here– if you were against trading him, then I guess you got your wish, and the prolonged absence will certainly get us a higher lottery pick. But it’s hard for me to see the silver lining in losing our second-best player and (probably) losing a lot more games.
Mallory: Andy being out is great for Tristan, moderately bad for the rest of the team, and horrific for his trade value. Tristan has thrived in Andy’s absence. I see no reason that won’t continue. Kyrie, though, loses his most trusted scoring option off the PnR, which will likely lead to a continuation of that ISO offense we’ve all grown to hate. That could potentially lead to some bad habits from this young team. We may win fewer games now than we ever could have imagined, which I’m sure some people will applaud, but I for one think that’s worrisome. That’s a different topic for another day, though. Finally, Andy’s trade value, in my mind, has probably fallen substantially. For three straight years Andy has incurred major injuries. I think it’s time to officially call him injury prone.
Kevin: I will punt and say this question is impossible to answer. We have no idea what would have been on the table for a trade in February (or December). Maybe with the injury though, the Cavs draft Shabazz Muhammad, all the young guys blossom, and Andy hits a game-winning tip-in over Serge Ibaka in the 2017 NBA Finals. I do think that moving forward Cleveland needs to work on minute reduction for Andy during heavy parts of the schedule.
Nate: Andy’s injury will be a blessing in disguise. They won’t trade him now for some mediocre assets, and I won’t have to consider Dani Socher a leper for pushing the Andy trade bandwagon. When the season of ascension starts (2013-2014), Andy will be right in the thick of things. Alternatively, they can try to trade him this off-season for a disgruntled Kevin Love.
Tom: Only if they were hell bent on dealing him this year to (presumably) a contender. The Bill Simmons/Zach Lowe conversation about Andy to OKC for Toronto’s (mildly) protected 1st, Jeremy Lamb, and Kendrick Perkins’ albatross contract would have changed the dynamic of the rebuild. But I doubt that would have happened. So I think the “effects” will be less wins, more ping pong balls, more minutes for the youthful bigs, and less chances Andy suffers a serious basketball injury during unintended tankapalooza. (Like that spin?) Also, I mentioned in a comment that after the news, a rumor would surface about a failed Cavalier trade with the implication that it failed because the Cavs are stubborn. Already happened – and I don’t believe one bit of it. Won’t be surprised to see more.
Question 2: Describe a play the Cavs run effectively or that you enjoy watching.
Dani: I have to go with every time C.J. Miles pulls up from 28-30 feet. When he gets going, he has unlimited range. That jumper is silky smooth. Very few players in the NBA can run off picks and drain threes with barely a moment to set their feet. But when C.J. goes unconscious, watch out.
Mallory: In honor of our fallen vet, how much do we all miss the Kyrie to Andy PnR? They had it basically perfected. I’m also slowly becoming a fan of Tristan’s bunny hop off-the-backboard shot. Not really a play, per se, but it’s fun to watch.
Kevin: Kyrie to Andy pick-and-roll?
Nate: My absolutely favorite play the Cavs run is on defense when they decide to hard trap the pick and roll on the wing. More and more teams are putting shoot-first guards in this play, and against young teams that don’t move the ball that well, hard traps can be a great tactic. Kyrie’s defense is getting better, as is Waiters’. They seem pretty competent at trapping, as are Gee and Livingston. Zeller and TT play the passing lanes pretty well, so when the Cavs blitz the pick and roll aggressively, they often get turnovers or make the other team burn a lot of the shot clock to get a good look. It can lead to easy baskets when good team recognize it and make the appropriate adjustments, but springing it on an unaware team has been a nice wrinkle over the last several games.
Tom: In my opinion the Cavs don’t run any play effectively – and that’s why they revert to hero-ball. And that’s the last thing you want out of a young team. This season is about growth – they need to keep people in motion, feed the high post, send in the weak-side cutters, and set more screens for the spot up specialists (C.J. and Boobie). They aren’t risking home court in the playoffs if they experiment and try to get some creative shot opportunities from real offensive sets. They don’t trust their spacing or their passing, however. There is a reason the Cavaliers offense gets worse by quarter. Defenses will allow a low-threat team to launch transition 3s and show off Mr. Buckets….in the first half. It’s the reason C.J. Miles goes back into the telephone booth and puts on his business casual after halftime. In the most recent win against Atlanta, the Cavs had 25 assists on 37 made baskets, or 68% assist rate. On the season? 55%. Big difference.
Question 3: Why is C.J. Miles exceeding expectations and Omri Casspi cannot get in games?
Dani: Because he’s playing within his limitations. There’s a common theme that runs throughout all of Miles’ best games- he doesn’t attempt to dribble. He’s at his best running off screens and shooting only from downtown. When he spends games trying to penetrate and score in isolation, it gets ugly. Casspi I won’t blame. I blame most of his disappointing play on Byron Scott’s absurd treatment of him. He’s barely allowed on the court.
Mallory: I’m almost certain that more than a few of us said this at the beginning of the season – guys like C.J. Miles and Omri Casspi – young players still trying to find their place on a team – thrive from consistency. C.J. has been a revelation since starting simply because he now has some confidence. Likewise, the lack of playing time has continued to sink Casspi. For more of my thoughts on Casspi see my article from Monday.
Kevin: I could probably give him credit for only the last twenty-five games, but inconsistency is part of my understanding of the C.J. Miles experience. His season-to-date PER, offensive rating, win shares, etc are in-line with his career marks. His shooting from deep looks great, but a lot of his strengths from prior seasons have declined this year; his assist rate and steal rates are down, with an increase in turnover rate. He needs to keep shooting, but hopefully by next season he can settle into a bench gunner role. Casspi got a bad rap due to his horrendous play early in 2012, but he’s a 6’ – 9” small forward with a higher defensive rebounding rate than Tyler Zeller. He converts 36% of his career threes. Both opponent-PER and RAPM consider him a league-average defender. That he cannot supplant Luke Walton, who has not posted a double-digit PER since 2008 – 2009, makes no sense.
Nate: C.J. Miles stats are baffling. He might have the highest standard deviation per game PER of any player in the league. He is all over the map: game to game, week to week, month to month, season to season, going all the way back to his Utah days. He can have incredible stretches and then play an absolute stinker. He’s the Colin Farrell of NBA players. When he’s good, you can’t take your eyes off him. When he’s bad, he is capable of destroying careers. One game will be In Bruges, the next game will be the Miami Vice movie. So my expectations for him early on this season and in preseason were high (Tigerland, Minority Report…) then the season started and he was abysmal (Alexander, Miami Vice), and then he redeems himself with some stratospheric performances (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). Like Farrell, Miles seems better as part of an ensemble than when he has to carry the team by himself. C.J. Miles has simultaneously exceeded expectations and disappointed this season. (Also, if you haven’t seen In Bruges, it’s one of the best kept secrets of the 21st century). Like Miles, Casspi needs minutes to shine. These guys aren’t low minute players. They need a groove: regular minutes, a chance to figure out where their shots are coming from and confidence that they’re not going to get pulled the second they screw up. I don’t want to conjecture why Casspi can’t get off the pine. He was a lone bright spot off the bench earlier this year, and then he got the flu, and then he lost his rotation spot to Luke Walton and Co. He’s an underrated defender, a decent spot up shooter, an aggressive rebounder, but don’t think Scott likes him for whatever reason. I’m thinking Casspi tossed his cookies on one of Byron’s handmade suits when he had gastroenteritis in December.
Tom: Miles took offense to my first Trends, Ranks, and Outliers piece, obviously. Here are his shooting stats before and after the date of that post. 30% FG, 25% 3PFG / 45% FG, 46% 3PFG. In all seriousness, he may have had an injury or conditioning problem early in the season. It looked like his mind and body were not in sync as he seemed as surprised as anyone that he couldn’t shoot or dribble or give a high 5 without something terrible happening. David Wesley promptly retired after that infamous layup. Miles was doing that repeatedly and just keep on. It might be hard to notice this now, because Miles is a very “soft” player, but he is extremely athletic. He is very valuable to the Cavs (in the first half) when he’s raining 3s all over opponents. Casspi’s benching has drawn my ire as he is 24, seems to play very hard, and in limited time, his advanced stats indicate he is effective. For many old timers, Danny Ferry will forever be unfairly mentioned alongside Ron Harper. For me, Casspi will forever be (also unfairly) mentioned alongside J.J. Hickson (really, whatever he becomes in his prime). At least Ferry was a staple of the Cavs rotation. I really don’t understand why Casspi doesn’t get minutes. I laugh at all the fans saying “because it’s OMRI CASSPI” or mentioning his underwhelming shooting percentages. Have you watched this team? Have you seen Dion Waiters shooting percentages? What about Luke Walton’s? Alonzo Gee’s? The aforementioned C.J. Miles before he played his way out of it? [deep breath] Casspi’s TS% is 7th on the team. Casspi’s 24, not 30 – yet somehow the “well he’s only xx” is reserved for Tristan Thompson round these parts. Give the guy a chance. According to 82games, Casspi is 4th on the team in PER vs Opponent PER differential, and 8th (6th if you don’t count Livingston and Jones who have played 1/5th as many minutes) in net On Court / Off Court. Why, then, is he the 12th guy off the bench? The Cavs have killed his confidence and his trade value. I’m sure they’ll deal him for a chalupa (make up for the Atlanta game), he’ll become a solid 7th or 8th man on a decent team, and I’ll be arguing against this line in 2 years “well he WASN’T going to figure it out here”.
Question 4: Is the “ready or not” nature of Tyler Zeller starting good for his long term growth?
Dani: Yes, I think it. Zeller is going to have to learn to play defense at some point, and watching tape can only get you so far. The in-game experience will help him tremendously, even if it won’t help the team all that much. One cannot learn how to defend an Al Jefferson hook shot until one is forced to defend that shot over and over again. That may not be a fair example, actually– no one can defend Al Jefferson, and I really hope we sign him this summer.
Mallory: Realistically I think it’s a push. Zeller doesn’t have any seriously bad habits beyond shooting from outside the paint poorly (although I think that’ll change) – he’s just not very strong or athletic. Eventually I think he’ll find his groove as a 6th or 7th man off the bench, but starting now probably won’t do much to hurt or help him.
Kevin: A psychology question about Tyler Zeller? These are tough queries today. Has someone studied the career progression of player’s that saw 500 – 1000 minutes of action during their rookie year versus those with over 1000 minutes? Without knowing his propensity for discouragement, my inclination is that the repetition will help.
Nate: To grow in the NBA, one needs minutes. Tyler is in the incredibly fortunate situation (for him) of being able to play long minutes and learn on the job. He is already impressing me with his ambidexterity, his post game, and his overall team defense. I believe he is among the league leaders in charges taken, and he moves his feet well. What will help him most by playing is learning to play at the speed of the NBA game, and how to play with Kyrie and Dion. The other changes in his game will come in the weight room, as he will need to put on some weight to play on the block. It’s no secret he gets regularly abused there. Muscle, experience, and film study will help ZPA. He seems a step slow to recognize players moves and film work would help that a lot. But no young player ever got worse in the NBA by playing regular minutes, except maybe Luke Harangody… (too soon?)
Tom: I suspect so. Zeller doesn’t strike me as someone that might become mentally compromised by all the bullying he gets on a nightly basis. (It’s mentally “compromising” to watch) He’s not a “swagger” player so much as a hustle guy. He’ll continue to do that and he’ll either get better, or the Cavs will have to devise schemes to hide his defensive shortcomings. Either route requires lots of burn – so I’m glad he’s getting it. He has a Jamisonian touch around the hoop, and at 7 feet tall – that is going to pay off with in-game experience.
Question 5: To what do you attribute Tristan Thompson’s more robust production recently?
Dani: The absence of Anderson Varejao, combined with a much improved touch around the rim. First: Andy’s absence has given Tristan an opportunity to control the post for the Cavs on both ends of the floor. The two big men have very similar skill sets, as hustle players who specialize in offensive rebounding. To some extent, having the two of them on the floor at the same time is redundant. Tristan also has developed his offensive game quite a lot, mostly through improve touch. He takes the same shots as he did before, but there’s more arc on everything he shoots now, and they go in much more often.
Mallory: A few things. First, without Andy there are just way more rebounds to go around. Also, the lack of play time for Casspi has basically removed the third or fourth best rebounder on the team, so Tristan is in an even GREATER position. On offense, Tristan has started to ditch his gather-attempt-to-dunk-but-get-blocked shot in favor of that bunny hop sky hook backboard thing he’s been doing, and it’s working. Finally, TT was always a decent defender and he’s using his ample playing time to learn even more about positioning, etc. All in all, he’s starting to use his skills appropriately, which is all we can really ask right now. Hopefully in the future he can develop additional skills to add some depth to his game.
Kevin: I think he was a young, hard working player that was bound to improve. His baby-hook has shown a significant improvement in consistency. That said; it’s a small sample size. Just as responding negatively to a few games is a bad idea, I wouldn’t recommend over-correcting based on ten games. Prior the Bulls, the previous four opponents ranked 17th, 21st, 29th and 30th in defense. Are opposing team’s game-planning around Tristan Thompson or spending much time studying tape of his moves & tendencies? This stretch has been hugely encouraging, but my opinion on TT is still fairly similar to two weeks ago; that of a solid, yet non-spectacular individual future.
Nate: Tristan has become much more productive for a few reasons. First, according to Austin Carr, he’s shed some of the weight he put on this offseason. He looks leaner, and his bum doesn’t look nearly as big. I think he wasn’t comfortable playing at the weight he was at, even if a lot of it was muscle. Second, the man works. No one can improve like he has at the free throw line without some serious work. Every game his shot looks less mechanical, and more fluid. Yes it would be nice for him to get more air under his shot, but if you watch him shoot free throws now as compared to last year, it’s a sea change. Additionally, the post game development must have required a ton of work too: most significantly the ability to shoot a hook shot with both hands out to 11 feet. He also has learned to go to the right hand whenever he wants, as he’s just as effective with it, if not more so.
The thing that gets me most excited about TT is that he has a chance to be something special on offense too. He’s already gotten very effective at two very essential post moves: the hook with either hand. He really has no other move on the block (the counter is to go the other hand). If he can learn an up and under, a step through, and the faceup drive (he has this a little, but often goes just a bit too fast), he will be hard to stop. Go watch some Kevin McHale and Al Jefferson film, TT. If Tristan learns to start using the glass with those moves, and learns to dunk one-handed, he will be incredibly difficult to guard. That doesn’t mention a jump shot (wisely, TT now takes hook shots instead of jumpers). If TT can develop a jumper out to 18 feet, watch out. He could be a 20/15 player. [Inserted by Editor] All these skills are learn-able. There’s a chance the Cavs got the two best players from the 2011 NBA draft.
Tom: Roids? Psychiatry? That one session with Zydrunas they keep showing on FoxSports? I have no idea, honestly. Or I should say, OFFENSIVELY I have no idea. The early season +/- and RAPM showed him to be passable and the implication (an implication about as subtle as an air horn) was that he must be contributing well defensively since the only thing he did on offense was inflate the other team’s block totals and put dents in the backboard. He looks totally different now. Not only is he more decisive and confident, he simultaneously added a European touch (is that YOU, Z?) AND a Dwight Howard-esque toughness on rebounds. Seriously, did anyone see him treat Josh Smith like a rag-doll? He just ripped the ball right out of his hands. A little over a month ago we were watching a mason with the creativity of a celestial orbit and the dexterity of those ridiculous mountain giants from The Hobbitt. TT looks completely different. He is no longer a liability at the FT line either. If it seems as if I’m overreacting to his improved productivity – it’s because I never cared about his productivity. He’s 21. I just wanted to see little flashes here and there that he had some greatness in him – some potential to realize down the road. I think crediting his recent play to the absence of Anderson Varejao is a bit lazy if we consider how different he’s looked recently compared to all of last year as well – they only played 47 minutes together all last season.
Commentariat, how would you answer these?
Omri Casspi reportedly wants out of Cleveland. This makes enough sense. Casspi came into the league as its first Israeli player, and put together a solid rookie campaign, averaging 10.3 points per game with 52 TS% in 25 minutes per game. His numbers dipped in his sophomore year in the league—8.6 points per game with 51.7 TS%—and he was dealt over the summer to the Cavaliers, where he put up his worst season as a professional: 7.1 points per game with 49.9 TS%. Most disoncertingly, his touch from beyond the three-point line left him, and he shot just 31.5% on threes after converting 37.1% of his attempts from deep over his first two seasons.
Casspi was acquired during one of the darker hours in Cavaliers history, and perhaps he was permeated by its sour milk stench. He came into the organization in a swap for J.J. Hickson—whose tantalizing potential had burned up in the smoldering wasteland that LeBron left behind—and I remember thinking that the acquisition of Casspi and a heavily protected draft pick in return for the young power forward was a rather dour comment on what a failure the Hickson project had been. (Nevermind that he seems to be realizing some of his potential playing the role of a rebounding center, of all things, in Portland.)
The numbers above indicate that the season following his move to Cleveland was the worst of Casspi’s career by a wide margin, but they don’t illustrate just how inept he looked, especially during the first half of the year. His three-point touch left him, but so did everything else: he blew lay-ups, bobbled passes, and generally looked like he was being controlled by a drunk poltergeist. He began the season as the team’s starting small forward but by midseason was logging 12-to-15 minutes per game, in which he tried hard on defense and stood around on offense, occasionally launching prayerless threes and making facial expressions like someone who has just leaped off a tall building to their death but is also remembering they left the stove on in their apartment.
It’s riveting and horrifying to watch someone who has been great at something their entire lives—in Casspi’s case, basketball—fail at it so repeatedly that you can see them start to think, “Y’know, maybe this just isn’t for me. Maybe I can still go to law school.” You could see Casspi’s confidence circling the drain, and he looked disoriented, at once home and in a foreign land. Of course Casspi, who left Israel to play in the NBA, knows that feeling in a more literal sense. As he struggled, it began to look like his other home, a basketball court, didn’t belong to him anymore either.
Omri Casspi seems to be putting the nightmare of last year behind him. In limited minutes this season, he has looked like an NBA rotation player again. He’s more at home than ever behind the three-point line, shooting 40.8% on 49 attempts, and he has improved on the defensive end—this is faint praise, but he is the best defender on one of the league’s worst benches. But if Casspi is trying to prove that last year was a slight aberration and that he can contribute to an NBA team—I would argue that he has been successful at doing so—then his efforts are being hampered by a coaching staff that won’t play him. He’s racking up DNPs while Luke Walton—whose birth, I believe, is chronicled in some of Milton’s poetry—plays double-digit minutes and Byron Scott experiments with three-guard lineups that function like a one-winged bird.
One refrain sports fans lean on is that, on a bad team, the young talent should get as much playing time as possible. Why bother with Luke Walton—the inspiration for several of Buster Keaton’s more memorable characters—when he’s definitely not going to be part of the team’s future? It’s not an uncompelling argument, but one of the problems with it is guaranteeing playing time to anyone under the age of 26. A lot of coaches believe that playing time—especially on a bad team—needs to be doled out according to merit because it’s one of the most powerful motivational tools coaches have at their disposal. PT can act as a developmental carrot, more or less. As a player works hard and continually raises his level of play, the logic goes, he will play in games more frequently and for longer stretches. Coaches pull players from games for bad shots or lackadaisical defense, and put in someone else with the either explicit or implicit directive, “Don’t screw up like the dude I just sat down did.” Regulating playing time is one of the few ways a coach can exercise control over his players. It establishes a decorum of the court, so to speak—a player understands that he must play a certain way if he wants to keep playing.
The paternalism inherent in all this—coach as parent, player as child—is gross in the way that a lot of things about sports are necessarily gross. We talk about the need to “control” someone like DeMarcus Cousins or J.R. Smith, and using a word like that feels improper and disrespectful, but it’s also true to an extent: players need to fall in line and adhere to, at least, a loose set of principles in order for this whole team sport thing to work.
But the Casspi situation is where we get to a word that I can’t say on this Disney-owned property—it involves male cattle and food and the end product of that food. I don’t know what Casspi said or did to Byron Scott other than look terrible for long stretches last year, but if he has not been, in limited minutes, one of the eight best Cavaliers—this is not a high bar to clear; Casspi doesn’t compare favorably with your average eighth man—then I know nothing about the sport I’ve been watching religiously since I was eleven. Maybe Casspi just spends practices farting and making racist jokes, but if he doesn’t, then he should be getting his 15-to-18 minutes per game off the bench. He works hard on defense and helps space the floor on offense. He has earned his minutes, and I know Scott probably wants to give the other young players some burn and let them exhibit what they can do in an NBA game, but he should take that playing time from someone else. Jerking around the floor-time of a guy who is coming off a year where I imagine he was flat-out terrified of falling out of the league probably isn’t good for his confidence, which is important because confidence is what shooters like Casspi need most. He needs to know that if he clanks a few threes, he’s not going to get shelved for two weeks.
I don’t usually come down hard on coaching decisions because a.) my opinion doesn’t hold any sway, so there’s no use getting worked up about it, and b.) I literally do not know what I’m talking about because I’m not in the locker room. Maybe there is a really good reason that Scott has been so liberal in messing with Casspi’s minutes this season, but I’m more apt to believe that it’s out of neglect or ineptitude or some overly rigid philosophy that, when applied to this particular situation, does not work. Clearly, Omri Casspi doesn’t understand what forces are at work because he has asked to be traded. Free Casspi, Byron Scott, or he will, as he should, free himself.
Anderson Varejao is out for the next six-to-eight weeks with a tear in his quadricep. I just tilt my head slightly to the side and make a sound like a dog being miserably awakened from its nap. The Cavaliers’ season has been punishing to watch in a way that’s not entirely straightforward. The source of punishment isn’t that the team is bad—though they are; Luke Walton plays significant minutes some nights—but that it’s difficult to conceive of them not being bad. It’s hard to discern a path toward greatness or pretty good-dom for the Cavaliers.
Perhaps this has to do with the fact that, if and when the Cavs are great or pretty good, half the players on this team won’t be around anymore. We will have forgotten about C.J. Miles’s early offense step-back jumpers and Jon Leuer will be playing in Europe and Luke Walton will have passed away. They will be replaced by more competent players, and those more competent players will not be asked to carry the offense for long stretches because the team will have a couple of options outside of Kyrie Irving—who will have moved into a full beard phase about which we will be ambivalent—capable of creating scoring chances.
But another reason the way forward is tough to visualize is because the team has a nasty habit of looking like a tire fire that decided to show up at an NBA arena. The ball doesn’t move on offense, the defense can be split open by just about any halfway decent guard, and fourth quarters resemble a scene from Story of the Eye more than they do a team that knows what it’s doing. Byron Scott is aloof to the point of inscrutability, and I would criticize his rotations more harshly, but he’s trying to build a second unit out of wet paper and bobby pins. The ineptitude on the court—which isn’t a surprise, really; we knew this team would be bad—is so severe and the parts are so disparate (and perhaps disposable) as to obfuscate the future. I know the Cavs are going to be better next year because young players can only improve and because I think the front office is going to spend a little money to reinforce the bench, but I don’t know how the team is going be better. It’s comforting to see the beginnings of developmental curve because you can extrapolate from it, but I can’t yet make out lines that mean anything to me. I just see bad basketball with interstitial moments of raw talent—a Tristan Thompson put-back dunk, a layup from Dion Waiters where it looks like he’s skating on air—and can’t locate a signal in the noise. I’m uneasy and hopeful.
If watching the actual games makes me anxious, the unknowableness of this team that allows me to dream exhilarates me. The prospect of trading Anderson Varejao and, in return, getting some young talent and/or a high draft pick, whether it was realistic or not, was exciting in the way that blank space is exciting. Dread and optimism intermingling. The unknown can always be better than the known. And when the known is a messy, occasionally unwatchable team without a clear identity, the unknown becomes even more appealing. The Clips would need to be overwhelmed by an offer in order to trade Blake Griffin, but the Lakers would ship out Pau Gasol in a heartbeat if they got something resembling equal value. Desperation and unhappiness make one more willing to change.
With Varejao out, the Cavs have lost their ability to change in a significant way. They might, say, deal Luke Walton’s expiring contract to a team in need of cap relief for a C-minus asset, but their ability to pull off a trade that can remarkably alter the present and future of the franchise is almost nil. They’ll have a high pick—maybe the highest pick—in this year’s upcoming draft and a bunch of cap space with which to build their 2013-14 team. I’m convinced Varejao, whose trade value is now probably permanently diminished after three straight injury-marred seasons, should stay with the team until the end of his contract. I was a proponent of dealing him, perhaps for slightly less than he is worth to the Cavaliers, for the sake of getting younger and covering a few more spaces on the roulette wheel with chips, but it’s hard to imagine the Cavs getting a lottery pick or a talented player in his early-to-mid 20s for a 30-year-old center with an increasingly long injury history. Better to keep him in Cleveland, where he fits in quite well, and hope he can stay healthy.
The hoping he can stay healthy is where my concerns lie. There’s a problem unique to depending on an oft-injured player that the Cavs are going to have to compensate for if Varejao is going to remain an important component of their team over the next few years. When you’re constructing a team on paper—which is where teams are built—you look at what each player gives you. When I’m trying to figure out before a season how good I think a team is going to be, I pull up their depth chart and go through each position, noting when a team has a thin front line or when their point guard situation is a disaster. I also try to see how each player fits into the team and what his role/roles is/are going to be. So, if a team has a lousy defensive power forward, is their center capable of guarding the 4 or is the team just going to get torched when Kevin Love comes to town? Who’s the distributor on this team? Who can score off the bench? You get the idea.
The problem with an injury-prone player is that he both fills and does not fill a role. In the case of Varejao, the Cavs have a player who is a great defender and rebounder and who runs the pick-and-roll about as well as any big man in the league. He’s an excellent starting center. Except for the significant amount of time he is not any of those things and is sitting on the bench in a suit. So what do you do if you’re Chris Grant? Do you hope he stays healthy and fill other needs? Do you account for his propensity to get hurt and sign a free agent center who can start in a pinch? Does this create a logjam at the 4 and 5 when Varejao is healthy? You see the problem here. The injury-prone player is a flickering hologram; his existence is halfway. How much do you count on him? Having a crucial part of the team miss half the season each year makes team-building even more difficult than it already is.
Of course, even players with no injury history get hurt. If Kevin Durant’s hand gets crushed in a car door in the middle of May, Oklahoma City’s title hopes would be similarly crushed. You don’t win games on paper and everyone turns an ankle or strains a hamstring here and there. That’s the nature of sports, but it’s hard to compete for anything significant if a player you rely on the way the Cavs rely on Varejao is sitting on the sidelines. It’s a problem I’m not entirely sure how one would solve, but it’s one that the Cavaliers front office has to account for if they’re going to move forward with Anderson Varejao in tow.
Where is Anderson Varejao? That’s what everyone wants to know. Wednesday night, Varejao will miss his 11th game in a row with a knee contusion. The contusion, or bruise, was suffered on December 18th against the Toronto Raptors. After expressing pain and coming out for a few minutes, the Brazilian big man returned to the game and finished it out, with 22 points and 10 rebounds. The injury seemed minor, moderate at most. Varejao was slated to miss a couple of games after the injury, and then return to action. Obviously, that has not been the case. Is there any possible explanation for his prolonged absence? Let’s cover the possibilities.
1. The knee injury is significantly worse than we realized.
This seems unlikely. First of all, the Cavs, thank God, are not a team with a history of mistreating injury situations. We all know the issues the Knicks have had with covering up STAT’s various knee injuries, but this doesn’t seem to be a similar type of thing. If the injury were serious at all, it’s hard to imagine that Andy would have returned to the Raptors game. Also, what would the Cavs have to gain from covering up an injury? Any trade involving Varejao would require his passing a physical and medical exam, so it’s not like a cover-up would land us Kevin Love, or anything. It’s possible that the injury is significant, but undefined yet. But given the general acuity of NBA trainers, and the fact that it doesn’t take three weeks to get MRI results back, this can’t really be the case. Even if ESPN thinks so. The missed time must be stemming from something other than the injury itself.
2. There are serious, ongoing trade talks underway, and his absence is a trade condition.
This may be the only explanation that makes any sense at all. A request for a trade target to be held out of games until the completion of a trade is fairly common, and is especially understandable for a player with Varejao’s injury history. It also fits with the other news coming out of Cleveland recently. Samardo Samuels was cut. Roster spots, anyone? Luke Walton didn’t attend Monday night’s game for “personal reasons.” Could he have been making travel arrangements to Minnesota? The only hole in this theory is that eleven games seems like an unusual amount of time for a “Don’t play Wild Thing, we don’t want him getting hurt” stipulation. For the Cavs to listen to such a request, they must have been near agreement with another team. But why would a trade that close to happening take three more weeks to complete? There must have been a serious last-second snag in negotiations to cause such a delay. All in all, this is really the only possible reason for the missed time.
We may have seen the last of Anderson Varejao in a Cavs uniform. I’ve advocated for an Andy trade all year, as I still do. Regardless, it’s tragic to think that the last we ever saw of Wild Thing was a deflating loss to a hot Alan Anderson and the Toronto Raptors.
Byron Scott’s quotes on the situation are infuriating:
“I hope I’m not talking like its long-term or for the season. I’m still optimistic he’ll be able to play this year until the doctors tell me something different.”
“I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to speculate on what it is.”
Happy New Year!! Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.
Question 1: Of Pargo, Casspi, and Leuer – to whom should CG extend a qualifying offer? Should CG pick up the Cavs’ team option for C.J. Miles?
Kevin: Other than those players, the Cavs have six players under contract for next season. Miles’s player option for $2.2 million is a no-brainer. The team probably has to offer Casspi his $3.3 million qualifying offer; he is 6′ – 9″, plays some defense, and makes 36% of his career threes. I don’t think any other team exceeds the offer; if he accepts, the team is only up to eight players; if he declines and goes to Europe, then I think making the offer keeps him as a restricted free agent if he ever returns. Leuer fell into the doghouse, but in six games with the Charge, he averaged 20 points, 12 boards and 59% true shooting. If Luke Harangody warranted the third year $1.06 million qualifying offer; Leuer certainly does. I would let Pargo test unrestricted free agency rather than offer the $3.3 million.
Dani: C.J. Miles certainly deserves to be picked up. He’s streaky, but he’s also occasionally explosive, and has proven that he can be a real threat off the bench. In a league where shooting threes is only getting more important, a guy like Miles can be a real asset- assuming, of course, that his play (his three-point shooting, specifically) recently hasn’t been a mirage. On another note: Byron Scott has been unfair with Casspi, and hasn’t really given him a shot to earn a contract. Unleash the Hummus!
Mallory: This is definitely a tough one, but it’s absolutely between Casspi and Miles. I think Casspi hasn’t been given a fair chance this season – he’s a long SF who is decent defender and rebounds. He’s had some trouble finding his shot, and lapses, but you figure at some point he’ll put it together. If we end up actually becoming a contender, some winning might do him well. Miles is streaky as heck (duh) but when he catches fire, he’s virtually unstoppable. It’s OK to have a guy like that on your bench as a playoff bound team.
Nate: Miles will probably have his option picked up if he continues to be able to score in bunches. I like Casspi a lot, but it seems as if Scott does not. There’s no point in picking up a player who doesn’t get to play.
Tom: It’d be nice to actually understand why Omri Casspi never plays and J.J. Hickson continues his domination in Portlandia. Casspi just needs more burn. I think 3.3 million isn’t too rich for a young athletic 3 and D small forward. Of course, that’s 3.3 million wasted dollars if he never gets off the pine. So I would “consult” Byron Scott first if I was Chris Grant. I’ll say the same for Leuer. I don’t think Kevin Hetrick knows this but after reading all his glorious Leuer posts I actually purchased myself a Jonny FatHead. My wife told me I can’t leave it up while he’s in the D-League. The Cavs need a full roster, so Leuer seems fine to me at barely above 1 mil, although I still can’t believe the Cavs didn’t look at Derrick Brown. Maybe next year. Pargo’s 3.3 mil qualifying offer seems steep. I’d keep him for around 1.5 mil, but my guess is if they let him enter unrestricted FA he will bolt. C.J. Miles? Who’s that? I sorta remember some chucker posting a NEGATIVE 5 PER for about a month. Not sure what happened to him. This new guy that they got in December that averages 15 points in 24 minutes on 47/48/90 shooting? How much is the team option? 2.25 million?! PAY HEEEM.
Question 2: If you are pro “cavs aggressively target DMC” give a recent player example to support your argument. If against – do the same.
Kevin: No example, but Cleveland already has one potentially petulant 21-year-old in Dion Waiters. Their focus for now needs to be building an offense using Kyrie and Dion together, but also individually, teamed with TT and / or Zeller. Adding Cousins to a new, young, struggling team sounds like trouble for him and the development of the remaining youngsters. Maybe Philadelphia should role the dice on Cousins; a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned them as a team that may desire to shake things up.
Dani: I am by all means in favor of the Cavs aggressively pursuing Demarcus Cousins. He’s an immensely talented two-way center in the prime of his youth, potentially available on the cheap due to behavioral concerns. Are you kidding me? These are the risks that win teams championships. As for player examples, I’ll do you one better and give you a full team. The 2004 Pistons. Championship winners and chock-full of jerks.
Mallory: I’m definitely pro Boogie. Trying as hard as possible, on the spot, to think of a guy who fits his profile (and talent level) going to another team and putting it all together, but I can’t think of someone as troubled, but also amazing, doing it. But plenty of players have needed a change of scenery to find their groove. Cousins is absurdly young; I have complete faith that, with the right guidance, he can mature into a great NBA center. And lets be honest, it’s not like the Kings are a model franchise.
Nate: My DMC comparison? Allen Iverson: Career knucklehead who was at times capable of brilliant play, but burned through coaches like they were kindling. If Grant values his job, there’s no way he’s touching DMC. AI made a finals appearance, but his character, combined with his inability to adapt his game made him very difficult to play with and coach. Runner up comparison: Michael Beasley, who is currently educating Phoenix in buyer’s remorse.
Tom: I’m on the fence. But here’s two examples from the same team. The Pistons took a flyer on Rasheed Wallace and he won them a championship. Darius Miles – a younger, more talented player(scored 47 once) that had major character issues and had a run-in with his coach – he never amounted to anything. DMC is crazy good, but I get the feeling he is always a few seconds away from detonating. A key component is the rest of the locker room and the coaching staff. Say what you want about Flip Saunders, he somehow channeled all the negative energy of those Pistons teams and they won games. One thing that pushes me off the Cousins bandwagon is that the Cavs are so young and trying to find themselves. They aren’t “falling in line” right now behind a player or a coach. I certainly wouldn’t want Cousins coming in and creating a bunch of locker room dysfunction. I’m gonna go with NO to pursuing DMC – final answer. (Fun Fact – that JailBlazers team I referenced also sported: Zach Randolph)
Question 3: Who is your favorite NBA player?
Kevin: (I thought this had to be a non-Cav) I’m probably not a ‘favorite player’ type of guy, so let’s say, David West. I live in Indianapolis, and the toughness and veteran-ness that he brings to the Pacers has been a ‘culture-changer’. When Danny Granger returns and Roy Hibbert starts shooting better than 40%, I think Indiana is still the third-best team in the East. When I look at this year’s crop of free-agents, I do not see a player that makes an equivalent impact on the Cavaliers, but hope that such an acquisition emerges.
Dani: I’d say Kyrie Irving…but I’ll try and pick a non-Cavs player. It’s gotta be Carmelo Anthony for me. He’s one of the smoothest scorers in the game, and he does it with such effortless grace. He’ll never match Durant or Lebron efficiency-wise, but aesthetically he’s leap years ahead of anyone else. Now that he can shoot the three as well, Knicks games have become must-watch TV for me, even if just to delight in Melo dropping the quietest 35 in the league.
Mallory: Other than Kyrie? And not counting vintage Brandon Roy? The player I’m most consistently mesmerized by is Rajon Rondo. Sometimes he’s a train wreck, and sometimes he’s awe-inspiring, but either way he’s unbelievable to watch. We pretend like there are things he seriously cannot do, but when the man puts his mind to it, he’s virtually unstoppable. I’ve seen him have games where he shoots nothing but bricks, and others where he can drain it from anywhere on the floor. Beyond fun to watch.
Nate: Anderson Varejao is my favorite NBA player, but as for a non-Cav? Oy. That’s hard. I’m a bigtime Cavs fan. Since Shane Battier (my favorite college player) is excepted because he’s currently allied with the Axis of Ego, I’ll take Kosta Kufos because I got to play a pickup game or two with him when he was younger. It was all pullup threes, working on his handle, and having the snot fouled out of him by sub six footers every time he went inside. He grew up in my neck of the woods, and Kufos had a lot of talent then as well as now. He seemed like a nice, focused, no nonsense guy. I’d love to see him wend his way back to the Cavs some day. Steph Curry (my 2nd favorite college player) is up there too.
Tom: I have three favorite players: Manu Ginobili, Anderson Varejao, and Paul Millsap. Ginobili at his best is the most entertaining player I’ve ever watched. He is, in my opinion, the biggest reason the 7 -seconds or less Suns never got over the hump. He just OWNED those teams on both ends. Anytime Suns/Spurs battles started to hang in the balance – Ginobili would just take over. Anderson Varejao is the player that I would most want to play with regardless of the sport. I’d want him in my golf scramble – on my Canasta team – doesn’t matter. Paul Millsap is a very high character guy that is so incredibly skilled for his position. I believe I just named the 3 most underrated players in the NBA. Honorable mention is Rajon Rondo – I can’t stand him but he is an incredible basketball specimen and always captures my attention.
Question 4: Name a rule change you would implement as commissioner.
Kevin: Towards the end of last year, I discussed dissatisfaction with the lottery system. I could still stand to see that changed. What irritates me this year is the “pump fake and then lean in” move to pick up a foul. Faking a shot, drawing the defender in the air, then making a completely unnatural basketball move, to force what would not have been a foul if the player had made a natural basketball move, should be as ill-regarded as flopping.
Dani: I would put a shorter time limit on free throws. If there is a time limit now, either referees are ignoring it or it isn’t short enough. Regardless, we shouldn’t have to watch Reggie Evans mime shooting a free throw five times before actually sending the ball towards the hoop. It slows down the game and saps excitement. A shorter time limit could also increase missed free throws at the end of games, which would provide more drama. Take notes, Mr. Stern.
Mallory: The flopping rule is a step in the right direction, though it needs some time to work out the kinks. I’m actually in the camp that thinks too much is considered a foul now adays – I’d probably try to slowly move the league away from the superstar-gets-to-the-line-because-driving-is-hard-to-stop mindset and let things get a little more physical. After all, more fouls = a slower paced game = longer/more exhausting to watch.
Nate: It’s more of a way the rule is interpreted. I REALLY hate the current way a lot of refs don’t let players leave their feet on defense, even if they go straight up. This happened to TT the other night. His man pump faked, Canadian Dynamite jump straight up, and then the offensive player jumped into him, and TT was whistled for a foul. When the defender breaks the plane of the offensive player and commits a foul, that’s fine. I’m even mostly ok when the defender is flying by and the shooter jumps sideways into him, but defenders should always be allowed to go straight up. This should never be a foul in the NBA, but it seems as if stars get this call all the time. It’s ugly, it slows down the game, and it’s a cheap.
Tom: First, the low-hanging fruit – the NBA has got to change the way it calls charges. The incentives are such that the defensive player has only 1 goal – to jump in front of player about to be captured on a poster and stand like a statue cupping their man-parts – only to blow over in the wind. It’s the most unnatural thing ever. Try it sometime. Try jumping in front of something aggressive and then standing upright so that you are top heavy and have no balance. At the apex of excitement in the NBA – a possession goes the other way because a player was crafty enough to stand upright faster than another player could jump 8 feet through the air. Instead, allow defensive players to contest any and all rim-rocking attempts. If they contest the shot and absorb the contact in the air – SWALLOW THE WHISTLE! The only time being anchored in the ground motionless should draw a charge is when the offensive player is not jumping – but just streaking unabashedly and uncontrollably forward. But all this restricted area, take away that man’s highlight finish, crap has to end. OK, for the more complicated rule change. The NBA’s biggest in-game problem is how slowly and anti-climatically close games often end. With teams literally doing unnatural clock stopping endeavors for the entire final minute. I have some ideas. Imagine if, in the final minute of games, every inbounds was from half-court. This would eliminate the NEED to call timeout simply to advance the ball. Now imagine that all fouls in the final minute (since they are almost always intentional) grant the fouled team the following options. A.) 1 and 1, B.) 1 shot and the ball, with 5 seconds on the shot clock. If there are less than 5 seconds in the game, only a 1 and 1. Something needs to be done to speed up play at the end of games and end the drudgery of 20 minute foul shooting sessions and 6 timeouts in 24 NBA seconds.
Question 5: Predict the NBA’s final four this season?
Kevin: I will go ‘chalk’ here. The East looks like a two-team race with Miami and New York, but I could envision Indiana giving the Knicks trouble in the second-round. The West is stacked, but I think the Thunder represent in the Finals again this season. And how can anyone pick against the Clippers in the midst of a sixteen game win streak?
Dani: Clippers-Lakers, Knicks-Heat. A pair of conference finals for the ages.
Mallory: MIA, OKC, SA, NYK. But I still think Boston, Chicago, Both LAs, and Memphis get sneaky close too. Really, beyond Miami and Oklahoma City are there any 100% certainties this season? This might be the most exciting playoffs in quite some time.
Nate: New York Knicks/Miami Heat, Tacoma City Plunder/Memphis Grizzlies. This assumes Clips get upset by the Grizz in the second round. The Lakers also lose in the first round, and Kobe Bryant actually rips Devin Ebanks head off and eats it.
Tom: In the West this is going to be about match-ups. But I think the teams left standing will be the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder and in the East no one will beat Miami in a 7-game series. They will face whoever was able to avoid them up to that point. I’ll go with the 2-seed which I anticipate to be either Indiana or New York. NY has a 4 game lead right now so I’ll go with them.
Commentariat, how would you answer these?
The never-ending quest to be right about sports has always been boring and ineffectual. I suppose the helplessness of fandom drives some of us to importunate, blustery denial—practiced by the types who hop on a sports talk radio call-in show and lecture an athlete who almost certainly isn’t listening about how if he doesn’t pick up the defensive intensity, he’s going to be run out of town, as if the bloviating caller had the power to make such decisions. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely enough of a basketball obsessive to have frequented or at least perused some forums where a loud simpleton insists two games into the season—misspelling words all over the place, natch—that the coach has to be fired because he has lost the locker room or the new offense that he has installed will never work. You get it: needlessly angry irrationality is pervasive in sports. If you don’t, imagine a mustachioed, slightly overweight security guard shouting at some skateboarding children or that same mustachioed, slightly overweight security guard incensed that Hardee’s has discontinued the Sludgeburger®. Replace his words about skateboards and deep-fried whale liver with sports words like “hustle” and “the will to win.”
We would all like to fancy ourselves better than my pudgy security guard straw man, but some of us are not, and some of us are on TV shows and have sports columns in major markets, and unfortunately, we can sketch a venn diagram in which we discover that people who possess my pudgy security guard straw man’s impotent rage and people who possess a forum that reaches millions of sports fans are—*defeated guffaw*—sometimes the same people. Skip Bayless is their sunbaked king, but there are others—writers and pundits who disingenuously or otherwise tell it like it is because they are not afraid to make bold declarations and speak truth to, I dunno, power? As if there were truth in sports, as if there were power.
I blame this major media reductive content machine—time-killing Sportscenter debates about “Who’s better? Player X v. Player Y;” Bleacher Report listicles; overrated/underrated discussions; power polls; conversations about “clutch;” Skip Bayless, et al.—for running rigid debate topics into the ground for so long that the analytics community got pissed off enough to say, “Y0! Here’s a statistical breakdown of Kobe’s late-game performance. It’s not great. Please be quiet.” The mistake the analytics men and women made was in thinking they could end facile debates or that the mainstream would listen to them. Incorrigible sportswriters and talking heads stage these debates because they rile up reader- and viewership and because they’re easy to argue—you don’t have to do much work to get a reaction out of people if you say that Russell Westbrook is the reason the Thunder will never win a title; the topic is already charged and all you have to do is make the assertion and say some vaguely insulting stuff about how Westbrook doesn’t “have what it takes” or whatever. I doubt many sports columnists and talking heads are excited to argue about Extremely Tired Debate Topic X or even if they particularly care. They just don’t want to think too hard. It’s how you end up with Rob Parker calling Robert Griffin III a “cornball brother.” Race is a pre-charged topic; it just happens to be one that matters enough in the real world to get Parker suspended for saying something stupid about it.
Analytics-driven writers—unlike a lot of the pundits you see and hear on major networks—are generally thoughtful people who try to help their reader- and viewership better understand the game. I learned a lot of what I know about how NBA offenses work through Sebastian Pruiti’s now-defunct NBA Playbook, and John Hollinger’s PER Diem column helped me understand how various advanced stats function and what they tell us about what we’re seeing on the floor. Kirk Goldsberry’s maps over at Grantland are informative and pretty. Hell, this blog exists on a network that swarms the Sloan Conference each year and possesses a lot of writers who use advanced stats and analytics in their articles. I actually feel a bit out of place as a writer who compares crossovers to butterflies for a network that’s often so analytics-obsessed, but I see the value in the movement.
I think because the analytics community usually writes smarter and more engaging articles than your average sports talk radio bully or snide newspaper dinosaur, we tend to think of the two groups as occupying different spheres, but they overlap more than you would expect. This is in part because the mainstream sports conversation is so inane that it provides an easy target for the analytics community. In the same way T.J. Simers writes some trollgarbage essay about Pau Gasol being “soft” because it’s easy, it’s similarly easy for an analytics person to take apart that assertion with a few handy YouTube clips and some snark. Writers are just content farmers sometimes; we can’t always mine the universe’s profundities. Sometimes we just bang out mildly entertaining or informative content for the sake of filling space while we try to figure out how to say something more interesting the next time we publish.
But righteousness and clowning troglodytes is addictive, and this ostensibly symbiotic relationship between mainstream sports writers’ and pundits’ idiocy and analytics-driven writing has had a poisonous effect on the latter. Or maybe it’s just that people—even or maybe especially smart ones—like to feel superior about things. At any rate, I feel like a lot of analytics-based writing has lapsed into the same sort of “let me tell you the truth about sports, dummy” tone common to an imperious talking head. You can see it in every second-guessing article about what a team should have done at the end of a close game and every derisive comment about hero ball. More and more, the exuberant “let’s learn about basketball together” tone is being replaced by one that sounds paternalistic and patronizing.
The tone shift is understandable. When you’re armed with knowledge, you feel empowered and can easily come off a whit hubristic. We’ve all been overexcited about something we’ve learned at one point or another and relayed that information to a friend like we were Prometheus bringing fire to humankind. But as I wrote at the beginning of this season, we’re all hacks to some degree. We’re all looking at this game through prisms, and analytics is one prism. If you’re working for an NBA front office, then having the best predictive models and being right about things more often than not is is important; it gives you a competitive advantage. But outside of that context, you’re a carnival weight-guesser or a weatherman. Yet still, some analytics writers carry themselves like they hold a secret truth in their back pocket that they occasionally deign to share portions of with the public. They’re the Gnostics of the NBA landscape.
I like the analytics community and because I like them, I suggest this: stop worrying about and comparing yourself to idiots. Will Leitch wrote this past summer that perhaps, if we stop acknowledging Skip Bayless, he’ll go away. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know those of Bayless’s ilk are not worth our time; loud, angry message boarders are not worth our time; trying to prove to the world how smart we are is not worth our time. All writers should write like their audience is intelligent and thoughtful and be respectful of that assumed intelligence and thoughtfulness. No one is an arbiter of truth here.
All of this isn’t to tell you what to argue about or whether to argue at all. The inspiration for this piece was actually a fraught discussion with fellow C:TB staffer Tom Pestak about Tristan Thompson, the Cavalier bench, and Byron Scott. We were both blowing off steam—Tom about his problems with Scott’s aloofness, and me about my anxiety over the team’s future. If any of it were particularly enlightening, I would reprint it here. Let the lack of quotation marks speak volumes.
I know that I’m more self-hating about my tendency to lapse into stereotypical bar room arguments than other fans, and I know plenty of reasonable people who like sports because it’s an opportunity to have good-natured arguments about a topic in which they are invested. But I’m bored with some of it. I’m sick of listening to and reading myself and others trying to figure out if the Kyrie Era Cavaliers can be good because it’s a pointless endeavor. If the young players develop and the front office makes a few choice moves over the next couple of years, the team will be good. If some of those things don’t happen, the team will be less good. And the tenor of the conversations about the prospect of this good-/less-goodness leaves me cold—people virulently professing that the team definitely is or definitely is not headed in the right direction. Does your ill-gotten certainty comfort you? I’m confused.
Anyway, pay attention to statistics and video analysis; pay attention to draft prospects; pay attention to Kyrie Irving’s defense; pay attention to Byron Scott’s substitution patterns; pay attention to anything that interests you. Just keep in mind that each of us follow sports because they provide us with some sort of ineffable sensation we cannot experience outside of sports. We follow sports because they are important to us but they are not important in any objective sense. That we can care so deeply about something that’s not actually important is amazing and freeing. I think constantly about death and failure and addiction and things that can actually ruin me; to vex over Tristan Thompson’s development for 1500 words is therapeutic.
Rap crit luminary Andrew Nosnitsky tweeted out a month ago, in response to a deluge of attacks from Kendrick Lamar fans about the “classicness” (ugh) of his new album, in fittingly exasperated all caps that “NOT EVERYTHING YOU READ IS AN ARGUMENT SOME PEOPLE JUST LIKE TO THINK ABOUT STUFF BECAUSE THINKING CAN BE FUN TOO.” This is all we’re ever really doing about art and about sports (which is not unlike art): thinking about stuff and kicking around ideas. Statistical breakdowns, think pieces, video analysis, etc.: it’s all just talk and sometimes that talk is convincing or beautiful or insightful or whatever. But it’s all about what you want to talk about and how you want to talk about it. We can treat sports as this weird, prismatic, humbling thing that’s a cross between a detective novel, a Rothko painting, and a gladiatorial competition, or we traffic in polemics. It’s a decision we make when we write an article or comment on a blog post or record a podcast, and it’s ultimately an arbitrary decision, but I find one outlook a great deal more interesting than the other.
With a couple of slow days for the Cavs coming up, let’s have some fun with the ESPN Trade Machine! I spent some time kibitzing around with the Machine, and came up with a few potential trades.
Anderson Varejao and Jon Leuer to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb and Toronto’s lottery pick. (Explanation of the pick’s protection)
This trade has a real shot at happening. While it’s unclear if the Thunder have directly expressed interest in Varejao, we all know Sam Presti is willing to do the unexpected. Andy would be a perfect fit in OKC, and Perkins has become an offensive liability and slowed on defense. As for the Cavs, this might be one of the few trades that could really tempt Chris Grant into trading Andy. Jeremy Lamb is an extremely talented offensive player, and everyone knows we need more offensive play-making off the bench. Perkins is a decent stop-gap option at center, and that Toronto pick is immensely valuable. Obviously, this would hurt us short term. But Jeremy Lamb and a lottery pick is nothing to sneeze at, and Kendrick Perkins is a decent starting center.
Anderson Varejao and Omri Casspi to the Houston Rockets for Carlos Delfino, Terrence Jones, and Chandler Parsons.
If the Rockets are fighting for a low playoff seed near the trade deadline, Daryl Morey may feel the need to pull the trigger on a deal to get them closer. An Asik-Varejao front-line would be devastating on the boards. The Cavs would be snagging one of the brightest young small forwards in the league in Chandler Parsons, a player averaging 15, 5 and 4 in only his second year in the NBA. He also has a reputation as a great team player with a ton of heart. Terrence Jones was a lottery pick last year, and could slot in nicely as a backup to Tristan Thompson with a dash of star potential. Carlos Delfino is, well… Carlos Delfino. This is a wild-card in the Varejao-trade scenarios, as an option most people haven’t been talking about. But everyone in the NBA loves Parsons, and Andy (#alliteration) is exactly the type of looks-even-better-in-advanced-stats player that Morey loves. I actually prefer this to the OKC trade. Parsons wasn’t a lottery pick, but he’s producing like a future star. (Watch this.)
Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller for Demarcus Cousins.
Keith Smart and Boogie Cousins are not looking like a healthy partnership right now, and Sacramento needs a culture overhaul. A trade seems to be necessary. If the most recent incident isn’t going to cause a move, the next one will. Zeller and Thompson are both high-character guys that could provide some mental stability in an organization that needs just that. Meanwhile, the Cavs could be just what Cousins needs. Byron Scott’s tough but fair (sometimes), and Kyrie Irving is a young superstar who leads by example. If that isn’t enough, Anderson Varejao exemplifies what every young center should aspire to. The hardest part about this trade would be condemning Tristan and Tyler to the black hole of sorrow, despair and Maloofian greed. But when it comes down to it, Demarcus Cousins is a star. He’s putting up 17 and 10 despite all the fighting. He’s putting up 17 and 10, basically without a point guard. These are the kinds of moves that make championship teams. High risk, high reward.
Let me know what you think, or tell me how stupid I am!
Comment below, or yell at me @DanSoch
Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.
Question 1: Have you noticed any silver linings for the Cavs with both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters injured?
Question 2: Which Cavalier role player has exceeded expectations the most?
Question 3: During the upcoming off-season, should the Cavaliers sign a household name with a max or near-max offer or take a flier on someone for around the mid-level amount?
Question 4: Is there another NBA team besides the Cavaliers that you enjoy following?
Question 5: Has the poor start made you more supportive of keeping or trading Varejao?