Archive for December, 2011

Recap: Cavs 91, Indiana 98 (this cloud has a silver lining)

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Tough loss for the Cavs tonight. This was the Cavs’ first game against a good team and after a great win against a bad Pistons team, it would have been outstanding to get another road victory. The Pacers made the playoffs last year and have a solid young nucleus that added some quality new parts in David West and George Hill.

The Cavs lead 47-45 at the half, fueled by 12 points and 2 assists from Kyrie Irving and 8 points and 5 rebounds from Anderson Varejao. The third quarter went horribly awry though, as the Cavs were only able to muster 14 points while the Pacers put 25 on the scoreboard. This quarter exposed a few things about the Cavs that we already knew; Irving and Sessions are the only two players that can reliably create offense, Irving is a rookie, and Sessions isn’t very good sometimes. Against good defensive teams, there are definitely going to be times where the Cavs have a hard time generating offense. The fourth quarter was pretty sloppy, but the Cavs nearly got themselves a very exciting come-from-behind win when Anthony Parker hit a three to make it 84-82 with 15 seconds to go. Unfortunately David West scored with 5 seconds left, Kyrie Irving missed a layup at the buzzer, and the Cavs couldn’t get it done in overtime, losing by a score of 98 – 91.

The Cavs weren’t able to pull out a really nice road victory against a likely playoff team. The game at least bodes well for the Cavs’ ability to stay competitive against non-cellar dwellers. Onto some notes:

• I’m looking for what the youngsters bring to the table this year, and I really like what Kyrie Irving is showing. The box score numbers (20 points on 19 shots with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers) don’t do the performance justice. In the final 2:30 of the game, Irving took the ball to the basket on five of six possessions. Really the results weren’t great; he made a layup, got tied up once (the Cavs lost the jump ball), he got fouled and missed one of two, he missed a tough pull-up from 5 feet, then he missed a layup for the win at the buzzer. But the results weren’t the point; Irving is 19 years old, in his third NBA game (after only 12 NCAA games). In the fourth quarter of a close game against a good defensive team, he wanted the ball in his hands every possession. And he got to the basket for good looks on four of five possessions. Someday soon; Irving is going to make both free throws, make that 5 ft pull up, or make that layup…and the Cavs win the game.

• I’m giving Irving two bullets on this game. The four assists aren’t a fair summation for him. He had at least three really nice passes to players at the basket that resulted in the player getting fouled, including an awesome over the shoulder pass to Varejao. He attempted an alley-oop to Jamison, but obviously Jamison can’t jump; so he caught the ball, came down, and eventually turned the ball over…but it was a nice look from Irving. There were a few kick-outs for corner threes that were missed. Honestly, Irving’s ceiling went up for me with this game.

• One other fun note on Irving; really early in the first quarter Darren Collison was dribbling up court, Irving was in a lazy stance, and Collison turned on the after burners and left Irving in the dust for a layup. It’s like Irving had never seen anyone move that fast with the basketball before. Late in the second quarter, Collison tried a similar move except Irving stayed right on his hip and blocked the shot. It appeared as if Irving had learned something from the first quarter to the second quarter.

• Varejao was his usual self, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He added three offensive rebounds, to bring his total to 14 in the first three games.

• Other than those two, only Alonzo Gee had a decent game. He can get sloppy with his ball-handling and isn’t an outside shooting threat, but he’s playing really aggressively and so far this season, there are more good things happening because of Alonzo Gee than bad things. He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block, and finished regulation and played overtime with the first string.

• Tristan Thompson is as advertised; he’s very athletic and he plays hard & smart on defense. On offense, he can put the ball on the floor with a quick first step from the high post. I was someone who underestimated how well those abilities would translate to the NBA, particularly against lower caliber teams. He was very effective against the Raptors and Pistons. Against the Pacers quality NBA defense however, his limitations were more apparent. Other than a couple of blocks in his first two minutes, he was pretty invisible, finishing with 2 points and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes. To Thompson’s credit, there are worse things you can be as a 20 year old rookie than very effective against bad teams.

• Ramon Sessions was very bad this game. He missed some floaters, he missed some jump shots, he played some lazy defense, he turned the ball over…not his best effort (did you know that after two games, Sessions had the 6th best PER in the NBA? I really thought that was going to last.)

• Omri Casspi also had a forgettable performance. He took a couple bad shots and missed a very makeable fast break finish. The low point was probably when he had Darren Collison posted up…and travelled. As noted above, he was benched for Gee down the stretch.

• Antawn Jamison was 4 of 14 in 36 minutes. Instead of focusing on this, I’m going to take this opportunity to discuss the finishing ability of the Cavs’ big men. As I discussed previously, Irving got his big men quite a few decent looks at the basket. Unfortunately, the Cavs are bereft of high quality finishers. None of Jamison, Samuels, or Varejao finishes well with authority, especially through contact. Tristan Thompson is the one player that may have this explosiveness, but he saw zero minutes on the court with Irving tonight. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering these are the team’s two main building blocks. I’d really like to see Tristan Thompson get a chance to turn a few of the looks that Irving generates into and-ones.

• The Cavs defense was pretty good tonight. 98 points in an overtime game (84 in regulation) is nothing to be ashamed of. One issue appeared to be that the Cavs’ big men aren’t particularly great at man-to-man post defense and the Pacers frequently posted Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, and David West. It was a Pacers strong point against a Cavs weak point that the Pacers were able to expose. The other big issue for the Cavs were the Pacers 17 offensive rebounds.

Links to the Present: December 29, 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

A lot of you were probably wondering why Samardo Samuels, before putting up 17 points in 25 minutes last night, was a DNP-CD for the first game of the season. According to Byron Scott, Samuels showed up to training camp out of shape. It makes sense that this problem irked Scott, who, when he took over as head coach last summer, conducted a brutal training camp with the goal of developing the Cavs into a squad that could run up and down the floor for the full 48 minutes. Scott has also said Samuels is working himself back into shape, and I can’t see, with Samuels performance last night and Ryan Hollins’ incompetence, how Scott keeps the Jamaican-born forward out of the rotation.

“The first quarter featured a young Cavalier team trading largely in slop, ultimately resulting in double-digit turnovers and a few head-scratching moments vis a vis extra, perhaps unnecessary pass attempts. But once this ten-man rotation had even more time to gel, perhaps aided by a post-first quarter pep talk from Scott, fans were graced with flashes of what the Wine and Gold can become on the offensive end.  With roughly seven minutes to go in the third frame, the team’s first unit – on a night that was largely dominated by the “reserves” – flawlessly executed back-to-back plays that included nary a dribble.” [Scott Sargent]

“After a shaky NBA debut, Kyrie Irving flashed his potential with a tantalizing first half that included 12 points and five assists. But the league’s No. 1 overall pick spent the game’s final 17-plus minutes on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering Tristan Thompson’s blocked shots, Ramon Sessions’ 3-pointers and Samardo Samuels’ bruising work in the low blocks.” [Tom Reed]

WFNY is tracking the top 15 or so college prospects this year. You can see their latest Not-So-Big-Board here.

Recap: Cavs 105, Pistons 89 (Or, .500! Sweet .500!)

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Overview: The Cavs got their first double-digit win of the season against the Detroit Pistons, with Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving both having solid games for the Cavaliers. Samardo Samuels led the Cavs with 17 points on only eight shots, and Pistons rookie Brandon Knight had 23 points on 10-13 shooting from the field.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

- Boy, it’s good to see Andy back in action, isn’t it? Seeing him crash the offensive boards, make cuts to the rim, get out to the perimeter on pick-and-rolls, and flip in those little reverse layups is a beautiful thing.

- Kyrie was able to score the ball better in this game than he was in his disastrous debut, but I’ve been way more impressed by his playmaking ability than I thought he would be. He seems to always know what the right pass in a given situation is, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a wide-open three or dunk, and he knows when to mix in a home-run pass attempt as well. He hasn’t been setting the world on fire with his scoring so far, but it looks like he really knows how to play the point guard position.

- Okay, I’m becoming a total Tristan Thompson convert. Complete 180 here. He has a nose for the ball, he’s bouncy as all hell, and he can actually finish in traffic around the basket. And how about that righty hook? Then there’s the game-high +18 for TT — when he’s on the floor, good things seem to happen.

- SAMARDOWNED. I did not recognize that guy. Post moves, 20-foot jumpers, thundering dunks, brutal moves to the rim — a true breakout game. We’ll see if he can keep this up.

- Jamison had a nice game from the field. Maybe someone will want to trade for him now. We can only hope.

- Razor Ramon has added the three-ball, but still seems fairly enamored with low-percentage floaters from a step or two inside the free-throw line. It’s always an adventure with him.

- I have no opinion on Casspi yet — give me another couple of games.

- Alonzo Gee’s box scores have looked nice, but his shot selection makes me yell at things. I don’t really know how this will end, but it does seem like the Eyenga experiment is on hold for the time being, which I support because Christian was terrible when he got minutes.

28 assists on 40 field goals! 1st double-digit win of the year! (Last year, the Cavs didn’t win a game by double-digits until the Heat came to the Q for the second time.) I could get used to this — good things seem to be happening. It won’t happen overnight for this team, but the Cavs showed some positive signs tonight.

Links to the Present: December 28, 2011

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

“The Cavaliers coach is simultaneously trying to win games and develop youngsters. Sometimes, those desires intersect to form peculiar moments like the one Monday night at The Q as Ramon Sessions, the game’s leading scorer, was subbed out for 19-year-old Kyrie Irving, who had hit 1-of-8 shots to that point. It wasn’t an exhibition or a meaningless late-season game, but the opener in front of a sellout crowd. Scott said he’s sure some fans second-guessed the move in the Cavaliers’ 104-96 loss to the Toronto Raptors.” [Tom Reed]

“There were plenty of eye opening issues with the Cavaliers in Game One. The first, and most obvious one, was the play of Kyrie Irving. While some nervous Cavalier fans might be concerned with the young PG after just one game, the reality is that there’s not much worth reading into after just one game. There’s no question Irving was hesitant to create his own offense. Only a couple times did he decide to make matters into his own hands and create something by driving into the lane. The Cavaliers will need him to be much more assertive. That’s what he was drafted for. As he gets more comfortable with his teammates and his role in this offense I expect him to be much more aggressive, the way he was with Duke.” [Andrew Schnitkey]

“Cavaliers coach Byron Scott hopes there’s a lot more to his team’s performance Wednesday against the Pistons than in Monday’s opener versus Toronto. He wants the Cavaliers to establish a physical presence against Detroit, a trait imbued in the Pistons’ DNA.” [Tom Reed]

Manny Harris landed with the Cavs’ D-League affiliate in Canton, so perhaps we’ll see him back on the NBA squad this season if the Cavaliers are hit by injuries or elect to trade some of their veterans.

And our colleagues over at Fear the Sword have a preview of tonight’s game in Detroit.

Destination: 2013, Scenario 1

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Obviously no one is talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers as contenders this year. Just as obvious though, Cavs fans want this to end soon. Once a month in this “Destination: 2013” series, a strategy to turn the Cavs into a young, 50 win team by 2013 – 2014 will be explored. These posts will be an optimistic diversion over the course of another rebuilding season.

In this first installment, an idea for building with existing draft picks and cap space will be addressed. Since the season has just started, this scenario assumes that the Cavs aren’t horrible this year; the draft picks should be viewed as 8th in 2012 and 10th in 2013. (Editor’s note: I wrote this before last night’s game. Losing to Toronto at home doesn’t make it look like an 8th pick is coming. If the season goes south fast; in scenario 2, the Cavs will win the draft lottery again. Also, trades will surely be a part of future columns.)

In this first scenario, items of note regarding existing Cavs include:

• Irving, Thompson, Varejao, Gibson and Casspi are the only current players on the 2013 – 2014 team.

• Antawn Jamison – his contract is allowed to expire. The Cavs choose not to take on another team’s “bad” contract to obtain draft picks. There are two high-lottery rookies on the roster and seven first-round picks in the next four years; there are enough draft picks.

2012 – 2013 Cavs
Estimated salary cap for this season is $60 million. The Cavs have eight players under contract for $30.8 million. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky is selected with the Cavs’ first round pick (previously covered here) and William Buford of Ohio State in the second round. Two free agent acquisitions are made:

• Omer Asik – 4 years, $24 million. Did you know the Bulls were 9.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Asik played? Asik will be 26 years old and is a legitimate 7 footer who is a quality team defender and a good shot blocker / rebounder. Of 57 centers that played 40 games last year, he ranked 12th in rebounding rate and 12th in defensive plays per minute (blocks + steals + charges drawn). Offensive contributions will be sparse, but the Cavs need another big body in the frontcourt and I’m willing to splurge on a quality defensive center. Asik is a restricted free agent, but the Bulls probably won’t match. The contract would be frontloaded; $9 million in 2012 – 2013 with $5 million for the other three seasons. Generally speaking, Cleveland will be overpaying in these posts.

• Ryan Anderson – 4 years, $29 million. The team needs a big man with some shooting range; Anderson is a career 38% three point shooter and puts the ball in the basket at a decent rate (18 points per 36 minutes). Also a restricted free agent, he’ll be only 24 years old and while just an average defender, he is big (6’10”, 240 lbs) and rebounds well. During his two years in Orlando, advanced evaluation stats like him; he’s a winning player according to PER, Win Shares, Adjusted +/-, and Wins Produced. He will also be signed to a front loaded contract; $11 million in year one with $6 million per year after that.

Regardless of the players that are pursued, this seems like a decent re-building concept: draft well in the lottery, sign two good role players to front loaded contracts in 2012, then sign a max player in 2013. If the Cavs are a high lottery team and draft Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond, the free agent targets would be adjusted. The 2012 – 2013 roster outlined above is filled out with one year contracts and the total payroll is $59 – 60 million.

2013 – 2014 Cavs
With the Cavs’ first round pick, P.J. Hairston of North Carolina is selected and with their second rounder, Aaron Craft of Ohio State. With the Heat and Magic picks, the Cavs choose another wing and a 5th big man. Casspi is re-signed for 4 years, $16 million and Daniel Gibson is re-signed for 3 years, $7.5 million.

The big, final free agent piece is James Harden. Harden is a restricted free agent and the Cavs can offer him a max contract of 4 years and approximately $66 million. As some background, OKC’s payroll for 6 players in 2013 – 2014 is $38.3 million. This doesn’t sound bad, except none of those players is Russell Westbrook, James Harden, or Serge Ibaka. Given that the Cavs have offered Harden $15+ million per year and Westbrook and Ibaka could cost $30 million a year; that leaves OKC looking at $84 million for 9 players. The luxury tax limit will be approximately $74 million. Are they willing to go $15 – $20 million into the luxury tax given the new CBA’s strict provisions? OKC can do a lot to juggle their roster between now and then; but for the purposes of this extremely hypothetical scenario, an assumption will be made that they won’t spend 70% of the luxury tax threshold on three backcourt players. So the Cavs convince Harden that a max contract and his ability to be a focal point of the offense make Cleveland his best destination.

The final 2013 – 2014 roster (with November 2013 ages in parentheses) is:

• PG – Kyrie Irving (21), Daniel Gibson (27), Aaron Craft (22). Irving is a big part of the future of the franchise and will need to be a key member of any near-future 50 win team. This will be his third season and the hope is that he is establishing himself as a top flight point guard.

• SG / SF – James Harden (24), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (20), Omri Casspi (25), P. J Hairston (20), William Buford (23), 2013 Miami 1st rounder. This is a young group, but it has a lot of good pieces. Other than Harden; this group isn’t “ready” in 2013 – 2014. But within a couple of seasons, this group will be experienced and well rounded. Harden, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Hairston should be capable scorers. All players give good effort and Kidd-Gilchrist is a beast of a defender. Harden and Casspi provide quality shooting and Hairston (or whoever is the 2013 first round pick) is drafted based on his long-range marksmanship.

• PF / C – Anderson Varejao (31), Tristan Thompson (22), Ryan Anderson (25), Omer Asik (27), 2013 Orlando 2nd round pick. That’s a very good defensive front line and Ryan Anderson adds some offensive firepower.

The combined 2013 – 2014 salary of these 14 players is $60 – 61 million, which should be under the salary cap. Nine of these players are signed through 2015 – 2016: Irving, Harden, Kidd-Gilchrist, Hairston, Casspi, Thompson, Asik, Ryan Anderson, and the Miami first rounder. The Cavs have 2 first round picks each in 2014 & 2015 (assuming Kings pick); so there will be opportunities to add “cheap” talent to supplement the bench. Varejao and Gibson can be re-signed to short-term contracts, and voila! The fifteen players on the 2016 NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers! The team would be similar to the 2004 Pistons championship team; no star, lots of quality players and great defense. Can this team score 100 points per game, while allowing 90? Because if so; that’s a championship level team. I’m going to answer yes; the defense will be great and 20 points per game can come from Harden, 18 from Irving, 15 from Kidd-Gilchrist, 12 from Anderson, 8 from Hairston, 6 from Casspi, 18 from the rest of the front-court (Varejao, Thompson, Asik) and 3 from Gibson. Who knew that building a champion was so easy?

Links to the Present: December 27, 2011

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

“An ‘okay’ debut, if judged solely by Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott, Irving – the first first-round point guard to start for the Cavs in his NBA debut since Terrell Brandon did so 20 years earlier – recorded seven assists and one steal as compared to one turnover. Scoring, however, would not be the first-overall selection’s forte on this evening, converting only two of his 12 shot attempts; a floater off of the glass as an icebreaker early in the contest and a desperation three-point field goal in the waning seconds as his team looked to mend the gap between they and their opponents.” [Scott Sargent]

“Young Mr. Irving probably knew very little about Calderon until this night. The former star in the Spanish pro league who has spent the last six seasons in the NBA torched Irving not only for 14 points, but 11 assists. Irving was destroyed on the pick-and-roll, and the Cavs’ lack of team speed — especially when Antawn Jamison and Omri Casspi were together at forward — meant many of Calderon’s passes led to dunks and layups.” [Terry Pluto]

““I thought we took a little bit of a step back on the defensive end after the last couple weeks (of practice and training camp). We probably had a little lack of trust and communication, but that is something we will continue to work on.” [Byron Scott via Tom Reed]

“Antawn Jamison has been a 20-point scorer six times in his NBA career. However, just like a year ago, he’s gotten off to a slow start. In two preseason games and the one intrasquad scrimmage, he’s averaging 9.3 points and shooting 29 percent from the field (9 of 31). He wasn’t much better in the season opener even though he had 15 points. He made just 6 of 20 from the field. ‘I can still get it done on a night-to-night basis offensively,’ Jamison said. ‘But where they really need me to hold up my end is on defense. Whenever they need me to score, I’ll be there.’” [CBS Sports]

Game Recap: Raptors 104, Cavs 96

Monday, December 26th, 2011

The Cavs opened the season at home against the Toronto Raptors, losing 104-96. Down 10 at half after an unimpressive display, the Cavaliers narrowed the Raptors’ lead in the third quarter, but failed to execute on both ends of the floor in the fourth, allowing the Toronto wings too many open jumpers and settling for contested shots on the offensive end.

– Kyrie Irving looked lost. I’m not going to press the panic button on Irving’s future after one poor performance, but he did a lot of things wrong in this game. He helped too far off of Jose Calderon in the first half, which led to a handful of relatively uncontested threes for the Spaniard, and he’s still figuring out how to defend the pick and roll. On offense, he failed to consistently drive past Calderon (who, in polite terms, is a sub-par defender), and when he did get to the rim, the Toronto bigs collapsed on him and his layup attempts were blocked. He didn’t play as many minutes in the second half as he did in the first, which was probably for the best, since the Cavs had a legitimate shot at winning the game, and Irving wasn’t helping the cause.

– In contrast to Irving, Ramon Sessions was the best Cavalier on the floor tonight. He had everything working on offense. He was slashing to the hoop and laying the ball in with both hands, finding open players in the paint, and even hitting a couple of three-pointers. I don’t think Byron Scott will pull the plug on the Irving-as-starter experiment after one game, but it will be interesting to see what happens if Sessions outplays Irving for the first few weeks of the season. I actually think, even if Sessions is the better player, that he’s such a perfect fit as a bench scorer that I would use him like the Cavaliers used to use Andy Varejao during the Lebron Era: bring him off the bench some six minutes into the game, and if he gives the team a spark, keep him in as long as he’s playing well.

– Tristan Thompson looked good. He played a game that lined up with his scouting report rather perfectly. TT worked very hard on both ends of the floor, over-helped on defense (he’ll learn), pulled down two offensive boards, looked supremely athletic, clunked his free throws, and flushed the ball with authority when given the chance. What I liked best about Thompson’s game tonight was his decisiveness when he caught the ball. He received the pass and went into his move immediately. He’s so athletic that, when he decided quickly what he was going to do with he ball once he got it, the Toronto defenders had a tough time staying in front of him as he moved toward the rim. Really solid debut from the former Longhorn.

– Antawn Jamison: 15 points on 6-20 shooting. And no, his defense wasn’t good either.

– Though, to be fair, almost every Cavalier’s defense was awful in this one. The Raps shot 9-21 from beyond the arc and 53% from the field. The guards weren’t able to stay in front of Toronto’s perimeter players, and the help on penetration often came late. You can probably chalk the late help up to rust—these guys haven’t played with each other for very long, and communication is crucial to good defense—but there were some Jamisonian closeouts on open Raptor shooters, especially in the second half.

The Cavs travel to Detroit, with whom they split two close preseason games, on Wednesday. In the meantime, if you see Antawn Jamison, please do me a favor and close a door on his wrist. Not, like, to the point where there’s tendon damage or he experiences severe pain, but enough that if he takes more than twelve shots a game, it gets really sore and he has to sit down for twenty minutes to ice it.

The perfect season is dead. 0-66 is still in play. Until next time.

Links to the Present: December 26, 2011

Monday, December 26th, 2011

“Sure, he may not have been the target of a lot of Cavs fans when JJ Hickson was moved in the 11th hour, but [Omri] Casspi will show why Chris Grant has been targeting him since the day he entered the NBA Draft. Many will point to either Irving or Antawn Jamison as the team’s leading scorers and both men could easily have the team’s lead, but given anticipated rotations and minute splits, Casspi is really the only scoring threat on the team who doesn’t have considerable time to share with a high-upside rookie. He may only average 17 or 18 points per evening, but thinking is, by this time in April, Casspi puts the small forward position back on the Cavaliers’ map.” [Scott Sargent]

“I think we’re all interchangeable, which is pretty cool. We’re all around the same height. So we’re able to get out there and play off of each other. With this offense being so interchangeable, I think guys can shoot, pass and dribble, so we’re all able to do some of the same things.” [Boobie Gibson on the Cavalier PGs]

“For the first time since the arrival of LeBron James in 2003, the Cavaliers will have no games televised on TNT or ESPN this season and only one – against Phoenix on March 25 – will be on NBA TV.” [Mary Schmitt Boyer]

Here’s a nice preview of tonight’s game against the Raptors from Fear the Sword, and the Plain Dealer staff’s predictions for the season.

And Kyrie Irving’s gonna start!

I’ll have a recap for you guys after tonight’s game. Enjoy the start of the Cavaliers’ season.

Cavs Season Preview (Part 3): The Schedule

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

At this point, you’ve probably heard the talking heads on your favorite pundit show mention it at least five quadrillion times: the NBA schedule is going to be brutal this year. To put things in perspective, a normal NBA season—tumultuous in its own right—is 82 games over roughly six months. That’s about 13.5 games every thirty days. This season, NBA teams will cram 66 games into four months, which comes out to 16.5 games per month. This means more back-to-backs (which, especially when both games are on the road, are incredibly taxing), less practice time (many coaches will elect to rest guys over drilling them, especially during particularly hectic weeks), and, inevitably, more injuries. Here, we’ll take a look at the Cavaliers’ compact schedule, focusing on strings of games that will determine whether their record this season will be abysmal or something closer to .500 (baby steps, you guys).

The Cavs begin the season like this:

vs. Toronto (Dec 26th)
@  Detroit (Dec 28th)
@  Indiana (Dec 30th)
vs. New Jersey (Jan 1st)
vs. Charlotte (Jan 3rd)
@  Toronto (Jan 4th)
@  Minnesota (Jan 6th)

Last season, when the Cavaliers were at their fan-demoralizing worst, I would scan the schedule for bad teams that might help the Cavs snap their losing streak. Because the team was too horrible to entertain the idea that they could beat a championship contender like Boston or even an okay team like Atlanta. It just wasn’t happening. All I can say to about this opening slate of games is: where the hell was this stretch of schedule last season???

This swath of games—all winnable except for a tilt in Indianapolis against a Pacers team that I think is going to be quite good—is something of a double-edged sword. Yes, the Cavs have a chance to start the season 5-2 or 4-3 against some sub-par teams, and they only have one set of back-to-back games to deal with, but they need to come out of the gate strong because by the middle of January into February, the schedule becomes unrelenting. From January 20th to February 8th, the schedule looks like this:

vs. Chicago (Jan 20th)
@  Atlanta (Jan 21st)
@  Miami (Jan 24th)
vs. New York (Jan 25th)
vs. New Jersey (Jan 27th)
@  Boston (Jan 29th)
vs. Boston (Jan 31st)
@  Orlando (Feb 3rd)
vs. Dallas (Feb 4th)
@  Miami (Feb 7th)
vs. LA Clippers (Feb 8th)

All of those teams are either good or great with the exception of New Jersey, so it’s possible the Cavs will lose all of those games. Throughout the rest of February and March, the team plays a more balanced schedule, until this oasis of bad teams in the beginning of April:

@ Milwaukee (Apr 4th)
@ Toronto (Apr 6th)
@ New Jersey (Apr 8th)
vs. Charlotte (Apr 10th)

If the Cavaliers are going to establish any kind of winning momentum, it’s going to happen on these nights because the team concludes the season, starting with the Charlotte game on the 10th, with 12 games in 16 nights, a stretch of schedule that an exceptional team like the Thunder or Bulls would have problems with, let alone a rebuilding Cavs squad.

Recap

I mean, I’m not sure how much of an impact this condensed schedule will have the on the Cavaliers’ record at the end of the season. They’re a young, undermanned team that will likely finish with one of the league’s worst records. More importantly, the compact schedule might begin to wear on Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson by March. Cavs fans will want to keep an eye on how the rookies hold up against the grind of playing so many NBA games in a short amount of time. I think Byron Scott will limit their minutes later in the season if they start to break down. He knows (he has to know, right?) that this year is about improvement, not wins, and so there’s no point in running these guys into the ground just because they’re two of the best seven players on the team, and he’s hungry for a couple extra Ws.

Also, a caveat: I have no idea what’s going to happen on a game-to-game basis, which makes it difficult to figure out what the Cavaliers’ win total will be this season. That probably seems obvious, but the level of unpredictability in this season is going to be higher than in others. Games are going to be disjointed and sloppy for a few weeks as players knock the rust off and teams learn how to integrate rookies, free agents, and trade acquisitions. A couple of teams’ seasons are going to be completely murdered by injuries; other squads (the Spurs will probably do this) are going to take it easy, rest their starters as much as possible, and try to squeak into the playoffs with the healthiest roster they can assemble. Those games against Boston I said the Cavs were going to lose? The Celtics are talented, but their rotation is incredibly shallow, so perhaps Kevin Garnett’s knees will need a night off or Paul Pierce will be nursing a knock he picked up a week ago in his fourth game in six nights, and the Cavaliers will have a better shot at victory. I honestly have no clue. It’s going to be a weird season. I advise you to watch the rookies develop, root for entertaining losses, and watch a little college ball to keep your spirits up. Life seems a little less bleak when every outstanding college player is a hypothetical Cavalier.

And we’ll be with you all season. I’ll have news and some longform-y stuff each week, and we’re gonna gangtackle this schedule so we have recaps of every game for you. Kevin has plans to write a series about the Cavs’ outlook moving into the 2012 and 2013 seasons. And there’ll be other stuff, I’m sure. We’re a bit like a busy kitchen at the moment—pans clattering, audible obscenities, a splotch of tomato sauce in our hair—but we’ll figure it out.

Happy holidays. Go Cavs. One.

Manny Harris Waived

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

From Tom Reed at the Plain Dealer:

The Cavaliers released Harris and guard Kenny Hayes on Thursday, leaving the roster at 15 players. That means camp invitee Mychel Thompson will make the club assuming the Cavaliers don’t claim another player off waivers.

This one hurts. I was a big fan of Manny Harris despite the fact that he isn’t very good at basketball. In my mind, he was going to develop into a cross between Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans. Yet, in reality, he’s probably a career end-of-the-bench bookend. Fare thee well, Manny. You’re in heaven now, looking overmatched against NBA competition with the angels.