Mailbag Time! Vol. 1: The Mailbagening

October 5th, 2012 by Colin McGowan

Don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t have used WordArt if it was available to me in the off-brand Microsoft Paint program I used to create the Mailbag Time! logo. I would have used a giant drop shadow and one of those preset gradients. You could be looking at the red-brown hues of “desert sunset” right now. I live in your nightmares, visual communications majors.

Now, your emails:

Aksel:

Lack of faith in Chris Grant is keeping me from going all-in on this
iteration of the Cavs.  Help me let go of the Valančiūnas/Thompson and
Barnes/Waiters decisions.  This team is going to succeed or fail based
on the outcome of Top Five picks and that is ultimately one man’s
decision: Grant.  Let’s just say that I’m not impressed so far.

We’re in accord about the Valančiūnas/Thompson selection, which I’ve groused about both publicly and privately. I think it was a mistake, which is to some degree absurd considering Thompson is entering his second season, and we haven’t even had the opportunity to see what Jonas Valančiūnas can do in the NBA. But yet I’ve talked in wistful tones with fellow Cavs fans about about an alternate universe in which the team is built around Kyrie Irving and Jonas. (I even call him Jonas as a term of affection, as if he’s on my favorite team and I’m already acclimated to watching him play basketball three times a week.) I’m sure, if Dion Waiters struggles and/or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is great, that I’ll have similar fantasies about what the Cavs would look like if the Bobcats passed on MKG.

I thought Chris Grant made the right decision taking Waiters over Barnes, but this is perhaps more to your point: we’re all a bunch of amateur meteorologists, in a sense, and we get upset when the forecast the GM puts forth doesn’t match our own. In this early stage of team-building, when no one is definitively right or wrong yet, we want the team to take our guys, when in fact that doesn’t much matter. You’ll love (or at least grow to accept) Dion Waiters if, at age 25, he’s a three-time all-star regardless of whether, at this point in time, you like him or dislike him; think he’s going to be a great player or a bust. But it’s always an added jolt to see your guys succeed. See, I always liked Thomas Robinson and now he’s averaging 18-and-10!

I don’t think this is foolish at all. It feels good to be right or to see a ballplayer you have an affinity for figure out how to best utilize his talents. But I think the question of going all-in might be moot. Chris Grant went all-in for you, and the next five years of the team is going to be determined, not just by the decisions he might make in the future, but by the ones he’s already made. We won’t really know if those decisions were right or wrong for a few more years, and by the time that has happened, if Grant has been wrong this whole time, the Cavs will be demolishing the team and starting over again for the second time in a decade.

In sum, embrace fatalism. Try to love the team you have, because the team that’s going to exist in three or four years is going to look a lot like this one, just sharper, not as shrouded in haze that obscures precisely how good Tristan Thompson will be.

Shawn:

As a Cavs fan in New Orleans, I’ve been having to deal with a lot of AD hype, but I’m steadfast the Cavs will have a better record and make the playoffs this year. Agree?

Well, the Hornets blew up their team in the offseason, and it seems clear to me that they’re doing more or less the same thing the Cavs did in Irving’s rookie season. They have their franchise cornerstone (Davis is perceived as more of a surefire future star than Irving was coming out of Duke), and they plan to flank him with Eric Gordon, an assortment of raw youngsters, and little else. They’ll suck for another season, nab a top five draft pick, and then start making an earnest push toward significant improvement.

In a lot of ways, the Hornets underwent a more radical roster purge in the offseason than did the Cavs, who at least kept Antawn Jamison, Andy Varejao, and Anthony Parker around. I’d make a dubious claim that they’re more talented because Gordon (when healthy, which is obviously a gigantic issue for him) is a much better player than either Jamison or Varejao and because Austin Rivers at least has some NBA-ready skills (he’s a great one-on-one player) whereas Tristan Thompson often looked like he’d recently woken up from a chloroform nap for the first half of last season. Will Davis have a better rookie season than Irving? Probably not, but I think he’ll be immediately effective on the defensive end and the glass.

All of this is to say that, yeah, the Cavs are almost definitely better than the Hornets right now because the Hornets are working off a similar schematic but are a year behind. Anyway, your friend is totally justified in being excited for the Anthony Davis Era. Who wouldn’t be? Here’s to a Cavs-Hornets finals in 2018.

Kris:

Do you think the Cavs are playoff contenders this year? If so, what makes you believe such a thing? If not, what changes do you think need to be made for us to get there? I understand a lot of this team is relying on potential so this question could really go either way.

Yeah, it’s tough. My hunch is to say that the Cavs won’t be very good, but I wouldn’t break into hysterics if they were pushing for the eighth seed in April. John Hollinger recently recorded little 3-minute interviews in which he projected how well teams were going to perform, and while he’s very optimistic (more optimistic than me) about what the Cavs are in the process of building, he also thinks the team will be mildly competent playoff longshots.

I think I agree with him because, well, here: The Cavs lost an inefficient but still useful scorer in Jamison. If they hang onto Varejao for the whole season, and he stays healthy, that’ll be good for them. C.J. Miles is a decent backup, but that’s really all he is. Irving will be better, but teams will also have more film on him and be able to build their defensive strategy around stopping him. Saint Weirdo is Saint Weirdo, whatever that will come to mean. Tyler Zeller is the plain yogurt of basketball players. There’s a lot of minute plusses and minuses at play in the equation, and I think it adds up cumulatively to a positive: I would be shocked if this team isn’t noticeably better than it was last year, but finishing with something like 38-to-42 wins seems like a stretch.

Fortunately, the team needs to improve in ways it is completely capable of improving. They’ll have a decent-to-great selection in next year’s draft (I don’t want to talk about the “weak draft” thing eight months out; we’ll think about crossing that bridge when we’re within 500 miles of it) and plenty of cap space to add free agents or absorb contracts in a trade. And obviously they have young talent that’s going to get better over the next half-decade. The Cavs aren’t close to where they want to be yet, but I don’t think they’re lagging behind schedule.

Adam:

What player would you compare Tyler Zeller’s ceiling too? I liked him in college but I feel like everyone became a little down on him towards the end of the season?

Lemme flesh out this plain yogurt analogy. You know what plain yogurt goes with? Everything. You can dunk apples in it, pair it with granola, use it in a sauce. It’s an exceedingly useful dairy product. But anyone who would consume plain yogurt by itself and call it a meal is living a life of poverty and/or delusion. You have to use it in concert with other foods and spices in order to get the most out of what it has to offer. Plain yogurt asks of you: How can you fully realize my potential? What is plain yogurt’s ceiling? When you admire its best traits (its creaminess, its slightly bitter taste) while its less desirable traits (it being barely a thing) are overwhelmed by the other ingredients you fold into it. It’s at its best when you’re underappreciating it. Get my meaning?

Also, Tyler Zeller is white.

This was fun, you guys. If you want to keep doing this, feel free to hit me up at colinsilasmcgowan [at] gmail [dot] com or @cs_mcgowan on Twitter. If and when I get a few good questions, I’ll post another installment.