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?
Tom: The silver lining is that the Cavs may get another top-5 draft pick and not necessarily deserve it. Before the season started I thought there was a very low probability the Cavs could make the playoffs – so many things had to go right on a team with so little experience and depth. Injuries have already piled up and they’ve lost a lot of close games. If you’re not going to make the playoffs, ideally, you want to get as many ping pong balls as possible and still have a decent roster. That’s an entirely possible outcome of this season and probably more ideal in the long run. I’m not suggesting they punt on the season – plenty of losing is happening organically.
Dani: I’ve been very pleased with Jeremy Pargo’s play. He’s a much better point guard then Donald Sloan, and actually capable of the penetration that this Cleveland offense needs. He’s definitely won the backup PG minutes, and here’s to hoping he can be as successful off the bench. Also: while it saddens me to say this, Pargo was the first starting point guard to try on defense this year.
Kevin: The biggest ‘silver lining’ is the uptick in Tyler Zeller’s production. In November, he averaged 6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.4 blocks on 45% true shooting. In December, those have risen to 10 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 49% in similar minutes. He is acclimating to the NBA well, and this is despite shattering his face during the season’s first week and wearing a mask ever since. He receives warranted grief for his man-defense, but I think he shows relatively nuanced rotations for a rookie, and his rebounding is improving. Through December 3rd games, only two centers drew more charges (as per hoopdata). The Cavs defensive rebounding rate sits at exactly 74.3% when T-Zell is on and off-court, and their defensive rating worsens by less than 1 point per 100 possessions when he plays. At the least, Cleveland is just a miserable defensive team, and it’s not all Tyler’s fault.
Nate: The silver linings for the Cavs with both Kyrie and Dion? Um… No. Maybe there’s one in that Gee can be more aggressive, and that we’re seeing that we obviously need to develop a deeper bench, but these are revelations of long confirmed suspicions, not silver linings. I am tempted to say that we might be gaining the knowledge that Scott isn’t a great coach before it could really hurt us, but he does seem to get guys to play hard.
Mallory: Two obvious ones: Pargo might actually be an NBA player. He seems to have SOME game; the question is whether or not he can keep it going consistently from the bench. Also, Casspi has come alive. We always knew he could play D, drive to the rim, and shoot the three – it’s just that, for the first time since he joined this team, he’s doing all of that at the same time. As we’ve all said a million times, he just needed some more consistent playing time.
Question 2: Which Cavalier role player has exceeded expectations the most?
Tom: Jeremy Pargo. I never would have guessed this output. His college stats projected him to be a 9 to 5er like the rest of us, or at best an export to the trapezoid leagues. He’s 26 and played poorly last year in his rookie season. Honestly I’m amazed the Cavs gave him a tryout – even if he displayed some goods in workouts, I would think a younger or bigger guy would get the nod for the upside stuff. Pargo seemed to have zero upside, and yet, there have been times this season where he’s stood out among all-stars. He’s working hard at both ends and the crazy thing is that he can’t really shoot at all so defenses are clogging the lanes and he’s still making plays. He might be the biggest reason the Cavs have 2 wins since Kyrie injured himself. I’ll wait till after the all-star break to declare him the “backup pg of the future!” but you gotta give the guy credit for taking advantage of this opportunity. He’s fun to watch too.
Dani: I didn’t expect much out of Omri Casspi this year, given his horrendous play the previous season. But he’s performed fairly well as a 3-and-D guy so far, and seems to be returning to the form of his rookie season.
Kevin: Considering his worse performance across-the-board compared to last year; Alonzo Gee may be a surprising answer. Fifteen months ago, I did not think he was an NBA player. Two months ago, after last season’s crazy, condensed schedule, where Gee spent the first two-thirds of the season playing well, and the last-third completely derailing, I was still on the fence about Gee. After the first twenty games of this season, I am content that AG serves as a completely fine rotation player at a reasonable cost.
Nate: Tyler Zeller. With a very smart offensive game, he seems to pass well, finish well with both hands around the basket and flash a jumper that’s rounding into form. I think he’ll be a fine offensive player. Now he does need to add about 20 pounds as he gets abused in the post, as has often been said here. But what’s also been said is that he takes charges, rebounds well in spurts, and will block the occasional shot. I think he can grow as a player and is professional enough to see the areas he needs to improve and do the work needed to realize those improvements.
Mallory: See above. Really, expectations were so low for Casspi this year that he’s far exceeding what we all expected from him this year. His D has been VERY good at times, showing physicality and using his size. Also, dude can seriously rebound.
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?
Tom: I’ll have a better answer after reading Nate’s next piece, but my suspicion is that this FA class is toxic. There are a whole bunch of guys that are about to get max or near max deals that would not be the 6th best player in a Heat/Thunder series. The fact that we seem willing to explore Tyreke Evans kinda sums everything up for me. I’m envious Danny Ferry nabbed Sweet Lou Williams for such an affordable deal. I’d like to see Chris Grant get that kind of value. If they do offer a ton of money to someone I hope it’s Millsap. Of course if they get Millsap then [Swings hammer at fingers so as not to mention baffling choice of Tr…fk0p[ajds;]
Dani: It depends on whether or not we trade Anderson Varejao. If we keep him, then we have to go after a max contract type of guy; in that scenario, we’re gunning for a decent seed in the playoffs. If we trade him, then our team is much further removed from the playoffs, and I would say we just use the mid-level.
Kevin: This is a loaded question, as Cleveland needs to bring on-board about $20 million of salary next season, and that must constitute a near-max player. There are enough role players and draft picks around to keep those cupboards full. The non-Howard / Paul / Bynum, near-max free agents are Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Josh Smith. For four years and $45 million, Millsap looks appealing. Of course, he plays the same position as Tristan Thompson. Ultimately, I really hope that Luke Walton’s expiring contract and maybe a draft pick or two can help facilitate a three team trade and bring Cleveland a strong new piece for 2013 – 2014. If Utah falls out of playoff contention, maybe a trade for Millsap can be arranged. The second-best bet to spend those dollars may be something like when the Pacers added David West for 2 years and $20 million in 2011.
Nate: See Monday’s article. With 20 million in cap room, the Cavs should be looking at one max guy, one or two mid tier guys and a vet minimum free agent that can help provide some leadership. With their cap situation, I’m hoping they can front load the contracts to lessen the impact when Kyrie is due for an extension.
Mallory: Both. We need to get deeper and older. More consistency from a guy who has 3-4 good years on his resume is a necessity. We also need spot-up shooters. A lot of them. At this point the Cavs have more than enough cap room to pay someone. The thing is, we don’t need a home run hitter, just someone who can do their thing at an exceptional level (a great defender, a shooter, etc. etc.) I haven’t even spent a ton of time looking at the FA list (it’s too early for that) but I know we HAVE to be active, no matter what.
Question 4: Is there another NBA team besides the Cavaliers that you enjoy following?
Tom: [using voice recognition] Who’s playing the Heat tonight? That team. Also, with the exception of a few years (mainly 2007) I have always loved the Spurs. I grew up a David Robinson fan and Manu Ginobili is my favorite player to watch today. The only thing I love more than Greg Popovich interviews are the way the Spurs play offense. If it weren’t for the Thunder channeling magic – as in, the 2009-Orlando-variety, the Spurs would have embarrassed the Heatles in the Finals and the ‘LeBron chokes’ narrative would be stronger than ever! ARGGHHH.
Dani: I love watching the Knicks play basketball, and I have since Carmelo Anthony was traded there. While he’s taken a lot of heat for his play the last year or so, his clock-eating offense has always seemed sort of beautiful to me. The silky midrange jumper, the elegant finishes around the rim…I’ve been quite the ‘Melo apologist over the last 12-15 months, so his role in reviving the Knicks franchise has held my attention- I think I’ve watched 12 out of 19 Knicks games, or something like that.
Kevin: Not a team; I try to watch one NBA game every day. I tape a game and fast-forward through free-throws, dead-balls, timeouts, etc. I like knowing what is going on around the league.
Nate: I enjoy all the other teams when they’re on. Most of them have something compelling to offer. I generally stick to the contenders in the East. But really, it’s anyone playing the Heat: so I enjoy the Knicks, Celtics, Bulls, etc. when they’ve got the axis of ego on the docket. There’s nothing I enjoy more than LeBron James’ loser face. Ticked off Kobe comes a close second. Yep. Yep. I’m a H8er 4 Ever.
Mallory: I’ve loved the Blazers for a while – dates back to the early Brandon Roy years. But they’re still fun to watch. It’s fun watching the Lakers just to see the circus. Who doesn’t love watching the Knicks? They’re unavoidable, especially in NYC. I’m SURE I’m forgetting teams (Houston, OKC, etc etc) but who has time for that?
Question 5: Has the poor start made you more supportive of keeping or trading Varejao?
Tom: Keeping. When healthy, the Cavs backcourt isn’t bad, and with Pargo in tow, depth is less of an issue. The frontcourt is a nightmare. The Cavs are undersized, have no above-the-rim finishers, paint protectors, or post players. If Varejao is traded, now you lose the league’s best rebounder (the Cavs only strength as a team right now), the only player on the team that has a prayer against the big bruisers of the league, and one of the game’s best pick and roll bigs. The Cavs would be an unmitigated disaster. Anderson Varejao plugs so many holes – and is the main reason the Cavs have been competitive in a lot of these games – he wins possessions. He should stay unless someone offers the Cavs something they can’t refuse, and if that something isn’t an all-star big, it should probably be refused.
Dani: I’ve taken a lot of flak for this already, and made my position clear in a rather elaborate manner, so I’ll keep it short. The Cavs are nowhere near playoff contention. Anderson Varejao is playing amazingly well, but he can’t keep it up forever. By the time the Cavs should be hitting 3-4 seed territory, he will be 33. Trade him now, and reap the benefits. Especially if those benefits are Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.
Kevin: For the right deal, anyone is tradeable, but…Keeping, because of Varejao’s strong start. At the beginning of the season, I ran through his place on Cavalier “All-Time” lists. Since the season started, he has passed Jim Brewer to move to 7th for defensive rebounds and Terrell Brandon to climb to 7th in Win Shares. He eclipsed two players to ascend to 9th in blocks, and this past weekend moved to 10th for career steals. I hope Varejao plays fifteen seasons for the Cavs, makes the playoffs again, and gets his jersey retired (also, next playoff appearance moves him into sole possession of first place all-time for that category).
Nate: The poor start has not changed my stance on Andy. In fact it’s reinforced the simple fact for me that this team has 2 very good players (Andy and Kyrie), 2 young players with upside (Waiters and Gee), and 3 players who can be good, but who we may have to wait for a while to develop (Zeller, Casspi, and TT). The rest of the players are end of the bench guys or strictly role players on a good team. When Kyrie and Waiters went down, the lack of guard play killed the team, and it’s been killing it since. But I’m confident the depth issues will be fixed next year (though not necessarily the defense). With my plan for the Cavs to be competitive next year and the colossal number of draft picks we have coming in the next few years, I’m not trading Andy unless we get a proven commodity in return, and I doubt there’s any player in the league with more value than Andy as a proven commodity.
Mallory: Like I said above, we do NOT need youth. How many draft picks can you use? Drafting players high up keeps you in perpetual rebuild. By this time next year we’ll have five guys from the top 20 on this team and potentially four taken in the top 5. That should be enough to build a young “core.” Andy is a leader and an all star caliber player. Getting rid of him, in my mind, would set us back years. For more on that check the debate that Dani, Nate, and I had.