I enjoyed Colin’s Monday missive, metaphorically comparing the soon-finished season to unassembled clips of a movie. I appreciated that sentiment even more while contemplating what to say myself about the year past.
What did this season mean? On the first day of winter, when Cleveland lost to Indiana, a third straight double-digit defeat, things looked bleak: Five wins and twenty-three losses; Varejao injured; Tristan struggling at the rim and Dion not driving there; a sad bench and questionable line-up decisions; Luke Walton stumbling around as the depressing and incapable back-up power forward. We took solace in the reasons of the compressed schedule, clustered with road tilts, and Kyrie’s early injury. By December 21st though, with a holiday break upcoming, and an easing schedule, it was time to find a few more wins; I asked for twenty. (if they win Wednesday, the team reaches that threshhold…not exactly as contemplated though.)
And then the next night, they won, and the day after Christmas, another present for the fans. Victories started trickling in; Kyrie with 33 and Tristan with 11 & 14 against Atlanta; the same duo combining for 50 points and 17 rebounds against Portland; and eventually Irving scoring 107 points during a late-January three-game winning streak. And things were just starting to get fun. Tristan’s basket of tricks suddenly overflowed: running righty hooks, push shots, fancy dribble drives…in January, he averaged 15 & 11 with 53% shooting and 68% from the line. Combined with his standard defensive effort, it was a revelation.
A trade with Memphis brought a revitalized bench, and over one five-week stretch, the team won 10 of 16 games. The Herculoids were birthed, as Luke Walton averaged an assist every four minutes, joining Shaun Livingston, Wayne Ellington, CJ Miles and Marreese Speights for a frolicking good time. They were an offensive force, orchestrating pretty two-man games, cutting and passing with aplomb.
Another three game winning streak ensued, first with Kyrie netting 35 against title-contending Oklahoma City, before he, Dion and Tristan tag-teamed towards 114 points on 70% true shooting over two games. And the train kept-a-rolling, with the bench destroying all-comers, Dion averaging reasonably efficient 20 points per 36 minutes for ten weeks, and Tristan bullying opposing front-lines. Over a thirty game stretch, the youngsters and their reinvigorated veteran brethren played glorious five-hundred basketball.
And there was Kyrie. In January & February, he posted 24 points per night, shooting a sublime 47 / 44 / 91. For a first-timer, he owned all-star weekend. Breaking ankles in the Shooting Stars game, destroying scrubs in the three-point contest, and scoring fifteen with the Big Boys on Sunday. Of course, this all occurred before his 21st birthday.
Things looked good at the Q, but then Kyrie got hurt, followed by Dion…then OH NO!! Luke Walton!! They were roughed up by Indiana, then lost an absolutely epic short-handed battle versus Miami. Things unravelled quickly; a forty-point destruction at the hands of Houston; three double-digit losses to fellow-lottery teams; a historic blown-lead at Indiana; and finally a near-Norris Cole triple-double on Fan Appreciation Night. Add it up, and the computation sums to two wins in a month, and a season ending in spectacular implosion. To some extent, it all serves as microcosm for Byron Scott’s other head coaching stints: a rapid rise behind an elite point guard, followed by an equally accelerated and historic collapse, infused with reports of player discontent and exasperating lack of effort.
What does it all mean? I don’t know. We are all amateur documentarians. I’ll still explore some preferences. Letting Coach Scott go sounds imminent and seems right. Moving through the next seven months with a universally acknowledged short-leash imparts detrimental effects all-around. Find a replacement, let him start gaining the core’s confidence, and let that young group start immersing themselves in new offensive and defensive wrinkles.
For personnel, I am fine with staying the course. Draft Noel, Oladipo, Porter…whoever the front-office likes at their top-five pick. Maybe trade the 16th pick for a suitable bench player; shoot, Indiana got George Hill for the 15th pick in the last “weak” draft. Oklahoma City is near the luxury tax, and would maybe consider taking the Spurs-route; 16th pick for three-and-D ace Thabo Sefolosha? Maybe that’s not the right move, but adding experience and defense should take priority over additional rookies. Maybe with the 2nd rounders, take a flier on a point guard & a young-big, and send them to the D-League for a year; perhaps an in-house back-up for Kyrie can be groomed.
With an added lottery pick, next year’s roster is Kyrie, Dion, Tristan, Zeller, Varejao, Miles, Gee, and top-five rookie. Stir in some random youngsters teetering between the end of the bench and the D-League, and a minimum of four legitimate NBA bench players need added. My preference is keeping Ellington and Livingston and finding a cheap, new big…maybe Gustavo Ayon? And finally, as a twelfth man, another point guard…I suggested A.J. Price last year for the minimum; for today, let’s roll with that. There still may not be enough shooting, but ironing out a lineup for next year is not what we’re here to talk about today.
With only one major shake-up, I’m very hopeful for the 2013 – 2014. With the following things happening, I think a leap is in order next year:
- Kyrie plays at least 70 games and resumes his starward trajectory, and we all forget about his April shooting percentages of 35 / 28 / 90 (hey, it’s Dion Waiters from December!) In all likelihood, if good health, offensive mastery, and defensive commitment don’t come from Kyrie, this incarnation of the Cavs never reaches the NBA pinnacle. How is that for lofty expectations?
- We get 2013 Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters for a full season, and the 2012 versions disappear like shadows at night.
- Alonzo Gee cannot rank second on the team in minutes for a third straight season. I don’t know if it’s Ellington, Miles, the lottery pick, or a 3-and-D free agent, but Gee needs reigned-in towards 15 – 20 minutes per game. The player between Waiters and Tristan must be a knock-down shooter.
- Over the last seven seasons Anderson Varejao averaged 1500 minutes. Through controlling his minutes and games played, he needs to reach that threshold next year.
- With a lottery selection and picking-up Miles’ option, there are eight players under contract next year. The off-season free agent haul should include four-ish players and needs to eclipse last year’s crew of Miles, Kevin Jones, Leuer, Pargo, Harangody, and Micheal Eric (those last four guys plus Manny Harris started for Miami on Monday night, right?) I’m not advocating for a splashy move, but dole-out $10 – $12 annually to four guys on relatively short contracts (1 – 3 years). Just make sure that the twelve guys sitting on the bench on opening night are trusted when called upon, and that they bring maturity (and some shooting and / or passing and / or defense).
- Find a new coach. Next year the team starts fresh.
Personally, that relatively minimal level of improvements drive the team towards the post-season. But maybe a huge personnel move will happen between now and October. We’ll wait and see. For now, thankfully 2012 – 2013 is nearly complete. Next week, we can all dive fully into the draft.