5 on 5: the NBA Finals and the Off-Season Conundrums

June 4th, 2014 by Nate Smith

Cleveland enters it’s most important off-season since 2009. The team has a litany of questions, story-lines, and unknowns… AND the NBA Finals are in the offing. With so much to talk about, we took it to our panel of bloggers to answer some important questions.

1.Who’s your pick for the finals? How many games? What’s going to be the biggest factor?

Ben Werth: Spurs in seven. We could rightfully go into great depth about the Spurs increased athleticism and lineup flexibility. We would be wise to consider Boris Diaw’s uncanny ability to check LeBron. We certainly should marvel at Kawhi Leonard’s destructive on-ball defense and growing offensive aggression.  But I must pick the Spurs because they swing the rock. There are games where we have seen them look old and baffled by suffocating length and blitzing defense. Those games are usually followed by basketball poetry. Even when Parker is dribbling for much of the clock, the other players are constantly moving to the appropriate new spot in their system. It is floor balance at its finest. The Spurs had the better team last year and lost to a great set of individual performances by Heat players. This year, the Spurs are fresher, even smarter, and playing a Heat team that has a false sense of Eastern Conference security. The shock the Heat will have after playing the ball-sticking Pacers will be severe. I must note that I have yet to predict the Heat to win the Finals. I’m look forward to evening my record to 2-2.

Mallory Factor: Spurs in seven. The biggest factor in this series will undoubtedly be the Spurs bench. Obviously Parker, Manu, and Duncan and Lebron, Wade, and Bosh are all extremely important players to this series, but I’d wager that the play of the Foreign Legion (particularly Belinelli and Diaw) will play just as big a role. Who saw either of those players playing such an important role on a championship caliber team three years ago?!

David Wood: Spurs in six. They’re better and I’m old school in the sense that I will never pick LeBron James to win anything after his “Decision.” Normally, I would say that Tony Parker’s ability to get into the paint and pass out to the arc to make Miami rush around would be the deciding factor of the series, but it’s Tim Duncan. After seeing Timmy in that last game against the Thunder, it’s hard not to think he isn’t just replaying that missed hook shot from the finals last year in his head every day. Tim Duncan is going to go throwback beast mode on the Heat.

Tom Pestak: Well, my head and my heart say the Spurs, so of course my gut is screaming that the Heat will again back into the championship somehow. Seriously, luckiest franchise in the history of sports. Refs handed them the 2006 Finals, they risked D-Wade’s prime years on the hopes that players would collude themselves together, the East has been historically weak ever since 2010, and they never EVER should have won the finals last year. We are one backboard busting LeBron James miss (and associated carom) away from the Heatles being 1-2 in Finals in which they were favored in all 3. Of course, now the narrative is that they have a chance to do something truly historic that will put them in the pantheon of great teams. So, yeah, Heat in 6 even though the Spurs are the superior team. Tony Parker will probably bit a shell of himself…ugh I can’t stand thinking about it.

Nate Smith: Heat in seven, epic heartbreak in San Antonio. Sadly, Dwyane Wade+healthy knee stinking of deer antler spray > injured Tony Parker. Wade is the storyline for the Heat. His shooting splits are ridiculous: .545/.462/.850 against the Pacers!? How about 19.8/4.3/4.7 points/rebounds/assists in 36 minutes? A Dwyane Wade that can hit threes just isn’t even fair. And don’t forget Wade’s ability to go Cobra Kai and “accidentally” knock a Spur out for the series. San Antonio features  the greatest power forward of all time, Old Man Riverwalk, plus the greatest bench player of all time, and the most underrated point guard of all time. Even with all that, they don’t have the best player in the series, or even second best player in the series. Add the greatest three point shooter in NBA history, and the scales tip towards the Heat. But make no mistake, this series features six players who are all time greats. It will be epic. I can’t wait.

 2. Have you “locked in” on a pick at the top of the draft, yet? Who? If not, what’s holding you back?

Nate: No. Every morning I wake up and wonder what the Cavs should do. One day I’m on Embiid. One day I’m on Wiggins. Today? I’m convinced the draft is four deep, and Dante Exum might end up being its best player. What amuses me is how passionate readers, fans, and writers are about their “choice.” I’ve never seen more amateur draft gurus, player development coaches, and spinal injury experts in my life. The argument over who the Cavs should draft will go down with some of the all time great debates: Manning versus Brady, Russell versus Jordan, Star Wars versus Star Trek, cats versus dogs, soup versus salad, Iron Chef Morimoto versus Iron Chef Sakai… And in this draft there’s at least four guys that could end up being transcendent. What’s holding me back? My fear that no matter what choice the Cavs make, it will be the wrong one. I’ve officially arrived as a Cleveland fan. Ask me again tomorrow.

David: Embiid is who the Cavs need to help the team continue forward, but the injury issues do worry me. I take solace in the fact that his body has only been playing basketball three years and that may need to get into total basketball shape. I’m confident Cleveland’s medical staff can help him stay healthy. They rehabbed Bynum who was thought to be a lost cause.

 Mallory: I thought I had, and then the combo of our staff, other writers, and the comment section bombarding me with so much varied opinion shook my confidence. Wiggins is still the safest best choice (and the obvious one, given the Cavs’ serious lack of anything resembling consistency at the 3 the last four years). But the more I research, scout, and read, the more I’ve convinced myself Embiid isn’t such a bad choice. While I’ll continue to be scared off by “can’t miss” centers with injury issues, he seems like a good, competitive, hardworking kid. Those are all traits of a winner, in my book. Just do me a favor, Cavs? Don’t pick the stretch four who can’t play D, ok? We saw how that worked out last year…

Ben: It’s rather simple. If the Cavs plan on keeping Kyrie, they have to take Embiid. Like every other rational person, I am terrified of a perpetually injured big man, but if the Cavs are going to maximize a team featuring Irving, a defensively dominant rim protector is an absolute necessity. If the doctors say it is a go, then make the pick and relax. I was totally behind a Wiggins pick until this week. I don’t worry that he will be a bust. I still anticipate that he will be an All-NBA performer, regardless of the noise about his passive personality. It’s just that big men are always “overpaid” for a reason. They are insanely valuable.

Tom: I was all Wiggins, then I watched some film and it reinforced some of the negative scouting reports, mainly, his rough handle and lack of go-to moves on offense.  He’s also rail thin, like Larry Hughes thin, and that worries me a bit.  So I jumped on the Embiid wagon after reading a few scouting reports, but my gut tells me that it should be Wiggins.  I’m just too terrified of drafting a traditional big man.  So many “can’t miss” centers missed terribly, and it’s really not a center’s league anymore.  (this isn’t a cliche it’s a fact)  As we saw with the Bynum experiment, integrating big men into the offense is very challenging.  Wiggins can play harassing D (his D looks really good on film) and leak out in transition for 2 years and it will help the team.  So I’m going with Wiggins – final answer.  It does bother me, however, that one of the driving motivations behind wanting Wiggins is his transcendent athleticism – when so many guys with that sort of athleticism can’t even stay in the league.  We like to point to Westbrook and LeBron and pretend like those guys aren’t tremendously talented – they are, the athleticism helps, but the game is about more than the sum of one’s upside.

3. Who should the Cavs hire as head coach?

Mallory: I’m all Karl all the way. A proven winner who can demand the respect of young guys based purely on his credentials? That’s more than both previous head coaches can say. Throw in the fact that Karl ran some seriously brilliant offenses in Denver (and Seattle – lets not forget that!) and he’s a perfect fit. I will say that my dear friend Robert Attenweiler made me seriously consider Luke Walton. If you could’ve only see the passion with which he spoke, you’d have been convinced too, my friends. Plus, if the Cavs want to go young, wouldn’t a guy Kyrie already respects be the natural fit?

David: If George Karl wants to coach the Cavs, the team has to take him.  He’s a proven coach and he has shown he can run a fast offense, which seems to be how the Cavs play the best right now.  Defensively, well…, he finds ways to win and that’s what’s important.  If defense is how he thinks the Cavs can win, he’ll make Cleveland into a great defending team. Lionel Hollins is a close second pick just because he has put some amazing defensive teams on the floor, but he most likely couldn’t get Kyrie or others to buy into that. The draft pick shouldn’t matter.  I want the team to build a culture, not a superstar.

Tom: George Karl.  If the report is true that he WANTS to coach the Cavs and the Cavs don’t want to hire him?  That’s insanity.  He’s won over 1100 games, he’s coached Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, and Ty Lawson, and he’s dealt with huge roster shake-ups (which the Cavs may be headed for).  Why are you going to take a flyer on someone when one of the greatest coaches in league history wants to coach your team?  Don’t overthink this.

Nate: Dan Gilbert and David Griffin. This coaching search is a joke so far. How can Alvin Gentry get a fourth strike? He’s had three winning seasons in 12 years with three different teams. How does Mark Price not get an interview? It’s baffling. Gilbert reportedly wants a coach who will listen to his input? Oy. This is only fair if the coach can give him input on property development, Fatheads, and running a mortgage company. I know, I’m railing against unsubstantiated rumors.  I’m sure Lue and Griffin are good coaches, and will be good head coaches some day, but why take the risk? There’s a freaking hall of fame head coach available — the greatest NBA coach yet to win a championship! Reading between the lines, Griffin and Gilbert appear to value comfort, cronyism, power, control, and input more than winning, so they should just coach the team.

Ben: George Karl and Donnie Nelson were in no small part responsible for the shift in NBA play. They continually pushed positional boundaries and pace before it became widely accepted. What I find interesting is that many people still have a negative connotation attached to Karl’s name. “His style can’t win in the playoffs” and so on. It has been proven emphatically that his style can be a wild success. Sure, it requires a rim protecting Big or some LeBron type god of basketball, but so do most systems. Karl is not like D’Antoni. He actually cares about defense and his teams are rarely bad defensive squads when adjusted for pace. Wiggins would fit just fine with Karl. His flexibility would provide some great lineup possibilities. Embiid has the requisite speed to get down the floor. The only real hangup would be Karl’s age and health history. If the Cavs go another way, I hope for all that is good and gracious that the fanbase isn’t subjected to Del Negro. Lue is an interesting candidate. I appreciated his fire as a player, but don’t know enough about him as a leader.

4. You’re David Griffin. What do you do about Kyrie Irving this summer?

David: Nothing. The Cavs should offer him a reasonable extension that they are comfortable with, hopefully it isn’t the max, and then play out the season. If he doesn’t sign an extension, it isn’t the end of the world. If the team really wants him, they could match whatever he’s offered in free agency and that’s that. If he’s that unhappy, he’ll take a qualifying offer at the end of the year, miss out on a bunch of money, look like a crazy person, and become a free agent the following season. Then another team can teach him defense and get fed up with him at multiple points throughout the season.

Ben: Kyrie isn’t a Max player on the court. He isn’t even a “low salary Max” player. His commitment to defense is a problem, but even a locked-in Kyrie can’t really defend his position. He has consistently rated as one of the worst defenders in the NBA. Yet, he is an incredibly marketable guy with an exhilarating offensive game and brand appeal. Whether we like it or not, these things matter.  The Cavs should still offer him the max. They need the leverage. If he signs it, he is making a commitment to the squad, the leaving rumors cease a bit, and the Cavs can field trades in a position of power. An unhappy Irving makes it difficult to get great value via trade. There are enough other teams that think Kyrie’s limited growth is because of some failing on Cleveland’s part. It wouldn’t be a difficult Max deal to get rid of. Essentially, winning the top pick of the draft has made Kyrie’s popularity expendable. Fans will want to see Embiid or Wiggins, regardless.

Nate: Cavs have completely mismanaged this situation. If they were “down” on Kyrie, they never should have ever let it out. They should have contended that he was a no-doubt max player, and then they should have shopped him. And I was on the “trade Kyrie” band-wagon very early, but the negative Nancies have really taken over the conversation. It’s gone a bit over the edge and now they’ve destroyed their advantage. If Cleveland can’t get good value for him they should just hold on to him.  That being said, the “best value” for Kyrie is a pick in the top four+another player. Someone threw out the idea of the No. 4 and Tobias Harris from Orlando the other day, but I say shoot higher: Thaddeus Young, the number three, a future first, and a complete collection of Galaxy Rangers action figures for Kyrie and Tristan.

Tom: What I don’t do, is make a panic move to please him.  The Cavs need not fall victim to the same fawning that the fans and the rest of the world have succumbed to with regards to Uncle Drew.  If “all-star game MVP” and “YouTube sensation” and “sick handles” is all that inhabits your resume, you can do better.  This is nothing like trying to convince LeBron James to stay, so there can be a plan B, and C, and D.  If Kyrie wants out, trade him to Minnesota or Milwaukee or Siberia.  Build around Wiggins, the fans will be patient, it’s Cleveland – if a town can wait 50 years it can wait 53.  If Kyrie wants to play here and shows an interest in things like playing defense, not getting coaches fired, not fighting with other players on the team, and not whining about the media, then figure out what his value is and offer him a contract that reflects that.  Don’t give him the max just because.  He’s not a max player.  Don’t make a decision based on putting butts in the seats, that’s silly, the Spurs have been selling out for decades with the most entertaining group of humble, team-oriented complementary pieces, and they would never give Kyrie the max because “it’s Kyrie”.  That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  In general, think, “What Would San Antonio do?” and try to adhere as closely as possible to that.  If Kyrie doesn’t fit the culture you are trying to establish then trade him, his massively ineffective potential (to date), and get a major haul from it while some other Ballmer-type overpays like hell for his handles.

Mallory: This one is easy, and anyone who doesn’t answer this quickly and simply is WAY over-thinking (and probably losing their marbles). If you’re the Cavs, you offer (and sign) Kyrie to the max. No questions or arguments about it. Two time all stars (in three years, and one where he WON all star MVP) don’t come along often. He’s a phenomenal talent who needs smart leadership. Stop trying to undervalue him.

5. The Cavs have $40 million in possible salary space. Name two guys not named LeBron James, that Cleveland should go after. 

Ben: Kyle Lowry should be at the top of many Free Agent wishlists. He has the fight and competitive spirit that the Cavs have sorely lacked.  The likelihood of him leaving Toronto is rather low after his 2013-2014 season/postseason masterpiece. At 28, he will probably tail off by the end of any substantial contract, so a little creativity would be wise. With that in mind, a heavily front-loaded contract might peak his interest without handcuffing the future. His playoff performance validated much of what League Pass junkies already knew. Lowry is an absolute bull dog and a top five point guard.

Great playoff performances can often lead teams to vastly overpay a breakout player. I might be a victim of that with Mike Scott of the Hawks. He is streaky and his percentages aren’t endearing, but he absolutely owned various moments of the Hawks brief playoff run.  His lightning fast catch and release and his length allow him to get shots off on a regular basis.  He is also a good enough rebounder to play at PF and quick enough to guard most SFs.  He is restricted, so more contract wizardry would be necessary. I can’t imagine Ferry would let him go easily.

Mallory: If the Cavs draft Embiid, the obvious choice is Gordon Hayward.  Sure he’s a RFA, but I’m certain, for the right price, he can be had.  A long swing who can defend well and shoot the long ball with elite skill, Hayward is beyond perfect for the Cavaliers.  Imagine the floor spacing!  Imagine the transition D!  Imagine his Bieber hair!!!  A poor man’s choice here would be Ariza, who basically does everything Hayward does, but at an older age.  I’d miss the Bieber hair, though.

If the Cavaliers go with Wiggins, the move is to pursue Greg Monroe.  As it stands, he’s somewhat redundant in Detroit, and before Drummond, was surprisingly efficient.  Monroe is long, big body, who rebounds well and isn’t atrocious at D.  The Cavs have lacked all of the above consistently the last four years.  The poor man’s choice here would be Jordan Hill, who isn’t particularly exciting on first glance,  but plays his butt off and does a little bit of everything just well enough to make an impact.

Tom: Channing Frye – had an awesome season in Phoenix (top 50 in SWAgR), will be close to the Cleveland Clinic in the event that his heart conditions ever flare up again, and he’s exactly what the Cavs need – a big that spaces the floor. More effective than Spencer Hawes for (presumably) less money, but maybe less Patriotism.

Josh McRoberts – a big man that drains 3s, passes like a wizard, doesn’t turn the ball over, and manages to not be a liability on defense or the glass – YES PLEASE. McRoberts made 3 million last year, he’s worth at least double that. He’s basically the Boris Diaw of the East.

C.J. Miles – when he was on the court the Cavs were at their best. He fits all the core pieces, provides floor spacing and athleticism, and is in his prime. If he can be had at under 4 million a season this should be a no brainer.

Also, the Cavs have no room for him with Irving/Waiters/Jack/Delly, but if one or more of those guys were jettisoned this offseason the Cavs should bring back Shaun Livingston pronto. All the dude did was make me look like a genius all season, winding up 4th on the Nets in plus/minus while he played in 76 games. He’s proven (for over 5 years now) that the debilitating injury he suffered is no longer a concern. Teams continue to doubt it, judging by him anemic contracts. I said it last year, I’ll say it again, the guy has made money, he wants stability in the NBA. Offer him a 4 year deal worth ~2.5-3.5 million a year.

Nate: Apparently, not everyone on our staff can count to two. Anyway, Jeff Adrien: an off-the-beaten-path guy. Adrien’s an unrestricted six-foot-seven bruising rebounding specialist who grinded to a 17.5 PER, a .134 WS/48, and an 18.2% rebound rate (top 15 in the league). He played like a pro in a moribund season in Milwaukee, and would be an easy get. The Cavs need an enforcer, and this guy can be it. He can be their Udonis Haslem, their Amir Johnson, their Junk Yard Dog, their Luca Brasi… Rebounds, defense, hard fouls: teams that win need a guy like that.

Second, C.J. Miles. He can play either wing spot, his defense is underrated, and he fits in. He was one of the “pros” on the team last year. The Cavs aren’t going to be able to sign a better free agent small forward. Contract-year Trevor Ariza is an upgrade over @Masfresco. First-year-of-new-contract Trevor Ariza won’t be.

David: This is all dependent on if the team drafts Wiggins. If they don’t draft Wiggins, they should overpay for Paul Pierce. Paul Pierce is a winner, and the Cavs need a guy on the team who has played multiple seasons above .500 and who would yell at younger players. He can also play the power forward spot like he did in Brooklyn.

If the team passes on Wiggins and takes Embiid, they should make an offer to Thabo Sefolosha. His defense along with Embiid is going to make the team pretty suffocating. If Embiid can draw defenses in, I’m confident Thabo can get his three going again. If he still can’t make threes, he can still stop another player on the opposing team.

I also have to throw in Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw as guys to pursue. They’re Spurs and maybe they could infect some of the younger Cavs with that type of “just win” mentality. Diaw is a great mentor for Anthony Bennett because they both are can be pretty chunky.