The Cavs win the draft lottery

May 18th, 2011 by John Krolik

Clementine: I had you pegged, didn’t I?

Joel: You had the whole human race pegged.

Clementine: Hmm. Probably.

Joel: I still thought you were gonna save my life… even after that.

Clementine: Ohhh… I know.

Joel: It would be different, if we could just give it another go-round.

Clementine: Remember me. Try your best; maybe we can…

…Joel: I don’t see anything I don’t like about you.

Clementine: But you will! But you will, and I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that’s what happens with me.

Joel: Okay.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

So here we are, eight years later. After all the hope, the triumph, the heartbreak, the bitterness, and a truly awful season of basketball, we return again to the beginning. The #1 pick in the draft.

Only this time, the team is prepared like it wasn’t before. The 2nd player the Cavs take in this draft will be considerably better than Jason Kapono. Anderson Varejao isn’t Carlos Boozer or Ricky Davis. This time, the team is ready to do things the right way from day one.

Of course, Kyrie isn’t LeBron. Maybe that’s the best part, more likely the worst one. But the team has the best thing it could have hoped for: a fresh start. Here are a few more scattered thoughts:

– Kyrie Irving is the guy. I hope there will be no real debate on this. He’s one of two players in the draft with both great production and great athletic tools, and he’s the one with a position. And it happens to be the most important position on the floor.

The “rap” on Irving is that he doesn’t have “superstar potential,” but ever since those new hand-check rules went into effect, hyper-fast guards who know how to score have been consistently surprising people. Marvin Williams was supposed to have more star potential than Chris Paul. A lot of people thought Beasley had more star power than the reigning MVP.

I’m expecting Irving to be “safe,” meaning he’ll step in and flirt with top-10 point guard status fairly soon, but I think he has a better chance of being one of the best players in the league in three or four years than most people do. I am absolutely itching for the Kyrie Irving era to begin in Cleveland.

– I cannot stress enough how important patience will be going forward. Kyrie can be built around, and the team has some pieces in place, but this team will be a work in progress for at least another year, and it must be treated as such. We learned that lesson at the expense of the poor Clippers tonight.

The Clippers made what seemed like a completely logical trade at the deadline: they cut salary and traded for a point guard whose skills compliment those of their budding franchise player’s. It ended up blowing up in their face, hard, to the point where I can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt that the Cavs prevented the Irving/Gordon/Griffin era from launching in Clipperland. (Not a huge twinge, especially since that team isn’t going anywhere until they can get a coach who will make Blake buy in on defense, but a twinge.)

The point isn’t that the Clippers made an indefensible trade: they made their bet after flopping a set with a rainbow flop on the board, the Cavs had two spades in their hand, and they ended up hitting a flush on the river. (My poker is a bit shaky, but I’m pretty sure the odds of the Cavs coming out with that pick were even worse than what I just described.)

The point isn’t that the Cavs’ 2.9% chance ended up coming through — it’s that the Clippers, a team in no position to make a legitimate playoff run in the next season or two, made a move that took away from their upside for a short-term gain.

Teams in the Cavs and Clippers’ position should NEVER, EVER DO THAT. The move blew up in the Clippers’ face in the lottery in reality — maybe it would have ended up blowing up if the pick they traded turned into the 8th pick, and Jan Vesely ended up becoming an absolute monster.

The point is that the Clippers should know about far Mo Williams, Vinny Del Negro, Blake Griffin, and Eric Gordon are going to take them, and Griffin and Gordon are good enough so that they should have dared to aim higher and been willing to risk one or two years of underperforming the kind of expectations a talent like Griffin brings. The Clippers’ pick revitalized the Cavs’ franchise — they lesson they should learn from the trade that got it will be just as important.

– Next season is not the season. The season after that may not be the season. But there is progress that can be made, and it’s progress that should be made at the correct pace. I’m actually hoping for a 35-win season next year, with about 12 games where Irving goes off, everything clicks, and we see the team’s potential, which will lead to another high draft pick in a better draft before the team really gears up to become a contender in the East again.

– As for the #4 pick, I really have no idea at this point. (DARN YOU, HARRISON BARNES.) Walker and Knight are the guys I feel best about overall, but that would be a crowded backcourt, and there’s only room for one point guard. Valanciunas and Kanter are both question marks, and I have concerns about the former’s ability to stretch the floor for Andy and the latter’s athleticism. Biyombo and Andy would make a heck of a defensive frontcourt, and I can see using Hickson in spurts to make them both work, but he’d be a bit of a reach. Vesely fits a need, but he’s both a question mark and a reach.

All I really have to say about the #4 pick is that the Cavs should go with fit ONLY AS A TIEBREAKER. The team isn’t good enough to be all that concerned about fit yet. If they feel strongly that one player will be objectively better than another, that’s the player they should take, regardless of position. I call this the “Take Al Horford instead of Mike Conley” rule, because I’m too nice to call it the “Trade down and take Martell Webster instead of Chris Paul because you already have Sebastian Telfair” rule.

As the Cavs look to rebuild, I think the Thunder/Bulls model is the one they should be following. Neither team rushed its rebuilding process or forced any short-term moves, and now they’re built around:

– Offensive weapons at the point who can both score and run the offense (Assuming Irving pans out, check.)

– Wing players who can be relied on as scoring threats (GAPING HOLE — DARN YOU, HARRISON BARNES.)

– Great defensive frontcourts who can finish what guards and wings create offensively(halfway there with Varejao, and the #4 pick could be huge for filling this hole)

– A coach who has a system from day one, especially on defense, and has a plan for how his team wins basketball games. (I have my doubts about Byron Scott — extreme doubts — but I’m willing to see what he can do with a ┬áreal basketball team.

Great role players are important as well, but those are the main things, and they can’t be forced. The Cavs are still missing a frontcourt piece and a major wing piece, and need a better system than the one they had next year. Those things won’t happen overnight, and the Cavs’ management shouldn’t try and make them.

That’s all I have for tonight. This is a great night, because for the first time in a long time, it really feels like tomorrow will be a brighter day for the Cavaliers. Remember that feeling as the season progresses.