Ever since July 8, “The Decision” has been reshaping the NBA day by day. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ fall from grace was almost instantaneous and the Miami Heat have now been elevated to some god-like status before either team has even played a single minute on the court. Enough has been written, blogged, tweeted, facebooked, etc. about the Heat; so much so, that there should be a moratorium on any further Heat discussion until gameday in late October. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what the Cavs can do right now. NOT from the perspective of any analyst or “expert”, but from the point of view of a die-hard Cavs fan, who’s been intimately familiar with the NBA for years now.
There seem to be 3 critical issues facing the Cavs:
1) They’re a team built for and around Lebron. With the King now gone, aren’t they just a bunch of serfs?
2) There’s no real talent on the team. This ties in to the first issue, except that it’s a lie. There are two former All Stars, who will most likely be starters next season. Compared to teams like the Timberwolves, who have already accepted their position at the bottom of the league through a quaint newspaper ad, are the Cavs really that badly off?
3) What should the organization do next?
First, if anyone has even the slightest notion that the Cavs were not built around Lebron these last seven years, just ask any Clevelander about the rash of jersey burnings following “The Decision”. That should amply dissuade any of you from such a silly thought. Now that he’s gone, team synergy seems to have left with him. Albeit, Lebron wasn’t the best 3-point shooter, or the best rebounder, or even the best foul shooter; however, he was the best scorer, had the most assists, had amazing chase-down blocks, and did rebound and hit the 3 quite well. When a guy who averaged ~ 30, 8, and 7 leaves your team, you’ve got a problem. Just for kicks, let’s go over a few random stats/facts about Lebron:
-He averaged more assists than any small forward in the history of the NBA, and he was the SMALL FORWARD. Our point guard, Mo Williams, didn’t even come close to that average.
-He spread the floor more so than any other Cavs player. Guys like Hickson and Varejao would feed off of him. Easy layups and great alley-oops were an integral part of Lebron’s game.
-He recorded more triple doubles in a season than all the other Cavs players combined. And combined, the other Cavs players totaled 0 triple doubles.
With him gone, what are the Cavs to do? Sure, Mo can feed the ball to Hickson and Varejao like Lebron did, but does any other Cavalier have the same court vision that Lebron had?
Let’s also remember that the Cavs lost Shaq and Z. Granted, neither were the biggest of contributors, but Shaq could still get a double-double and Z did have his jump shot, which was however sporadic. That’s three All-Stars gone in one summer. Ouch!
Mo can score and get assists. Jamison can rebound and shoot. Hickson can rebound and hopefully improve his jump shot. Andy can also do the same. But who’s the go-to-guy? If the game is tied 84-84 apiece with the Cavs inbounding with 3.4 seconds left, who gets the ball? Mo? Jamison? Both were All-Stars. Andy? He did hit the first 3-pointer of his career last season. I think you’re starting to see the problem…
But is it really as bad as it seems? Most analysts have the Cavaliers at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, if not the league. I, personally, think that’s a stretch. Some writers have claimed that with the best player in the league gone from the Cavs, they’re got nothing left. Others argue that just because Lebron left doesn’t mean that the other bad teams in the NBA just got better. While neither position is spot-on accurate, both have valid points. Yes, the Cavs lost virtually all their star power in one long and painful summer, but they can still compete.
The problem is that many other teams that were considered terrible last season have gotten better. In the East alone, New Jersey will win a lot more games. They’ve finally got some roster depth. The Knicks have a good chance at making the playoffs for the first time in a decade. The Wizards can use their magic to claw up the Eastern ranks, provided Gilbert Arenas can keep his guns off the court, and the rest of the team can stay healthy. We all know asking Arenas to both put away his guns and stay healthy is too much. The Bucks will almost certainly make the playoffs. Chicago has improved significantly with quite a few new players. The Celtics, Magic, and Hawks are pretty much guaranteed top seeds, as is Miami. What does that leave for the Cavs? Sure, they’re not a bad team, but in a competitive conference that has seen numerous improvements, is there room for a playoff berth for the Cavaliers? I’m honestly not sure.
Better idea! Let’s just lose every game and bank on the lottery. The only risk is that the Cavs pull a “Nets” and end up getting the third pick after nearly setting an NBA record for futility. Clearly, the draft lottery isn’t the way to go in this case. So what should the organization do next?
The answer is REBUILD. Chris Grant has never openly said anything about rebuilding, but when you sign Joey Graham to be starting power forward potential, your team is obviously in rebuilding mode. Getting Sessions and Hollins wasn’t a bad idea. Getting rid of Delonte also probably helped team chemistry a bit. However, as it stands, the Cavs are a team in search of an identity. Grant has said several times about using the trade exception acquired from Lebron’s sign and trade to get a great player at the deadline. Or, he could break it up on several smaller players. Or the Cavs could target the free agents next summer, like Carmelo Anthony. That would be ironic seeing as how Carmelo’s currently trying to get out of his contract year in Denver, and it’s clearly working.
The only thing we can do now is wait and see how the season progresses. There’s no title in store for Cleveland this year, but at the very least, there is a team in search of redemption and success!