The Cavaliers blatantly tanked at the end of last season to get a better draft pick. With the additions of Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, and other key players, the Cavs may have an opportunity to make the playoffs. Two FearTheSword writers debate what's best for the team in the longterm --- playoffs or lottery?
A couple weeks ago I got to thinking that I hadn't harassed a Fear the Sword writer with argumentative emails in awhile. John and I spent most of last season debating the merits of tanking, and ultimately, I think he won the debate. There was simply not much benefit to the Cavaliers finishing 9th last season as opposed to 4th. In the meantime, we may have picked up a guy in Dion Waiters who can really push the Cleveland Cavaliers to another level. But this year, in my opinion, the tanking must stop. John thinks another top 5 or 6 pick is necessary. Here is our unaltered back and forth on the subject.
I trust your summer went well. As we get closer to the season I find I am talking myself into the idea of the Cavaliers as a playoff team, and maybe even a slightly dangerous one. Kyrie Irving only averaged 30 minutes a game last season, a number that figures to go up. People are in near-unanimous agreement that he is on the verge of superstardom. We replaced Anthony Parker at the Shooting Guard position with Dion Waiters and, regardless of what you think of the pick, he will almost certainly be a serious improvement over Parker and Daniel Gibson. Miles and Gee will limit Omri Casspi's minutes, Tristan Thompson should improve, Anderson Varejao should play more games, and Tyler Zeller should be better than Semih Erden and Ryan Hollins and Samardo Samuels. Maybe Jon Leuer will be helpful. Is this highly speculative? Of course! But here is my argument: We have a young core that includes a done-deal star, and a couple wild cards in Thompson and Waiters. The only way those guys are going to get better is by playing heavy minutes with our best players, Varejao and Irving. It is time to stop collecting young players who may or may not pan out. It is time to push these guys and really try and win games and see if we can get to the playoffs. So my questions are: Do the Cavaliers need another top-6 pick if they are going to win an NBA championship? Would another year of tanking be ok? Are the Cavaliers ready to make a playoff push? Under what circumstances would you be alright with the Cavs being less than competitive?
Bring on the venom. I'm in full out get a top 6 pick again in the 2013 NBA Draft mode. While the Cavaliers do truly have one of the more enviable young rosters in the league to actually be a contender instead of just becoming "a nice team" this group flat out isn't good enough. I guess I'm not really sure how the Cavaliers are going to do it because their team is too good to be that bad especially with some other NBA teams really bottoming out lately. It's easy to see Kyrie Irving becoming one of the best 15 players in the NBA but does anyone else on the roster strike you as someone who can be in the top 40 or so? There isn't anyone right now to me, although I don't like to give anyone credit until they actually do something so maybe I'm selling Dion Waiters short at this point. I guess to me it's fine to toil down at the bottom for one more year because when you look at how many other Milwaukees and Minnesotas there are out there it's plain and simple to see that when the Cavs get good they have to be ready to go for it. It is very, very difficult to acquire someone such as Kyrie Irving and when a team in a low priority market grabs one they've simply got to have the patience and confidence to do what's right. I find it hard to believe that Irving-Waiters-Thompson is going to sniff the Eastern Conference Finals without some major improvement. It's going to be extremely difficult to add another piece to the roster via trade or free agency so the best bet to grab another All-Star caliber player is to get one from the Draft and then hope that Waiters or Thompson (or both!) becomes one as well.
No venom coming. This is a real debate. As Ben pointed out in his article, Kyrie says it's a playoff team. Coach Scott isn't so certain. Some people think that the Oklahoma City model is the way to go, and that would probably mean another top 6 pick (OKC took Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russel Westbrook and James Harden, of course). Sam Amico mentions the Boston Celtics getting better via trades and says the Cavaliers could go that route. One thing that isn't mentioned though is that the first time the Thunder made it to the playoffs, they were the 8th seed. You don't just wake up with a team that wins 20 games, add in a top 5 draft pick, and wow, the conference finals just landed on my doorstep.
And for that reason I think it would be really healthy for the Cavaliers to push for a 7th or 8th seed this year. Healthy in the sense that it would probably mean that our players stayed healthy, and there are some who are convinced that Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao have durability issues, but also healthy in that it would probably mean Dion Waiters and/or Tristan Thompson perhaps can be top 40 players in the NBA. There are multiple ways to get better in the NBA that don't involve getting another stud. Developing the young core we already have, trading the multiple first round picks we have for better first round picks, trading our first round picks for established players. I will admit none of the options are a sure thing, but hoping to hit a home run with another draft pick isn't a sure thing either. Aggressively trying to win and put the team in situations to win and lose tough games would be great for the development of the team.
One last thing, and this probably deserves its own post, but this idea that you need three stars to win in the NBA just doesn't strike me as being correct. Miami and Los Angeles are not getting any younger, and it remains to be seen if OKC as constructed can win a title. They probably can, and that isn't the debate I am trying to start. But, I really believe that a souped up version of the 2004 Detroit Pistons is still capable of winning a couple titles the way the NBA is set up. Kyrie Irving could be Billups on steroids, and then its about developing better than average players and them all buying in defensively and playing efficient. It is what the Bulls were trying to do, only they couldn't find another scorer to compliment Derrick Rose. Waiters projects as a guy who could be that scorer.
I will give you the final word, as this is already way too long.
I'm going to have to agree with your opinion of Kyrie Irving as he's about to blow up in terms of national exposure. Well, it might be hard as the Cavaliers won't be on TV and he doesn't throw down crazy dunks but we'll give it some time.
I guess the real thing that we're debating here is whether all three of Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller can become star players. While we do have a certain star on the roster it's going to take stellar development over the next year from each of these three players (or anyone else on the roster) to convince me that this group has a chance to be taken seriously as constructed.
It's hard to be sold on all three of those guys becoming players to build around at this point of course because two of them haven't even scored a bucket yet. I absolutely think the Cavaliers are going to be the 7-9th best team in the Eastern Conference this year so my dreams of them getting an early lottery pick are fairly wild but I really can't think of the downside of getting another player who can slot in right away in the team next summer.
This Cavaliers team is going to be the most enjoyable one to watch in the next few years because there are actually multiple players whose night in and night out performance are going to receive scrutiny from us as we attach ourselves to their daily progress. Even though the team isn't going to contend for anything serious there will rarely, if ever, be a night that this young and hopeful squad isn't worth watching. I sure hope next year's NBA Draft makes this team even more exciting.