David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
The Cavaliers bench has been catastrophic. Why its happening, and why finding upgrades won't be as difficult as you might think.
Coach Byron Scott has a really difficult time finding players to provide value off of the bench. Aside from Daniel Gibson, who is sporting a very healthy Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 16.5, things have been pretty rough. Without naming names, because it would just be mean, the other Cavs reserves have PERs of 11.1, 7.5, -4.3, 1.3, 11.2, 13.0 (ok Jeremy Pargo!) and -7.8. Dumpster. Fire.
Interestingly, the bench guys making the most money have been far and away the least helpful (if your goal is to win basketball games). Luke Walton and C.J. Miles are playing their way out of the NBA. I don't think Cavaliers fans are too sympathetic about Walton's situation; the man has made a lot money and won championships, and he will be fine. Miles, on the other hand, is incredibly likeable, bought into Cleveland, and is just apparently really bad at basketball (thus far, at least).
So how did it take only two weeks of basketball for optimism about Samardo Samuels, Jon Leuer, and even Omri Casspi totally collapse? Even Coach Scott during training camp was quoted as saying he had more depth this year than in his previous time in Cleveland. But really, it shouldn't have been that hard to see this coming.
Samardo was undrafted and is in his third year; he didn't show very much in the previous two years to think he could be a functioning NBA player on a consistent basis.
Jon Leuer was a second round pick who has some range, isn't that strong, isn't that athletic, and can't really defend.
Donald Sloan, undrafted.
Daniel Gibson, second round pick.
Miles, second round pick.
Walton, hasn't been productive in years.
Zeller is a rookie big man.
Most of these guys are either learning a new system, or as in the case of Samardo and Casspi, have proven unable to learn Coach Scott's system. In short, there is a sad combination of youth, inexperience, and a fundamental lack of talent.
I think Cavaliers fans have been spoiled in a small, but not insignificant way the past two seasons. Winning wasn't really a goal, so lots of young players like Alonzo Gee, Lester Hudson, and Samuels were able to get a lot of run, and show that they could do some NBA things. Gee even got a multi-year contract. There was this faith going into the year that Leuer or Sloan or Miles would end up being a diamond in the rough that only Chris Grant could see. And then the team would accumulate players who could either provide quality depth or serve as trade bait for when the team was truly ready to contend. Well so far, it doesn't look like that's going to happen this year.
So what happened this year? Well, the Cavaliers starters have gotten significantly better. Samardo isn't consistently coming into games with the team down by 10 anymore. He comes in and the team, sometimes, has a lead! This leads the fans to seeing Samuels differently. No longer are we just looking for flashes, something to get excited about. We want to win the game. And we want the bench to keep it close so we can watch Kyrie Irving be Kyrie Irving in the fourth quarter. But the continued lack of quality players provided by Grant to Coach Scott remains a key story. There are a few different explanations, and I don't really want to get into them now. Grant could have simply been off about Leuer and Miles and Samuels. (Ed. note: it's important to recall that Byron Scott has a good deal of input on the roster. He's the one that talked to Miles and convinced him to sign in Cleveland. Scott has said that he was much more confident looking down the bench during games this year. In short, they were both off on their evaluations.) He may have really wanted Batum and Bynum, and their pursuit led to missing out on other opportunities. He may still want the team to be losing. It is probably a combination of all three.
The important thing, though, is that Cleveland is not doomed to a bad bench forever. Cleveland could have used their cap space this summer on Batum and Jerryd Bayless, and all of a sudden it is a bench unit of Zeller, Gee, Gibson, and Bayless. A huge improvement. The Cavs could have signed Jodie Meeks and his three point shooting, and Andrei Kirilenko. Again, improved bench. None of these signings would have severely restricted their financial flexibility. Conversely, they could have held onto all four draft picks instead of packaging them to Dallas for Tyler Zeller. Trying to fix our depth with 2nd round guards is just not something I am ever going to be a fan of. Do they work out sometimes?Sure. It is the exception though, not the rule.
The Cavaliers will get another shot this summer to add to their depth, and this time I hope they take advantage. They will once again have two first round picks, and two second round picks. I have detailed the abundant cap space that they have in other threads and stories. Jerryd Bayless can opt out, and would make a fantastic backup point guard. The team needs shooters, and he could help. Upgrades on the wing, and another big would be nice. I firmly believe that the Cavaliers would be a serious threat in the playoffs if they had signed Kirilenko, Bayless, and a big like Kenyon Martin. The team didn't go that direction, but they will get another lottery pick and the chance again this summer. Grant and the Cavaliers are asking for your patience.