A lot of things happened in 2012. The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. They saw Kyrie Irving erupt and win the Rookie of the Year. They also lost a lot of games. But for me, the best part of the year was during the offseason. Despite the fact that Kyrie broke his hand before the Summer League started, it was one of the best weeks of my life. No, the Cavs didn't play particularly well and it's not like Waiters or Zeller lit up the competition -- but it was still awesome. Why? Because it's representative of where this team is currently at.
This is a rebuilding, young team. This is a team that lacks a true identity. This is a team that desperately trying to find something that works. What happens on a night to night basis is anybody's guess (it's pretty hard to count on 20 year olds to perform consistently). Every game presents an opportunity for Tristan Thompson to improve. Or for Jeremy Pargo to grab hold of that backup point guard spot. The 2012 Cleveland Cavaliers were defined by opportunity, potential, surprises, mistakes, and development. And at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, you will find nothing but those things.
SB Nation rented a house for a bunch of us bloggers. I met around 15 of my fellow SB Nation writers and we consumed nothing but bacon, beer, and basketball for seven days. When we weren't at the arena, bouncing back and forth between the two courts, we were sitting around the living room and discussing the basketball that we had watched earlier that day. The Cavaliers were my main focus, but it was a fantastic opportunity to watch and talk to so many young players and writers.
Damian Lillard showed off what he could do and has carried it over to the regular season. Josh Selby was a monster and, uh, didn't carry it over to the regular season. Dion Waiters struggled mightily, but definitely learned from it. Byron Scott publicly called Waiters' conditioning, prompting Waiters to get in shape by the time training camp started. Tristan Thompson showed flashes of confidence and strength on both ends of the floor. And we're just now starting to see that come out at the NBA level. Tyler Zeller looked fantastic. Samardo Samuels was skinny. Donald Sloan was mediocre. And not all of those things last more than one play. That's the beauty of Summer League and it really makes you realize what a fickle game this is -- especially when you're 20 years old. Zeller was dominating skinny post defenders, but quickly found out that the regular season is a different beast. Waiters toasted Kendall Marshall, but had trouble finishing at the rim and hitting jumpers -- the same things that have proved difficult for him at the NBA level.
And while it means that the Cavaliers didn't have such a great 2012 season as far as winning is concerned, this team is very similar to that Summer League experience. Each game is a new slate and provides a new opportunity for someone else. You can look at Byron Scott's inconsistent rotations and be frustrated, but the reality of the situation is that not many plays have earned consistent minutes. Jon Leuer got some minutes early in the season, then he got sent down to Canton. Then Kevin Jones got a shot. Luke Walton got a chance at the beginning of the year, was terrible, and then got another chance. C.J. Miles was one of the worst players in the NBA for the first two weeks of the season, but then he can explode for 33 points and singlehandedly keep Cleveland in a game.
Soon, I hope we don't have to worry about Summer League anymore. That will mean that we're a pretty good, established team. But for now, it's an amazing experience. I was able to talk to most of the Cavs' players and was fascinated by each conversation. Each guy has a different mindset and different level of confidence. Some just want to succeed on an individual level and some are primarily focused on the team. Some are looking to the short term and others are looking at the bigger picture.
As 2012-13 season progresses, some of those things start to fade away. Several players that played with Cleveland in Las Vegas are no longer with the team. Some of them have taken on much bigger roles And some of them might rejoin the team later in the season. But the one thing that we're definitely hoping to see is more of a team dynamic. At Summer League, it's kind of like watching a bunch of really really good basketball players in a pick-up game. And, as you probably know, that's often what the Cavs look like at the ends of games this year. But sometimes they look like a real team. With real plays and real roles and everything. I know that the Cavs will take steps forwards and then take steps backwards. Sometimes they will resemble that team I saw in July and sometimes they will resemble an actual NBA team. But ultimately -- eventually -- Summer League won't be very important for the Cavs. But I'll remember the 2012 summer as a benchmark of where we started out. It's hard to reach your goal if you don't have a starting point. When (not if) this team gets to where we want them to be, I'll know that I was there when they were nothing but a bunch of basketball players wearing the same jersey. They have a ton of work to do, but there's a bright future in Cleveland.
2012 was a pretty fun year. Let's hope 2013 is even better. And maybe with more winning, too.