I dunno about anyone else, but I'm thoroughly enjoying this Cavalier season. It has been been fun.
I know that seems a bit weird to say. At just past the halfway point, the Cavs' record sits at a putrid 13-32. Their .289 winning percentage puts them on pace for a 23-59 record, just four games better than 19-63 post-Decision train wreck that was Byron Scott's first season. The Cavs were gawd-awful last season and they still managed to win 21 games, finishing 21-45 during the lockout shortened campaign.
So Cavs are on pace to barely finish with more wins than last year's tragedy of a team and I'm enjoying it?
But I'm enjoying this Cavalier squad. This is really the first year it has felt like watching a "rebuilding team" and not "leftover LeBron parts". With Anthony Parker retired and Antawn Jamison involved in the aforementioned Laker clusterfuck, the only hold overs from the LeBron-era are Anderson Varejao and Boobie Gibson, and they've both missed major time due to injuries (which is SHOCKING).
It's an entirely different experience watching a terrible team featuring Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson than one featuring Jamison, Parker and Ryan Hollins. What's nice about watching a young, rebuilding team is that any mistake can be dismissed due to youth and any sign of growth is a sign for optimism. When Dion Waiters does something dumb, you tell yourself that he'll grow out of it. When Antawn Jamison does something dumb, you throw things.
I'm also not really concerned by the losing nor am I surprised by it (although I'm of the belief that the Cavs need another year in the lottery). Given their schedule (the Cavs have played 27 games on the road to just 18 at home) and their injuries (Varejao, Kyrie and Waiters have all missed significant time), they're pretty much where they're supposed to be. Not to mention that this roster wasn't exactly built for playoff contention to begin with; as much as I loathed Jamison, the Cavs definitely miss his 17 points per game and their only off season acquisition of note was CJ Miles. It is safe to say that this team is not built for the now.
Long term, I feel pretty good about the franchise. The Cavs have collected a ton of future draft picks and their salary obligations can make them a player any number of trades. With the new additions and a favorable second half schedule schedule (from here on out, the Cavs have nine more home games than road games and the longest road trip is three games). I feel it's way too early say this rebuild has failed and it's even earlier to start wondering about Kyrie leaving or the ridiculous LeBron coming back rumors (listen to Windhorst discuss LeBron-to-Cavs on KNR).
The Cavs are coming off a three game win streak, Kyrie Irving is an All-Star and Chris Grant just got a haul from Memphis for Jon Leuer. This is the best I've felt about the Cavs since The Decision.
Here are my just just-after-midseason grades.
Kyrie Irving: A-. The kid is a stud. Full stop. The only reason he gets an A- is because his defense stinks. Would I like it to be better? Of course. But the dude is 20. If he looks this disinterested in defense when he's 24 or so, I'll be worried. As of now, I'll just enjoy watching an All-Star point guard in his second season.
Tristan Thompson: B+. You can't help but be pleased by Tristan's recent strings of double-doubles and his overall improvement. Thompson looks much more confident and comfortable on the court and, much like Varejao, he's filling the stat line every night. Part of me does wonder how much is "good stats on a bad team" syndrome (to be fair, Varejao's stats were similarly bloated) but regardless, Thompson brings effort every night and he's clearly working on his game. I don't know if he'll ever be an All-Star, but he should be able to start on a contender.
Dion Waiters: B-. Does his shot selection stink? Yes. Do I care? Not really. I love Dion's body language and demeanor on the court, not to mention his ability to score in bunches. He needs to get more consistent with his shooting form (he fades away at times) but much like Kyrie's defense, I'll be concerned with Dion's shooting form and shot selection after an offseason or two.
Anderson Varejao: INCOMPLETE. While there's certainly worse veterans to have around your young squad, it's not to feel like the Cavs missed their window for trading Andy. If nothing else, Varejao can be used an example of a player who has worked over the years to improve his game.
Tyler Zeller: B. Zeller is clearly skilled and looks like he can be a rotation player for the longterm (whether or not that's with the Cavs is another story. I fully expect him to be thrown into a *major* trade down the line). The various Varejao injuries have forced Zeller into the starting lineup sooner than I would've liked and Zed has looked a bit overmatched. You can tell Zeller is still getting used to the NBA speed but he's had his moments and he clearly can play. He needs to get stronger and bulk up if he wants to start.
CJ Miles: C+. He can score in bunches but that's about it. If he can get hot he can win the Cavs a game or so. A nice stop gap, but certainly not a long term solutions at the two.
Alonzo Gee: C+. Meh. He'll have a nice dunk every once in awhile but I'm not a huge Gee fan. He can finish at the rim and ever now and then knock down an open shot, but if he has to dribble more than three times in a possession, bad things happen.
The bench: D+, now C. By design, the Cavs have lacked depth. Omri Casspi. Luke Walton. Donald Sloan. Jeremy Pargo. Samardo Samuels. All of these players have logged major minutes with the Cavaliers this season. Cleveland is now 2-0 with the additions of Marreese Speights, Josh Selby and Wayne Ellington from Memphis. I don't expect these guys to turn the season around, but a bench of Speights, Ellington and Livingston has already won the Cavs two more games than any combination of Casspi, Sloan and Samuels.
Byron Scott: INCOMPLETE. I've had my issues with Byron. I watch these games and I wonder if he's in on the tank job or if he doesn't know what he's doing. It's hard to get an honest read on Scott; how can you really judge a coach who's forced to play Luke Walton and players cut by the Wizards major minutes? But at the same time, the Cavs have these losses where Kyrie sits the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. And you wonder, if Irving played nine minutes in the fourth, maybe the Cavs pull that one out... I'm not saying the guy should be fired or even be on the hot seat (the Cavs can upgrade to.... ?) but I have my gripes. *shakes fist*
Front Office: A. Has there been tanking? Maybe. Probably. The bench has been purposefully putrid and Cavs have been extra careful with injuries; letting players sit out until fully healthy and allowing the team to wrack up an extra loss or so (especially early in the year with crappy schedule). I love the deals that Grant has completed and I love they're always in talks. The Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Kyrie Irving and three months of Baron Davis will probably go down as the best trade in franchise history. Getting a real NBA bench and a first rounder for Jon Leuer isn't in the same stratosphere, but it ain't bad either. I hope they're careful this offseason and don't stick themselves with any Jeff Green or Landry Fields type contracts.
Cavs announcers: A. Austin Carr and Fred McLeod have really grown on me and Not-Joe-Tait and Jim Chones are pretty solid on the radio, babe. Austin makes for a great Crazy-Cavalier Uncle and he and Fred have developed nice chemistry. Listen to Fred's call from the Raptor game and not get chills.