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The Cleveland Cavaliers, according to several reports, are unwilling to do anything that might jeopardize their chances of bringing in a max-level free agent in the summer of 2014. 18 months will transpire between now and the July 2014 free agency frenzy. What can we expect in that time? I have no idea.
I was really excited about going to see the Cavaliers play the Pistons up in Detroit. Two of my best friends were coming up from Columbus, our seats were going to be outstanding, and the Cavaliers were coming off a bad loss to Golden State. I figured they would be pretty fired up to beat a Detroit team that has given them trouble the last couple years. I was completely, utterly wrong. I liked Kyrie Irving's energy early in the game (he had 11 points in the first quarter), but other than that the game was pretty much a disaster. Tristan Thompson and Irving didn't play at all in the fourth quarter, and I don't remember a single positive thing that Dion Waiters or Tyler Zeller did in their time on the court. Now, I watched the game live without the benefit of instant replay. And I was out with friends. We may have brought our friend Jack along. I wasn't trying or really capable of analyzing anything. But I know the feeling as I left the arena was one of disappointment.
It took, what, 24 hours for those feelings to be completely eradicated, and replaced by euphoria? Oklahoma City got a bad game from Kevin Durant, who played much of the second half hurt. But otherwise, I don't really think OKC could say they played a bad game. Westbrook and Ibaka played great. The Cavaliers played some of their best defense of the season, and OKC still scored 110 points. Cleveland got smart play from Dion Waiters and outstanding rebounding from Tristan Thompson and even Tyler Zeller. Marreese Speights put up 21 points and 10 rebounds and took the minutes away from Zeller that I had been waiting for. Wayne Ellington played solid defense and hit a big three pointer in the fourth quarter. I thought Livingston had a rough game, but even when he is bad offensively, I remember Donald Sloan and am put at ease. His length bothered Durant on a couple possessions defensively. Miles kept the offense going when it seemed like no one else could at various points.
But is anything that happened Saturday night sustainable? Kyrie Irving surely can't keep scoring 35 points a night, but it seems like the Cavaliers can't win if he doesn't. Speights is very quickly playing his way to a big payday this summer, and with the Cavaliers unwilling to open up the books past 2013-2014, it seems like a long shot that he will be in Cleveland past the trade deadline, let alone for next season. Wayne Ellington is a restricted free agent with a tender at $3 million, and though I would be fine giving him a three or four year deal worth around that number per year, I don't know that Chris Grant is. Cleveland will have to make a decision on CJ Miles this summer, and though he has been maddeningly inconsistent, he will be worth the option the Cavaliers have.
But the lack of predictability of the front office decisions the team makes is obvious. And kind of fun. Team construction and fake trades on the Trade Machine are part of being a die-hard NBA fan. Less fun, for me, is stressing out over Dion Waiters. He looked awful on Friday, and pretty good on Saturday. Watching closely as every time out is called to see if Kyrie and Dion seem to be getting along. Watching Kyrie closely as Dion attempts a step-back 20 footer. I am picking on Dion a little bit, and I don't really mean to. My point is that we have no idea what we are going to get out of any of these guys on a night to night basis. One day Kyrie Irving is in God mode making Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka look silly, when the night before he grew so frustrated with his teammates' incompetence that he became "disinterested". Tyler Zeller basically is what he is until he can get on a weight training program. Even then, all we can do is speculate that he will all of a sudden regain his confidence in the post. We have no idea if Tristan Thompson is a serviceable big, or potentially much more than that.
Some of this stuff is fun. We get to see Kyrie go nuts. And we get the satisfaction of Tristan Thompson improving before our very eyes, and then being able to say I told you so. I really need to stop telling people I told you so about Thompson. I probably will, in 2016 or something. And while I am tough on Waiters, easily the most underrated fun thing about this season has been him pickpocketing dudes and coming down the other way with ferocious dunks. If Kyrie dunks, its a little two handed motion where he basically just drops it in the basket. Dion is having NONE of that. And it is pretty awesome. Oh, look, I just found another radical divergence in the personalities of the two guards in whom so much is invested.
I don't know if we are destined to endure 18 months of more uncertainty and mood swings, but it looks like a high probability. Which Cavaliers team will show up on any given night is pretty much impossible to tell at this point. As some commenters pointed out Saturday night, we are a 14 win team that runs the risk of sleeping on the Bobcats Wednesday night. Would anything that happens Wednesday night surprise you? If the Bobcats scored 110 points, I would be depressed, but not surprised. If Kyrie put up 40? Not surprised. Waiters hits seven three pointers? Man, that guy can get hot. Tristan shoots 2-11? Well, the Bobcats actually do have a pretty athletic front court. Tristan shoots 9-11? That baby hook is a thing of real beauty.
Conrad wrote an article last week about the tanking being over. Witmi wrote a real good fanpost about reasons for optimism in Cleveland. I agree with both. But whether or not we ever get where we want to go seems firmly up in the air.