The Cleveland Cavaliers haven't been any good since I started writing about them. When I started my first Cavs blog (which has now been eaten by the internet, thank goodness), the Cavs were in the middle of an historic 26-game losing streak. My favorite team hasn't sniffed 30 wins in a season since I joined Twitter or professed my basketball opinions to anyone other than my dad and my friends. Yet, I often remain quite positive about the franchise. Sure, it's hard not to get down while we grind through the latter parts of these losing seasons, but by that time I'm already looking ahead to the NBA Draft Lottery and the potential superstar that the team will add in the NBA Draft. And that's intentional.
I know there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the Cavaliers.
The easiest way to do that would be to look at their win totals over the past three seasons. Look at the fact that they hardly improved last year, despite another year of Kyrie Irving and endless salary flexibility. Look at the depressing injury history of Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao, and Kyrie Irving. But somehow, I manage to look past those things. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I force myself to look past those things and instead attempt to focus on the positives. Some would call that being a homer and they wouldn't be wrong. But I prefer to think of it as simply being a fan and just because I have a platform to express my basketball opinions to thousands of people, doesn't mean that I have to stop being a fan. After all, SBNation's slogan is "pro quality, fan perspective" -- and that's a big reason why I like writing at SBNation more than any other opportunity I've had thus far. I take that slogan seriously. I do my best to make Fear the Sword professional and provide valuable insight that you won't find anywhere else. But I don't want to lose the fan perspective that I had when I started writing simply because I needed a new hobby. When it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, I am not a journalist and I'm not objective. But that's also not the goal. I was raised a diehard Cleveland fan, that's part of my identity, and I don't intend on forgetting right now.
There are also lots of reasons to be optimistic about the Cavaliers.
They have a young star in Kyrie Irving. They've drafted several other promising young players such as Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett. Chris Grant has made smart trades and maintained flexibility for more moves in the future. Heck, the Cavs might even have a chance at signing LeBron James next summer. The hard part comes when you have to balance the reasons to be down on the Cavs with the reasons to be high on the Cavs. Which ones do you favor? Which way do you tend to lean? Do you look at all the reasons why you think Dion Waiters will fail or do you turn your attention to the games in which he looks like he could really be a good player in this league? Do you put more weight on how bad you think Anthony Bennett will be defensively or do you prefer to think about his exciting potential on offense? I'm fully aware that this sounds as though it's directed as certain people, but I swear it's not. I'm not casting judgement on how you choose to think about the Cavs. I'm just telling you what I do and why I choose to think the way that I do.
If you know me or have talked to me about things other than the Cavs, you understand that I have no problem saying "I don't know." I'm not an overly optimistic person in real life and I don't like to believe things just because they make me feel good. I want to find evidence, understand concepts, and avoid jumping to conclusions. And the same mindset applies to how I think about basketball too. I'm not going to sit here and tell you for certain that Tristan Thompson was the right selection with the #4 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. But I'm also not going to tell you that the Cavaliers were definitely wrong for not taking Jonas Valanciunas. I hate speaking in absolutes and those of you that comment regularly know that. I try to take a page out of Nate Silver's book and "think probabilistically." That is to say, mentally assign probabilities to certain outcomes with the understanding that very few things have a 100% chance of happening. I'm always going to follow the evidence and inform my opinion based on what we do know rather than what we want to happen.
But what do you do when there are conflicting pieces of evidence?
For example, which version of Dion Waiters do you think is closer to the real thing? Is it the pre-All Star break guy who shot under 40% and looked like a poor man's JR Smith or is it the post-All Star break guy who shot over 45% and showed real flashes of being worth the #4 pick in the draft? I sincerely don't know -- but as a Cavs fan, I'm going to lean towards the latter. I'm not going to pretend to know the future and say that Waiters will definitely be great or will definitely be terrible. Maybe if I had a different job and were working as an NBA scout or in a position where I had to make decisions and those decisions meant something, I'd take a stronger stance and be strictly rational. But right now, I'm a 20 year old running a Cavaliers blog and nobody is making million dollar decisions based on what I think of any NBA player. As I said before, I'm a fan and I'm approaching this from a fan's perspective. I make no attempts to hide my bias with regards to the Cavs, but instead try to work around it and understand how it impacts my approach (hence, why I'm writing this article now). When I see Tristan Thompson making progress from his rookie season to his sophomore season, I prefer to write about what he's getting better at rather than all the reasons why he isn't an ideal power forward. When I watch Anthony Bennett's college film, I see a dynamic athlete with a unique frame and talent. I start envisioning the ways that Mike Brown is going to try to teach him to defend at a high level instead of all the potential flaws that will doom him in his NBA career. It's no secret that I preferred Nerlens Noel to Anthony Bennett before the draft, however, it doesn't seem necessary for me to go ahead and write 1500 words about how the Cavs made the wrong choice. Instead, I start looking at how this move could potentially take the Cavs one step closer to bringing a championship to Cleveland. I can't sit here and tell you that I know the fates of any of these players or if every decision the Cavs make will be the right one. But I can tell you that it's a hell of a lot more fun to turn your attention to the things that might work out rather than the things that might not work out.
As a Cleveland fan, I've been conditioned to expect the worst when it comes to sports.
Somehow, I manage to limit that mindset to the Browns and Indians. For me, the Cavs are different. When I took over Fear the Sword, I saw the description at the top of the page and took that to heart: Fear the Sword, a Cleveland Cavaliers community. It doesn't say "Fear the Sword, all of your 100% objective analysis about the Cavaliers." I made it my goal to create a community of Cavaliers fans that love the team as much as I do. I moved away from Cleveland when I was 2 years old and going to college in Boston means I had nobody to talk about the Cavs with. Fear the Sword changed that. I've put a ton of time and energy into this blog and I do it because it's really really fun. The community here is spectacular -- and that's with a team in the bottom five of the standings. I started blogging because I really enjoy doing it. I enjoy taking a tiny bit of optimism and running with it to imagine what the Cavs would look like if everything worked according to plan. I prefer to think "okay, what were the Cavs thinking when they made this decision and why might it work out?" rather than "lol paying Bynum $6 million to sit in a suit on the bench!" I like to think that my bias is more subtle than Lakers fans that think Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of all time or Blazers fans that wouldn't dare trade Damian Lillard for Kyrie Irving, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just as big a homer as those guys. Maybe non-Cavs fans cringe at my stances the same way I cringe anytime Bill Simmons talks about the Patriots. If that's the case, let me know. I don't want to be that. There's a fine line between writing from a fan's perspective and writing from a fanatic's perspective. The key for a successful writer at SB Nation (or any site like it) is to carefully toe that line. I'm still working to find the proper balance and I think it's better to realize that than to pretend I have it all figured out before I graduate from college.
In most situations, I try to be a very rational thinker. But when it comes to the Cavs, I don't necessarily want to be. I'm not saying that I intend to be an over-the-top homer, but do I give the Cavs the benefit of the doubt sometimes? Sure I do. Have they earned the benefit of the doubt? Nope, not at all. I want them to do well so I center my analysis on the things that might work out and how the Cavs could come out on top. It's important not to mistake a positive slant for unwavering belief. The Cavs are not infallible and some of the front office's decisions are bound to blow up in their faces. But when they do, I'll be writing about what went wrong and how they can learn from that to be successful in the future.
I work tirelessly to improve my understanding of the game and to communicate that to my audience. I understand the value of objectivity and know that some things will always be subjective. But I also know that when I started writing about the Cavs, objectivity was never the goal. The Cavs were losing a billion games in a row and I was using goofy Youtube videos in all my posts to make them less depressing. If you want to read articles about how the organization screwed something up or why the Cavs are doomed to fail, I'm sure there are plenty of other writers that will happily supply those. I choose to be optimistic about the Cavs because I'm a fan and I want to see them succeed. And that will always be reflected in my writing on this blog, to a certain extent. I'll try to provide thoughtful and reasonable content with just a touch of my own bias to remind you (and myself), that for now, I'm a fan too.
If you have questions, comments, or just want to insult me, feel free to email me at ConradFTS@gmail.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter at both @FearTheSword and @ConradKazNBA. Also, like us on Facebook.