Before I get into this, I'd like to point out that this is the first time I've attempted a FanPost. I've been waiting a considerable amount of time for something to irk me to give this a shot and finally the time has arrived. With that said, I apologize in advance for any errors in formatting or otherwise. Lets get this started.
I've long been a proponent of the "win now" club for the Cavaliers this season, but in light of our most recent clobbering at the hands of the Kings, I've been forced to reconsider. Now before everyone jumps on my case about overreacting to one game, it should be noted that this was merely my boiling point. This loss, to me, represents a combination of issues that affect this team to it's core and that continually resurface just when we think we've turned a corner. Youth, uncertainty, turmoil, poor chemistry, suspect coaching and numerous other factors have produced the big picture with which we're faced. To put it lightly, things could be much better. This of course could still take a turn for the better, as our publicly maligned GM recently acquired a diverse talent in Deng for Bynum's team-friendly contract and some spare picks. It's still too early to tell if Deng is the key to the playoffs, but it's getting late to make a run for them too as we sit just five games from the halfway point of our season. Therein lies the dilemma. Is it still a realistic expectation to make the playoffs? Perhaps more importantly, is it even worth it? The alternative is to tank, or as we've come to know it, play Cavs basketball. This brings about a few additional questions. To what extent will another terrible season hurt our young core's development and morale? Would the talent acquired through a high draft selection be enough to push this team to its long-term goals? I'll attempt to answer these questions with, for my sake, some degree of brevity.
Pursuing the playoffs
Since LeBron James left town in 2010, the Cavs' front office has been diligent in acquiring talent while maintaining flexibility. Grant has done quite well in selecting talented, albeit surprising, individuals with our draft picks and has shown an admirable affinity for getting the better of opposing general managers in trades. Coming into this season, he signed Jack to provide assistance and insurance to a team with little depth and signed Bynum to a contract so favorable that it made the risk a worthwhile venture. All looked well for the Cavaliers, who seemed poised to make the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons. Only a few months later, the team is disjointed and sitting near the bottom of the weakest conference in recent memory with a 13-24 record. Some might be quick to point out that this puts us just two games out of the eighth seed or four games out of sixth. This is true, and therefore the playoffs are likely a real possibility. Unfortunately, the reality of the Cavs' current standing relative to the playoffs has been about the only consistent thing outside of the inconsistency of its performance.
Cue the first couple of questions.
Words can't fully express just how horrendous the Eastern Conference of 2013-2014 really is. To this day, just four teams in the East own a +.500 record. So, is making the playoffs a realistic expectation for the Cavs? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is a little more complicated than that. We've been hanging around the fringes of playoff territory all season long, enduring the torture of being "just 'x' games out of the picture." While that holds true, we can logically assume that if we've never been able to break through then it's because we simply haven't been good enough (I'll come back to this thought shortly). Now if Luol Deng hadn't happened, it'd be most reasonable to say that it just didn't look like it was time to move up. Luckily, Deng has happened. It doesn't take much thought to figure out that he makes this team better than we were prior to the trade. However, it's still too early to determine whether or not he's the sole catalyst needed to propel the Cavs to its pre-season goal. He has played just two games with the Cavaliers so far; one a solid win in Utah and the other a devastating loss to Sacramento. Aside from being a small sample size, a Western Conference road trip isn't exactly the best place to start this evaluation. The win against the Jazz was just the third road win of the season for this squad, but it was against the worst team in the West. The loss last night came from a team playing far better than their record might indicate. Hopefully this team can finally push through the fringes to secure a playoff seed but with Deng's impact in question for an otherwise disappointing team, the playoffs remain just that: a hope.
At this point I'd like to return to what I previously touched on. If this team hasn't yet had its breakout moment, then it's obviously due to the fact that at least most of the teams ahead of us have been or remain superior. In light of this, is the pursuit of a playoffs berth worth the potential expense of longevity as a contender down the road? For me, this answer is a clear no. The trade for Deng did nothing to compromise the team's future, and it's safe to assume Deng only remains a part of this team beyond this season if he meets the purpose for which he was brought in in the first place. What concerns me as the trade deadline approaches is the possibility that Grant succumbs to the pressure of striking another deal to guarantee short-term success. I won't attempt to come up with any potential deal here because I don't have a clue what Grant thinks, therefore that exercise would be about as useful as me posting a dozen links to ridiculous Trade Machine concoctions. All that really needs to be said here is that short term success should not take precedence over the ultimate goal of building a lasting contender in Cleveland. For this reason alone, I strongly believe we should ride out this next stretch of games with Deng and see where it takes us. By the end of the home stand following this current road trip, we should have enough of a sample to make a sound judgment for the remainder of the season.
Embracing the lottery
This has been a familiar scene. It gave us Kyrie and TT, then Waiters and finally Anthony Bennett. This list goes to show how unpredictable and volatile the lottery landscape can be. It's the nature of the beast. However, while Bennett's class so far appears to be the weakest since the infamously bad class of 2000, the class of 2014 looks to be the best since 2003.
However, before going over some of the top prospects in this draft, the impact another failed season might have on a young, developing core must be considered. We're only halfway through Waiters' second season, and Bennett is Bennett regardless of what's happening with the team. What about Kyrie and Tristan? Again, there is a simple answer and a detailed answer to the query. Simply put, 3 years of losing badly in the weaker of two conferences does no amount of good for a young player. They miss out on the ever important playoff experience and potentially acclimate to a losing culture. The simple blanket statement would be that losing fosters characteristics irreversible and massively detrimental to player development. However, to assume such dire consequences for a couple of young players that have shown nothing but the deepest desire to better themselves as professional athletes to date is doing them a disservice. No matter the record, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson have the drive to win. They prove it every year by adding to their games and demanding increased roles as leaders of this team. They want the responsibility and they understand the work that remains to be done. To say that they would be broken by another tough season is a gross misjudgment of their character. In short, these guys will comprehend and accept whichever hand they're dealt. If that means another trip to the lottery, then so be it.
Returning to prospects, this draft is incredibly exciting and full of assets suited to any team. In the interest of length, I won't cover each of them extensively. That would take several articles in itself. What needs to be known is that this draft is likely to be produce more high caliber talent then we've seen in the past decade. It's led by guys like Wiggins and Parker, who appear to be surefire impact wings all but certain to make at least a few All-Star teams. It contains big men like Embiid, the most talented two-way seven footer I've seen as far back as memory serves. He's only 19 and just barely started! Then there's Randle, who's looked nothing short of a man among boys the way he can rebound and score. The next tier remains deep and intriguing, led by Smart, Exum, Aaron Gordon, Saric and many others capable of emerging as stars. The class of 2014 really has the potential to be a once in a generation draft.
When we look on the past few drafts, we wanted to be in the lottery to find the right pieces to build our team, but this also wasn't by choice. As we struggle through the fourth post-LeBron season, nothing about our predicament has really changed other than our own expectations. We feel as though, by now, we should be ready to take the next step into playoff contention. Given that it hasn't panned out that way, the Cavs and its fan base as a majority seem to feel obligated to make it so. This is what the Deng trade really represents. A desperate attempt to fight the seemingly inevitable. I've convinced myself to do the same all season long, but I think I'm about ready to stop. What I am willing to do is give this team a little more time and wait for the end of the next home stand to pick a side. If things aren't sorted at that point, then this should no longer remain a debate. Like seasons past, it will indicate that more pieces are needed, and that they're to be found in the draft.