It all started so well. The Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2013-2014 season with a home victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Andrew Bynum played. CavsZine4 was handed out to the masses. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters comprised the starting backcourt.
Tonight, they finish a season that saw them improve upon the previous season by at least eight wins. They will likely have the 9th best chance of winning the lottery and securing the first overall choice in this summer's draft. They did not make the playoffs. They have a different GM. Of a free agent class that brought in Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, and Bynum, only Jack remains, though there were reports the Cavaliers tried hard to move him at the February deadline.
Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng were brought in at various points of the season and will be unrestricted free agents. 2013 first overall choice Anthony Bennett has missed the past several weeks with a non-contact knee injury. Sergey Karasev has been up and down - in Canton. Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving are eligible for contract extensions this summer, and are under contract for at least the next two seasons - but have futures in Cleveland that remain in question for various reasons.
Dion Waiters, for the second straight year, has regained a starting spot he lost with excellent post All-Star game numbers. Tyler Zeller is a productive offensive player. I will give more thoughts tomorrow on what this season means, and where I think the franchise should head. My time with the site will wind down pretty dramatically. I will not be the editor. But before we do one more preview, it's worth mentioning that this season has still had a lot of fun moments and the team has genuinely improved. There are a lot of future draft picks, a lot of future salary cap flexibility, and quite a bit of talent on this young roster.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Brooklyn Nets
When: 8:00 pm ET
Where: Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, Ohio
How can I watch: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot to play for tonight. No, seriously, they do. It's fan appreciation night. I hate fan appreciation night. Is it cool that they give out prizes and a few more free tickets and autographed stuff? Absolutely. But I hate the idea that any one home game is more special than another. This isn't a criticism of teams deciding to rest star players or anything like that. Teams that are successful reward their fans in ways that go beyond one individual trip to see Tim Duncan play live.
But people spend a lot of money to see these guys play. And owners make a lot of money owning these sports teams. Maybe not on a year to year basis, but a quick look at the Milwaukee Bucks sale makes the numbers clear: the fans make the NBA a lucrative business. I've been lucky enough to cover some of these games live. Every time I go I remember that there are quite a few people that have never been to the Q in attendance. And I remember that there are a ton of Cavaliers fans that will never get to see their team play live. Maybe it's because of economic reasons, maybe it's the distance. Sacrifices get made to attend games. The recession might be over, but the fact remains that for many families, the price of going to a game is a major hurdle.
The Cavs have a lot to play for tonight. There will be people there that spent a lot of money to see these guys play basketball. There will be people that may never get to go again. There will be those who won't ever get to see them play live. They play for all of them, they play for all of us, the play for the jersey. Olympic champions have worn the Cavaliers jersey. I hope they appreciate what it means to be a Cavalier.
C.J. Miles won't play tonight. He never made it back from the vicious ankle sprain. Signed to a cheap one year deal with an option for a second year after seeing his career stagnate in Utah, he put together a heck of a run in Cleveland when he was healthy. He will be a free agent this summer and I hope he wins, whether it is in Cleveland or elsewhere. He was a good locker room presence, worked hard, got the most out of his ability, and took the losing personally. Outside of Delonte West, I'm not sure I've had more appreciation for a Cavalier in my decade as a Cavs fan.
The Brooklyn Nets are still playing for playoff positioning. If they win, they clinch the 5th seed in the East. The 6th seed is still in play for them. It's been an up and down year for them. Jason Kidd was on the hot seat, and then won the NBA Coach of the Month award twice. They've lost four of their last five games. Shaun Livingston, who the Cavaliers showed little interest in last summer, has been a nice complement to Deron Williams. Marcus Thornton has been good since coming over from Sacramento.
I don't know if this team has enough in them to make a run all the way to the Finals without Brook Lopez, and with Kevin Garnett appearing to wear down. But they probably can push the Miami Heat, who they've played really tough, in a hypothetical matchup. I hope they do. Paul Pierce still has some magic in him. Last we saw him, he was completely shredding Tristan Thompson while playing the role of a stretch-4. I know I'm not supposed to like him, but I kind of do.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Predictions with this team are futile. I hope they avoid 50 losses and beat the Nets 111-99.