After falling to the Wizards in rather uninspiring fashion on Friday night, the Cavs returned to the Q on Saturday to host the Toronto Raptors. They jumped out to a 24-6 lead, and everything was hunky dory until Lou Williams went bananas and the visitors closed the game on a 104-69 run, dropping Cleveland to 5-7 and turning the panic meter up a tad higher than it already was.
Rather than go our separate ways to lose our minds in solitude, the braintrust at Fear the Sword commenced throughout the day on Sunday to lose our minds together, because that's what friends do. What follows is our roundtable chat centered around six burning questions/issues that are plaguing the Cavaliers. Many thanks to Messrs. Mayer, Magnotti, Rowan, Luscher and Mourton for participating. Be sure to leave any wise commentary at the end of the article, but keep the unwise commentary to yourself.
Without further ado...
1. Offensively, are the Cavs' struggles the result of a flawed scheme, or is it a matter of players just needing time to gel?
Mayer: Most of the time, it doesn’t look like they’re running any scheme at all. Hopefully that’s just the result of the players not knowing each other very well. I remain confiether soon. They have so much talent on that end, and I still think that they should all fit ith each other pretty well.
Magnotti: I think it’s a symptom of both, but more so the cohesiveness factor, both at a player-to-player and coach-to-player level. The Cavs don’t look like they’re running Blatt’s sets, but a lot of that stems from the amount of ISO-ball that the Cavs have fallen into. This is probably a product of the Cavs not understanding the full system, and when the system breaks down, they go to what they know. I have a feeling this will get better with time, as the players get more used to the system and each other. However, that said, the idea that Blatt’s system isn’t an NBA-worthy system is still a possibility, and that we will find out with time too.
Rowan: I think we are seeing that this roster is struggling to gel. However, David Blatt has failed to make the necessary adjustments to help get the team easy looks in order to raise their confidence. We saw that the ball moved freer in the preseason and players weren’t afraid to shoot upon receiving the ball. Players are second guessing themselves and it’s leading to bad shots and turnovers. Confidence is low and no offense will succeed when it’s players are stuck in a funk.
Luscher: It’s hard to say that the scheme is the problem when so little of what the Cavs do looks like a scheme. You see flashes when they actually run their offense, and those moments are promising. We can guess at the problems. I think Trevor is right that they don’t understand the system fully yet, so they don’t trust it. It goes beyond that, though. The best players on this team seem to trust themselves more than they trust each other. That’s when they ditch the system and go iso while everyone else stands around. So I guess it’s players needing time to gel, but I also don’t see them giving the system enough of a chance for that to happen.
Mourton: A combination of the two I think. Sometimes the Cavs run sets that are just wonderful, other times they abandon them altogether. Even when they're clicking, they're doing things I don't understand. Why run pick and rolls exclusively with Anderson Varejao and not Kevin Love? I don't get it. Why are Love and Varejao always paired, leaving Tristan Thompson to play with lesser creators, when he cannot create for himself? The team has 11 new players, it was going to take months, but the coaches aren't consistently making it easier for them.
2. Cleveland is currently 24th in Defensive Rating. With current personnel, is there any hope for improvement, or is a trade the only way for them to get appreciably better on that end of the floor?
Mayer: I’m afraid that they aren’t going to be much better anytime soon, but it would help if LeBron consistently decided to give a crap.
Magnotti: The Cavs don’t have a ton of talent on this end, but they need to get better chemistry from the big man pairing of Anderson Varejao and Kevin Love, especially in the pick-and-roll. I will continue to advocate that the Cavs’ pick-and-roll system itself is not flawed, and that the Cavs just need time to get the rotation timing down. They expect Varejao or Love to hedge aggressively on the ball-handler, and then hurry back to the roll man while the second big sits over top to play free safe. ty. However, right now that second rotation isn’t occurring automatically, and the Cavs are giving up a ton of looks at the rim because of this. I think that gets better with time. Perimeter defense improvement is much harder to create with the current roster, and I think this is where a trade would help, but a locked-in LeBron and improvement from Dion would really help.
Rowan: I think the Cavs could improve defensively if the coaching staff adjusted their schemes to match the personnel. The Cavs play an aggressive style of defense without the speed and defensive abilities to get away with it. A more conservative defense that tries to take away the drive would be very beneficial to this roster. That being said, the Cavs will likely need to bolster their defense via trade. With the regression of Marion and the absence of effort from LeBron, the Cavs do not have any defense on the perimeter. That puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on the Cavs interior and has been one of the largest contributing factors to the teams subpar defensive rating.
Luscher: Sure, there is hope for improvement with the current personnel! In fact, I expect it. Things will improve with guys just learning the system. Irving has had optimistic stints on the defensive end. LeBron can’t be unengaged on defense forever, right? But for them to get in the top 10 on defense? I think a trade is needed. AV and Thompson have been worse than expected on defense. So has Love, which means a lot because I expected Love to be pretty horrible already. I’m all in on trading for a big man defender with the assumption Irving will become consistently passable on defense and LeBron will get back to being good.
Mourton: With the present roster? Not much. The Cavs lack a player that impacts the game at the rim defensively. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson have statistically allowed below average FG% there, but are we really seeing that? The Cavs perimeter defense is porous, to be generous. Kyrie and Dion have improved there, but neither is a stopper. Joe Harris tries hard. Mike Miller is a wreck. Shawn Marion is clearly the teams best wing defender, but he's 36! To allevite those problems, the Cavs are hard trapping on screens, which Miami had tons of success with. The problem is that Varejao and Love don't have the ability to recover like a Chris Bosh does. Nowhere close. They can make marginal gains as is, but as long as LeBron is apathetic about defense, this group doesn't have much potential.
3. Corey Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole have all been rumored Cavaliers trade targets. Do any of them interest you? Is there a feasible unnamed option that attracts your eye?
Mayer: I suppose that either Brewer, Kirilenko, or Andersen would offer marginal improvement to the team’s defense and bench, but I’d hesitate to make a move this early. Right now, it’s tempting to try and shake things up. It would make more sense to let them start to figure things out before trying to decide which additions could help the most.
Magnotti: Brewer gambles too much and doesn’t help the offense. Kirilenko is old and can be a chemistry nightmare. Andersen can barely move at this point, and Cole is playing well enough as Miami’s starter that I don’t think they deal him. I’m not really a fan of any of these options, because I don’t see a high ceiling to the improvement they could bring. I really hesitate to name another option, because I hate just wildly naming trade options without having #SOURCES, but I also just don’t see an attractive trade piece available right now.
Rowan: Out of those names, only Brewer stands out as someone that would likely be a cost effective solution. He would likely only cost the team the trade exception and a conditional second round pick, so they wouldn’t be giving up a whole lot. Chris Anderson signed an extension this summer so the HEAT probably aren’t itching to trade him. Norris Cole will be a good target this summer for the Cavs, but it probably isn’t worth it to give up real assets right now to get Cole and Anderson. While Trevor hates randomly naming options, I have no problem with it. Iman Shumpert, Chris Copeland, Wilson Chandler, Randy Foye and Aaron Afflalo all could be viable options for the Cavs to target. Though a few of those would mean parting with Dion Waiters.
Luscher: I guess it depends on what the Cavs give up for any of those targets. Brewer could be nice if the Cavs intend to let Love be the main option when LeBron sits. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give Love a "make him happy" guy on this team. I wouldn’t really give much up for him, though. If I’m trading anything real -- like Dion Waiters or the Memphis pick -- I’d like a little more. I would be all for a trade for Shumpert and Dalembert if the Knicks had any interest in Waiters and the Memphis pick. That seems like wishful thinking, though. I hate myself for it, but I could talk myself into Josh Smith and playing Love at center. Why not? (Don’t answer that.)
Mourton: Not a ton. I mean, for free Brewer or Kirilenko would help, but Kirilenko's age and attitude concern me. Cole probably interests me the most of that group, he can defend like hell and when he gets hot he's a tough cover. As far as unnamed names, I still think at least giving Jeff Adrien a look would be smart, what is Lou Amundson really providing? Looking at wings, I don't know. Ray Allen gonna help defensively? He was an average shooter last year. Is Shumpert available? Probably not for what the Cavs have asset wise. DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver fit the Cavs exception, but will Atlanta move them? We're probably a month or two away from teams really looking to cash out on some guys.
4. On a scale of 1 to 10, rank your confidence in David Blatt.
Mayer: This is tough. He has yet to display any of the credentials that suggest that he’s a "genius." His rotations have been weird. Sometimes, he doesn’t use his timeouts very well. But it’s only been 12 games, and supposedly his teams in Europe often started out slowly. So to answer the question, I guess my confidence is currently at seven -- which is down from a 10 at the start of the season.
Magnotti: I’m at about a 7 for this season, and a 9 for long-term. He’s struggling with a lot of the things that many rookie head coaches struggle with: rotations, implementing his system, and late-game decision-making. The difference between him and, say, Derek Fisher, of course, is that Blatt’s coaching the most scrutinized team in the league, and his decisions are under much more of a microscope than most rookie head coaches are. In my opinion, if you don’t have confidence in Blatt right now, you probably don’t expect him to improve at all, which is ludicrous to expect. Coaches get better as they go, just like players develop. Look at Erik Spoelstra, Jason Kidd, and Mike Malone, all coaches who got killed early for their performances but are looking like great coaches to start this season. Not every coach can be Steve Clifford or Jeff Hornacek. Some guys take time to figure the game out at the top level. That’s what I think is happening with Blatt.
Rowan: I’m going to go with a 4. Which is down from an 8 at the start of the season. The rotation management, in-game adjustments and game-to-game adjustments have been poor to nonexistent. Failure to stagger the minutes of the big three, to adjust defensive gameplans that are failing and to run anything that would help get struggling players going are all discouraging signs to me. The necessary adjustments appear to be simple and he has failed to do them. Even if the seemingly obvious solutions fail, you are then able to move along to another possible solution via process of elimination. Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. I still have faith he will turn it around, but he has done very little to inspire confidence for me at this current juncture.
Luscher: I was at a 10 with Blatt to start the season. I feel like my confidence is a 4, but I’ll meet somewhere in the middle and go with a 7. That’s how I feel when I take emotion out of it. He seems like a guy who tends to figure things out, but who knows?
Mourton: 6. His rotations confuse me, but he's coached 12 games.
5. Dion Waiters is hardly the only reason the second unit is struggling (they're last in the NBA in bench scoring, assists and efficiency). Are you frustrated with his play?
Mayer: Yes. He takes way too many midrange jumpers. In theory, he could be a big part of the solution to the team’s bench issues. I’d love to see him get minutes with the second unit (with possibly Love or LeBron out there as well) and just attack, attack, attack. He just doesn’t seem to get it, though. And if he doesn’t get it soon, he’s going to be gone.
Magnotti: I think it’s hardly on Waiters that the Cavs’ bench has gone 2012-2013 Blazers on us. Mike Miller’s sucked, Delly’s hurt, and Joe Harris is a rookie, which all contributes in some way. However, Dion’s shooting has me very concerned. Shooting slumps happen, but a line of 37/29/68 is atrocious, and he’s not passing the ball well either, which makes him a complete black hole on the offensive end. I take the opposite view of Mike; I’d rather see Dion play more in the flow of the game than attack, because that’s what he’s trying to do right now when he gets the ball, and that’s really hurting his play. If Dion could scale back on the chucking, get more looks in the flow of the offense, and play more with LeBron in second unit lineups (As James would allow him to play off-ball more and make it so he isn’t the sole creator), I think that would help, but ultimately, he’s just gotta hit shots.
Rowan: When I wrote his player preview, I said that every summer I find myself buying into Dion, only to be disappointed once the games started. He’s been terrible this season and while I think he could excel in a more featured role, I don’t believe that role is in Cleveland. He isn’t moving the ball, he’s taking low-quality shots, his transition defense is nonexistent, his halfcourt defense isn’t much better and he just doesn’t seem to fit. I think the Cavs need to explore moving him for a three and D shooting guard or a rim protector if one happens to be available.
Mourton: Somewhat, yeah. Then it's like, he's on his fourth coach in four years, he's got another ever changing role. I don't know what we can reliably expect. You can tell he's forcing it, as evidenced by the air balls he was putting up against Toronto. I just don't know. Complaining about his shot selection in games where he takes six shots strikes me as silly. Pinning much on him as I watch Tristan Thompson and Shawn Marion iso's, or LeBron dribble ball for 22 seconds and take a three from that exact spot seems silly. We want him to fit i to this strict role (and I do too), but no one else is setting much of an example as far as buying in goes. He'll probably be fine. If you're into picking and choosing when to apply confirmation biases, Dion is having your type of year.
6. This might sound a bit blasphemous... but are you at all disappointed with LeBron's play, particularly his tendency to isolate on offense and his lack of consistent engagement on defense?
Mayer: At this point, I’m probably more curious than disappointed. If his lack of engagement on defense (that’s a kind way to put it) is his way of saving his body for June, then I guess it’s understandable. It’s just not a great way to set an example for the younger players. It should also be noted that most players would have been crushed by the media for not running back on defense the way LeBron did against the Wizards after Waiters took that shot on the fast break. That was ridiculous.
Magnotti: I have no idea what to make of LeBron. He looked bad to start the season, then went on a tear that had me raving last week, and this past week has gone back to looking passive and disjointed on both ends. So I have no idea. I do know that he’s hitting a career-high 39 percent from three, which is good, and I know that his defense has been ugly individually, but that it still craters when he comes off the floor. He’s been interesting, to say the least, but I have a feeling that in a month things will begin to correct themselves and we won’t be talking about this anymore.
Rowan: I don’t know why it would ever be blasphemous to criticize a basketball player on a basketball team. His poor defense was expected, just not to the Harden-like level we are seeing. While his number are still phenomenal, he is settling for jumpers far to frequently and can turn into a ball stopper at times. This summer he said that the keys need to be handed to Kyrie Irving to run the offense, but that experiment lasted only a game or two. Right now Irving is averaging over five assists as a secondary playmaker and is much more careful with the ball than LeBron. LeBron needs to play within the offense, be consistently aggressive in attacking the rim and be more careful with the ball. My biggest problem with LeBron has been how frequently he has been talking to the media and what he has been talking about. In most of his conversations, he has come across as a coach more than a part of the team. He has deflected criticism off of himself and onto his less experienced teammates. For a team that has been deemed fragile by them, he has done a poor job (at least publicly) of providing vocal leadership and creating a fellowship amongst his teammates. The Cavs didn’t sign up for a documentary to chronicle their journey, we don’t need to know every struggle or thought that crosses his mind.He needs to keep things in house and lead by example.
Luscher: I hate how LeBron has played. He’s such a huge part of everything the Cavs do that when he spends half their games playing terribly, it brings the whole team down with him. His 4.0 turnovers per game are unacceptable. How he stops the ball more than any other player is unacceptable. The way he blames his teammates is unacceptable. His defense is a billion times unacceptable. He’s had moments of greatness during this season, but that doesn’t excuse both his sloppy, disinterested play and his ridiculous sound bytes. He’s the best player on this team, and he only acts like it when he’s getting interviewed.
Mourton: I'm writing about this right now. I think he's either hiding an injury or kind of being a turd. He's confusing me.