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Reflecting on the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers, and what the lack of continuity meant for young team

Closing the book on the Cleveland Cavaliers for another year.


The opening night starting lineup? Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao.

Only two of those players started more than 30 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tristan Thompson started all 82 games and led the team in minutes played. Given that he isn't particularly good at the moment, this wasn't exactly ideal. His backup for awhile was Anthony Bennett. That didn't work out so it became Earl Clark. That didn't work out so it was Bennett again.

Dion Waiters was the classic shooting guard starter until he was a pseudo-backup point guard having his minutes staggered with Irving and coming off the bench, until he was the starter again.

Earl Clark was the small forward until he had to be the backup power forward because Bennett fell out of the rotation. Neither worked out and he was eventually jettisoned off to help make the Spencer Hawes trade work financially.

Tristan Thompson was pretty average. Average defensively, average player efficiency rating, awful first month and then steady improvement. No third year leap here, but he got better as the season went on. He has a big summer ahead of him.

Anderson Varejao started opening night, and then Andrew Bynum took over. For a little while. It was bad and the Cavs were bad and Bynum was eventually kicked off the team and traded. Varejao took over again, and the Cavaliers traded for Spencer Hawes, which largely helped.

It was a turbulent year. I have, for some time now, been preaching continuity. Continuity from the coaching staff. Continuity for the players. The roster was full of question marks. Was Earl Clark any good? Jarrett Jack has played for an awful lot of teams. Will he fit here? What's the deal with Bynum? Are Waiters and Thompson any good? And Mike Brown was left to try and figure out the answers to all of them. And when he couldn't, it was left to the players to try and make as much sense of things as they could.

For one of the youngest teams in the league, well, it just wasn't smart. And it was something else, not only for Kyrie Irving, but for Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller as well: it was unfair. These guys are trying to figure out who they are in the league. All are trying to assert themselves and prove that they belong. Tyler Zeller, at various points of the season, shared the court with Thompson, Hawes, and Varejao. All three of those guys play different games. They defend differently. So Zeller, second year big man, is not only trying to be in the right place based on what he can do and what his role is- he has to understand the personalities and strengths and deficiencies of three other guys, all different.

There were no consistent rotations. Guys were in and out of the lineup, guys were in and out of town. Guys played above their heads, then found ways to play themselves out of minutes. Waiters was supposed to be learning to play off of Kyrie, until he wasn't. Never mind, no one has any clue what type of NBA player Waiters is. Waiters doesn't. He wants to be great. Maybe he can be. The Miami Heat are worse when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade share the court than when they are separated. Two of the smartest, best basketball players in the world. The Oklahoma City Thunder were better with Russell Westbrook and James Harden getting staggered minutes.

Point being: Irving and Waiters are still trying to figure out what their NBA skills are. Asking them to try and do that while complimenting each other? It's a hard ask. It isn't impossible. But not only is it something that players like James and Wade struggle with, they struggle with it while being surrounded by an optimal lineup of shooters! Waiters and Irving had no such benefit.

For me, the theme of the year is putting young players in impossible positions and then being mad when it doesn't work out. Would Thompson's efficiency numbers and defense look better if he was playing 26 minutes a night, more of them against opposing teams' bench players? My guess is the answer is yes. His efficiency improved throughout the year anyway.

Would Irving and Waiters have been benefited by a scoring roll man and shooters to kick it out to? Yes. They improved throughout the season anyway. Would they have been benefited by a coach who cared a bit more about preaching and teaching offensive concepts? Yes, of course. But when they trusted the system late in the year, the offense worked. Is it vanilla? Absolutely. But as the team gets older and has more continuity and trust, diversifying becomes a lot easier.

So what does it mean for the Cavaliers this summer? Unless there is a major deal out there, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller should all be back next year. Same with Anthony Bennett. When you commit to building around guys you drafted at age 19 and 20 things are necessarily going to be difficult. When you choose not to supplement the roster through free agency, as the Cavaliers did in 2012, or completely blow it when you do, as the Cavaliers did in 2013, it's going to be worse. I don't think the answer is to give up on players all making progress, perceived or not, as they inch toward their primes.

Changes will be good. But change should supplement, and accentuate. There's been enough upheaval.