It is that magical time of year where actual NBA news is scarce, so the NBA community turns to rankings players, teams, logos, jerseys and everything else under the sun. While these rankings should normally be taken with a grain of salt, they do provide great conversation pieces for those who want to talk basketball year round. Today ESPN released a ranking showing where teams stand in terms of talent under the age of 25. These rankings can fluctuate dramatically from year to year depending on what teams get high draft picks, or when a team trades young talent in order to cash in to acquire veterans.
The Cavaliers certainly gave up a fair amount of young talent this summer with the departure of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev. Despite these departures, the Cleveland Cavaliers remain loaded with young talent and were ranked 5th in the league by ESPN (insider only). The Cavaliers would be higher on this list if Kevin Love had not turned 25 a couple weeks ago, but still possess some high-end young talent.
Amin Elhassan had this to say about the Cavaliers:
Remember when I said some teams cash in their youth for "win now" vets? That's exactly what Cleveland did when it moved players such as Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev in cap-clearing deals to sign LeBron James, then traded Wiggins and Bennett in the Kevin Love deal. The Cavs are a markedly better team, projected to contend for a Finals appearance, but they managed to still hold onto a few young pieces, most notably FIBA World Cup MVP Kyrie Irving. He's racked up several individual accolades in his young career, but the next stage is more difficult: figuring out how to fit his brilliance within the context of the needs of the team, and the inevitable sacrifices that come along with that.
His fellow backcourt mate Waiters has that same struggle ahead of him, and if he had issues being perceived as a second banana to Irving before, it remains to be seen how he'll handle being the fourth option. Still, he's a power guard who can play either backcourt position, so that gives Cleveland some flexibility. Thompson is an energy big looking to take a leap into being something more than just energy, and Dellavedova has been a pleasant find as a backup point guard.
In all, the Cavaliers have eight players under the age of 25. Kyrie Irving (22. Yes, he's actually only 22 years old), Dion Waiters (23), Tristan Thompson (23), Matthew Dellavedova (24), Dwight Powell (23), Joe Harris (23), Eric Murphy (23) and Alex Kirk (22). It's unlikely that all these players will make the final roster, but any players at risk of being released would be unlikely to move the needle in these rankings.
While I understand the questions Amin raised about Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters adjusting to the elevated status of the Cavaliers as well as the infusion of talent. I personally do not feel like it will be an issue. The fact that I am also a fan of this team may cloud my judgment, but I really did feel that both Irving and Waiters showed growth towards the end of last season. It was apparent that neither was happy with either the teams management or coaching last season.
Despite that, the team was able to perform well down the stretch, differences were put aside and they were both able to play for the team rather than themselves. Both Irving and Waiters appear to be alphas with a lot of pride. The losing that has plagued this franchise for the past four seasons has been overwhelming to watch at times, and I can understand their desire at times to try and turn things around on their own. Their past mistakes and missteps are understandable, but not excusable. Both have acknowledged that they need to be better in the future and have worked to prepare for the changes next season.
With the Cavs committing to Kyrie Irving this summer with a max contract, the ball is in the hands of the explosive Waiters to determine where he will fit within the dynasty that David Griffin is trying to build. Given his growth last season and relationship with both Kevin Love and LeBron James, he appears to be in a situation that will help him transition into the do-it-all guard that the Cavs need him to become.
The team likely has a bright future for a long time with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. LeBron James isn't exactly an aging veteran either at 29 years old. The mix of youth as well as battle-tested veterans that the Cavaliers possess positions them perfectly to capitalize on LeBron's prime and contend in the short-term, as well as two elite talents in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that will compete to inherit the title of the team's best player for the next decade.