Three full seasons have already passed since the Cleveland Cavaliers reshuffled the decks: a new coach, general manager, team, uniform scheme, and most importantly, culture have made their way into the organization
Well, the coach isn’t exactly new anymore. After a run with the Lakers in which he received little support, Mike Brown is making his way back to Cleveland. While Byron Scott may have gotten just as little support as Brown, he did have a little bit more time with the team than Brown with LA.
After a third straight season of misery, the Cavs have cashed in on their third straight top three pick, more so winning the first pick for the second time in three years. But the most pleasing sign from the most recent draft lottery may have come from son of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, Nick Gilbert, who made it clear that the goal is to not be in this situation next year, but to make the playoffs.
When the Cavs initially cleaned house, they were left in a very overwhelming situation. They had were in a bad position in the draft due to the great regular season from the previous year, and were therefore left to essentially let a year pass by so they could truly get an opportunity at fresh start.
That fresh start came in 2011 when they drafted Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who have both evolved into cornerstones for the franchise. Kyrie has become an elite star, one that any rebuilding franchise would treasure. He overcame low post-draft expectations to become more than just a solid player. While various nagging injuries have been slight issues, Irving ended his first campaign winning Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge. In his sophomore year, he continued to raise his game, averaging 22.5 points per game (8th in the league), while upping his perimeter shooting game, even winning the three point shooting contest. While individual defense and durability may remain a concern, playing under Mike Brown and a second full offseason should help him resolve some defensive issues. He played 8 more games this season and should hopefully be fully healthy coming into next season.
Tristan Thompson has not received the acclaim similar to Irving. His game isn’t as flashy and he was not as well known coming out of the 2011 draft. After a so-so rookie season in which he managed to earn Second Team All-Rookie honors, Thompson came into the 2012-2013 season more refined and determined, overcoming a slow start to average around a double-double most of the season. He also improved his free throw shooting, which was a welcoming sign. His consistency throughout this past season was key: he played every game and put up solid performances at a steady rate.
In Irving and Thompson, the Cavaliers had a tangible foundation to build around. The 2011-2012 lockout shortened season was still a losing one, but it was certainly an improvement from the previous one.
The 2012 draft allowed the Cavs to start putting talent around Kyrie. Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller were drafted, and both had notable rookie seasons. Waiters made quite an impact, making the All-Rookie First Team. He may not have the allure of Irving, but his ability to score in double digits certainly helped alleviate some of the pressure on Irving to score. While his role may still be unclear – is he a starter or a sixth man – it is certain that he will be a go-to player in the fourth quarter. Waiters’ streaky shooting was cancelled by some key plays in clutch situations, but his long-range shooting needs improvement. Zeller was up and down all year. The effort was there, but there were games where he had nothing going offensively. As he grows into his role and NBA body, his numbers will improve.
Based on these results, one might say the Cavs have done a lot of winning – in the offseason. They have gotten lucky in the lottery and have made respectable selections. But now comes the hard part – winning during the season.
Now, with another chance to select first during the rebuilding stage, the Cavs must view this offseason as the final one before they start gunning for the playoffs. In order to truly build a winning culture, you have to start winning. The Cavs don’t need to guarantee home court advantage next year – they just need to play .500 basketball, which can certainly put them in contention for a playoff seed in the extremely weak Eastern Conference.
With the first selection in the 2013 NBA Draft, I suppose that the Cavs have four options with that pick:
Draft Nerlens Noel
Noel seems to be the consensus favorite for the first selection, but not overwhelmingly. In his only season at Kentucky, he showcased his freakish athletic abilities. Averaging 4.4 blocks per game, he amassed 12 blocks in one game against Ole Miss during SEC conference play. However, it is difficult to judge whether this dominance can translate in the NBA. At 6’10, the height and jumping ability are there, but he is currently underweight for a big man in the pros. If he cannot improve his strength, that may limit his special abilities on the defensive end. At Kentucky, he struggled guarding some of the better big men in the NCAA. Maryland’s Alex Len scored 23 points against the Wildcats and Duke’s Mason Plumlee put up 18 points. While these were the first two games of his college career, it is worthy to note. On the other side of the floor, Noel’s offense is fairly limited. Most of his points in Kentucky were from dunks or lay-ins, be it from a put back, lob, or running in the transition game. His free throw shooting in college was almost as dreadful as Tristan Thompson’s, as he shot 53% from the line.
Most importantly, Noel is recovering from a torn ACL, so he will not play until early-mid season at best. Are the Cavs willing to risk drafting another player who failed to play a decent amount of his sole college season with the first pick?
With Noel, the Cavs could have a great duo for years to come between he and Kyrie. The two would be scary on the fast break. Drafting Noel would also give a great shot blocking presence for Mike Brown to work with as he retools the Cavs defense. Noel would be able to learn from Anderson Varejao and former Cavalier Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who now works with the organization. At only 19, Noel may have some deficiencies, but it would be difficult to not pick arguably the most talented player, especially given his overall production in his short time at Kentucky. The Cavs would have to be patient with Noel. He likely would not start his rookie year, but the long-term rewards could be special.
Draft Otto Porter, Jr.
This scenario could involve a trade with Orlando, which has the second pick. It’s the classic argument of better player versus better fit. But Porter is not a slouch by any means. Although his past season may have ended worse than Noel’s, in which his Georgetown Hoyas lost to 15 seed Florida Golf Coast in the first round, Porter had a banner sophomore season, scoring in double figures in all but three games. He led his team in minutes (35.4), points (16.4), rebounds (7.5), steals (1.8), and free throw percentage (77.7%). Porter was also second in blocks (.9) and third in assists (2.7). This type of all-around contribution helped the Hoyas tie for the regular season Big East title.
As a forward, Porter would bring to Cleveland something it has lacked since LeBron James left. Porter may not become as good as James, but if he could produce similar to a Luol Deng or Paul George, then Kyrie Irving would have another solid option to pass to. Porter’s length and ability to shoot mid-long range would stretch defenses and give Irving and Waiters room to drive. His three-point game may be an issue with the further distance, but his overall shooting will help a team desperately looking for scoring from the small forward position. Over the past few years, the Cavs have resorted to signing the likes of CJ Miles and Omri Casspi, but Porter would be a major upgrade. It would also allow Alonzo Gee to play more shooting guard, more fitting for his size.
Draft Ben McLemore
McLemore, a shooting guard from Kansas, is also a good option. I am not as high on him as Noel or Porter, but can’t deny his potential. Like Noel, his athleticism would make a deadly duo on the break with Kyrie. His movement on the court reminds me of Paul George although he isn’t as tall. It would be interesting to see how he and Dion would play off each other. Since McLemore is a better shooter than Waiters (shot 42% at Kansas from 3), the Cavs could play a three-guard lineup in certain situations.
McLemore would bring athleticism to a backcourt that already has some explosiveness in Waiters and Gee. Like Noel, I think he is pretty raw. Of all potential draft candidates, he could be the one who becomes a star.
Trade 1st Pick
There’s also the possibility that the Cavs simply do not like the top options in the draft, and opt to move down in the draft while adding veteran player/s. Listed below are players who will be free agents this offseason and next, who I can see being involved in a deal if the Cavs decide to ship the first pick to another team. Given the luxury of having the amount of cap space that Cleveland has, it could probably take these players in a sign and trade deal if necessary.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks – Danny Ferry would love to have the first pick to start anew, and Josh Smith may find the idea of playing alongside Irving to be attractive. Brown would certainly be favorable to Josh Smith’s defense. In addition, the Cavs could receive one of the Hawks first round picks.
Gerald Henderson, Charlotte Bobcats – Perhaps the Bobcats give the Cavs the fourth pick in the draft along with Henderson for the Cavs’ two first round picks. With the fourth pick, Otto Porter, Jr. may still be on the board.
OJ Mayo, Dallas Mavericks – The Mavs are certainly in search of young talent, and Mayo would give the Cavs a big time scorer to pair alongside Irving. Dallas has the 13th pick, which could be included in a potential deal.
Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets – Depending on what the Nuggets do this offseason, Iguoudala may or may not be a moveable part. Iggy is a proven leader, especially on the defensive end. The Nuggets have the 27th pick in the first round.
Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder – Martin’s ability to knock down the three in OKC allowed them to finish with the top seed in the West. OKC has the 12th pick in the draft.
I know there have been rumors of Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge in potential trades, but I do not prefer those deals. I would approve of the deals above only if we get the opposing teams first round picks in return. It’s hard to make a list of trade candidates because there are so many and there is also so much time for teams to negotiate until the draft.
With these four options – drafting Noel, drafting Porter, drafting McLemore, or trading down to get an established veteran and/or more picks – the Cavs have a huge decision to make during the upcoming Draft.
With three other picks in the draft: the 19th, 31st, and 33rd, the Cavs have other means to improve their team in the draft. Here are some players whom I think the Cavs should look into with their mid-draft picks:
Tony Snell, SF, New Mexico – Snell’s hot run in the Mountain West Conference Tournament led the Lobos to a championship victory. He shot 12 of 20 from three-point range in three tournament games, topping off a great regular season. His play could be similar to Kawhi Leonard, who he actually played with in high school.
CJ Leslie, SF, North Carolina State – Due to a quicker exit from the NCAA tourney, Leslie’s performance this season may have been more under looked than the previous one. He can attack the basket (shot 52% from the field) and crash the boards (7.4 rebounds per game).
Isaiah Canaan, PG, Murray State – Canaan could be a potential candidate to backup Kyrie Irving and play occasionally shooting guard a la Daniel Gibson. With Shaun Livingston’s future with Cleveland up in the air, it is important to add depth at the point guard position. We saw how important Reggie Jackson was when Westbrook went down during the playoffs. Canaan’s mainly a scoring point guard, but with Gibson’s future unknown, he could be one to look at.
Erick Green, PG, Virginia Tech – Similar to Canaan, Green can score (led the NCAA in scoring at 25 points per game). He would play a similar role as described above.
Rudy Gobert, PF, France – With four picks, the Cavs can afford to make a move for an international player. I don’t think he’s ready for immediate impact, but has unreal length (7’2”). The Cavs haven’t had someone of this length since Ilgauskas.
There are other players out there certainly, but those are some players who I think would be especially good fits. As long as the Cavs can get someone who they project to be able to backup Kyrie Irving, a starting caliber small forward, and a back up big (assuming Speights is cut), our needs will be satisfied.
This offseason is the third full offseason the Cavs will have since the unprecedented exit of LeBron James. Now that the Cavs have a legit star, along with some key supporting players, this offseason gives them a chance to add another potential star or established player. They have the opportunity this summer to build something special.