The Sports Bank will be counting down to the opening tip of the 2012-13 NBA season with team by team previews starting with the worst and working our way to the title contenders. There is no lockout this time around so let’s get going.
Year two of the post-LeBron James makeover in Cleveland is underway. Led by reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, the future is getting brighter for the Cavs but they are still a couple of seasons away from being a legitimate playoff contender.
2011-12: 21-45, 13th in Eastern Conference
Predicted EC Finish: 12th
Projected Depth Chart:
C: Anderson Vaejao/Tyler Zeller/Michael Eric
PF: Tristan Thompson/Samardo Samuels/Luke Walton/Luke Harangody/Jon Leuer
SF: Omri Casspi or Alonzo Gee/C.J. Miles/Kelenna Azubuike
SG: Dion Waiters/Daniel Gibson
PG: Kyrie Irving/David Sloan/Jeremy Pargo
Cleveland’s off-season was: a building block. The Cavs front office did the smart thing by not blowing any of their cap space and spending money on overpriced veterans. They added a pair of young pieces in Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. In case you are new to my writing, I love Waiters and think he has the potential to be a Dwyane Wade-type player in the NBA (although I must admit I was shocked he went fourth overall.) Zeller will be a serviceable big man in the NBA though I can’t ever see him developing into a starter on a playoff caliber team. Other than that, Cleveland was fairly quiet this off-season which is not a negative for a team that was ultimately building from scratch last season and not looking to open up their wallets by overpaying free agents.
2012-2013 will be a success if: Kyrie Irving stays healthy, Tristan Thompson develops his offensive game, and Waiters shows flashes of being a star. Irving proved last year that he has superstar potential and the capability of leading this franchise into the future. He was hampered by injury including a late season concussion which has some in Cleveland wondering if he is injury proned. If he can avoid the injury bug, he should become one of the bright young stars in the league.
I was vehemently against Thompson being the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft but when you look back at that draft class, it wasn’t a terrible decision. Thompson is solid on the glass but needs to become more well rounded on the offensive end to take the next step with his game. Waiters is in a similar position as he is terrific off the bounce due to his strength and athleticism but is inconsistent with his outside shooting. These three players are the future of the Cavs’ franchise so their play will bring either optimism or pessimism to the team’s outlook for the next couple of years.
2012-2013 will be a disappointment if: injuries take a toll on the team once again. One thing the Cavaliers lack is quality depth. Anderson Varejao missed a significant chunk of last season with a torn tendon on his wrist. I already mentioned Irving and the team’s top bench scorer Daniel Gibson was also sidelined for nearly half of last season. (By the way, it’s a sad but true statement that Gibson is the team’s top bench scorer.) Any injury to one of the starters will tremendously affect what is already a thin crop of reserves that don’t exactly bring a ton of firepower to the floor.
Looking ahead to next summer: A pair of terrible contracts will come off the books in Luke Walton and Daniel Gibson which will open up almost $11 million in cap space and give the Cavs a ton of cap flexibility to possibly pursue a veteran or two. The most interesting player to watch will be Anderson Varejao. Right now, he is serving as one of the lone experienced players on the roster but in their youth movement, Cleveland could decide to deal Varejao for some more young talent or assets in future picks, and might actually be moved prior to the trade deadline. Even if they keep Varejao, the Cavs could also end up with as many as three first round picks which will accelerate their rebuilding effort.