If there's one positive thing about being a Cleveland basketball fan, it's that now you have two teams - the Cavaliers and whoever is playing the Heat. As I watched this year's Lakers-less Finals with almost as much intensity and drama as the previous 3 seasons', I can only imagine the hype that went through Cleveland with every Dirk fall away and Tyson Chandler put-back.
I'm not going to waste anyone's time here by recapping the calamity of The Decision and the ensuing drama and heartbreak of Northeastern Ohio. We all know what happened, and the nightmare season that followed. After winning 61 games before, the Cavs essentially flipped their record and lost 63 games. They were one of the worst offensive and defensive teams in the league, and put together a nightly starting five that might not have been able to contend with Coach Calhoun's 2011 Connecticut Huskies.
This team needs help in almost every conceivable way. If the season were to start today, they would have a roster with two overpaid, perennially injured vets (Antawn Jamison and Baron Davis), four rotation guys on good teams (Anderson Varejao, JJ Hickson, Daniel Gibson, Ramon Sessions) and everyone else being no better than a second-round draft pick (that's almost the truth; only Joey Graham and Christian Eyenga - drafted with the 30th pick two seasons ago - are former first-rounders in this group). Let's take a look at their salary commitments for the 2011-2012 season.
Antawn Jamison: 15.07 million
Baron Davis: 13.9 million
Anderson Varejao: 7.7 million
Daniel Gibson: 4.4 million
Ramon Sessions: 4.25 million
Ryan Hollins: 2.48 million (player option)
JJ Hickson: 2.35 million
Christian Eyenga: 1.09 million
Joey Graham: 1.1 million
Samardo Samuels: 788,000
Manny Harris: 788,000
Semih Erden: 788,000
Luke Harangody: 788,000
Total: 55.85 million
Anthony Parker: 2.855 million
Leon Powe: 915,850
Alonzo Gee: 508,130
Total: 4.25 million
1). Draft Kyrie Irving with the first pick
Thanks to the absolute incompetency of the Clippers' front office, YOUR...Cleveland Cavaliers own both the number 1 and number 4 pick in this year's draft. Duke's Kyrie Irving has long been considered the slam-dunk first overall pick, but I've heard recent reports that the Cavs have thought about both Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter as the number one pick. By going with either of these two players, the Cavs would then select Kentucky point guard Brand Knight with that number 4 pick.
The Cavs have been gifted this number one pick by some very fortuitous bounce of ping-pong balls; don't wait to take Knight IF you think Irving is the better player. Take the best player first.
2) With the number 4 pick, take your gamble
Again, the Cavs need help EVERYWHERE - Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Tristian Thompson, whoever. Take that guy. Derrick Williams is the same type of guy as JJ Hickson? Big deal. Enes Kanter plays the same position as Varejao? Who cares. Draft for skill, not need. Take the best player available and sort it out later - anyone you take at 4 has trade value. I'm thinking that the Wolves will take Kanter at two (though knowing David Kahn, he might just draft Brandon Knight out of habit) and the Jazz will select Knight at three. This would leave Derrick Williams at the four spot - best case scenario for the Cavs. Williams and Irving in the same draft? What a haul.
3) Resist any temptation to trade Varejao; the same goes for Ramon Sessions or Daniel Gibson unless the return is a first round pick
As Tyson Chandler, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Bynum and Serge Ibaka have shown us, the league is now leaning towards the model of shot-blocking and rebounding-first centers that work as motors for the defense. Anderson Varejao is that type of player - he's young, plays extremely hard and brings the energy every single night, much like a Brazilian Tyson Chandler with strange, highlighted hair. With the title that Chandler just helped the Mavs win, I imagine that the Cavs front office is going to be flooded with calls for Varejao. I think that with the right draft picks, and the ton of expiring money coming off the books in the next two years from Jamison and Davis (nearly 30 million combined), having Varejao on your team for the next 5 years is a must.
As for Sessions and Gibson - they are solid, young vets who will give you professional minutes. Unless you can find a team that badly needs three-point shooting and is willing to give up a lottery first rounder for either one of them, I'd try to keep these guys on the team just to be competitive. However, would the Bulls give up a future number one for either of these guys? Or maybe the Clippers? Also, you have to figure that Baron is going to spend time on the injured list. Both Gibson and Sessions are reliable enough to run the offense and give young Kyrie a little mentoring in the bigs.
4). Sign a couple guys that can rebound the basketball
Nothing crazy here - Kenyon Martin, Kris Humphries, Chandler and Samuel Dalembert will want to play for contenders. Guys like Nazr Mohammed, Josh McRoberts and Leon Powe can give you professional minutes for the minimum. Even if everything goes right (players stay healthy, Williams and Irving are not only drafted, but are as NBA-ready as everyone says they are), this is still a borderline playoff team. They merely need guys that can backup Hickson and Varejao and not stink up the joint too much when they're out there. Just please, no Collins brothers. Ever.
5). Resist trading for parts
This team is not going to compete for an Eastern Conference crown for at least a couple seasons. I would absolutely resist every temptation to trade for parts. With all their young players (including Hickson), the Cavs might have a core to lean upon going forward. I'd resist trading parts right now.
If everything here goes to plan, the Cavs will run this line-up next season:
Baron Davis, Christian Eyenga, Antawn Jamison, JJ Hickson and Anderson Varejao
Bench: Derrick Williams, Kyrie Irving, Daniel Gibson, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins
Not a terrible team, and certainly not one that's going to lose 25 games in a row, or get blown out by 56 on any given night. The Cavs need to embrace their young core, play the solid defense that coach Byron Scott is known for and try to stay competitive in an extremely weak division. And go Mavs.