2014 NBA Draft Preview: The Never Winning But Always Interesting Cleveland Cavaliers

David Stern walks to the podium, card in hand, boos raining down, to announce the first selection of his final Draft as NBA commissioner. He begins, “With the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft the Cleveland Cavaliers select…” The short portly man with the silver hair pauses for dramatic effect.

This is his last draft after all, he might as well relish the moment. He opens his mouth to speak, his lips clearly about pronounce an “A” before he appeals to the crowd for louder boos. Everyone is thinking at this point the “A” will be followed by “lex Len”, the hotly debated center from Maryland. It was down to him or Nerlens Noel. Everyone said so. Stern holds the form of the “A” for what feels like an eternity before continuing… “Anthony Bennet of Toronto, Canada and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.” On the ESPN telecast Bill Simmons lets out the reaction that everyone at home was feeling: “WHOAH!!!” It was a shocking selection by Chris Grant and the Cavs.

But really, it shouldn’t have been that surprising at all. You see, that’s what the Cavs do these days: they’re always full of surprises.

When they won the Draft Lottery only a year after losing LeBron (with a pick they got for the right to amnesty Baron Davis, no less) it was surprising. When they took Dion Waiters fourth overall over Harrison Barnes in 2012 it was shocking. When the won the Lottery again in 2013 it was unthinkable. When they subsequently selected Bennett, rendering months of blog debates utterly useless, it was drop-your-jaw stunning.

When they re-hired Mike Brown it was puzzling. When they fired Chris Grant and said that they liked the team he built it was puzzling still. When they waited almost a month after the season to fire Mike Brown (again) it was kinda odd. And then only a week later when they (and I still kinda can’t believe it actually happened to be honest) won the Lottery for the third time in four years it was poop-your-pants unbelievable.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that a month and a half long coaching search concludes with the Cavs hiring a man that has only coached overseas and most people had never even heard of. And it shouldn’t have been all that shocking either when the general consensus top overall player in this year’s draft, Joel Embiid, came down with a broken foot.

For normal teams these events happening essentially on back-to-back days would have been unconscionable. But for the Cavs? Shock and surprise is our normal. At this point the most surprising thing to happen would be if something normal and predictive might happen. So as we lead into the draft this week, with the Cavs holding the No. 1 overall pick, we should all expect the unexpected.

If it was up to me I’d take Andrew Wiggins. At the end of the day I err on the side of betting on potential and Wiggins has the potential to be a great player. Every ability you want out of a top pick is there, he’s just got to put it together. That’s not to say, however, that I wouldn’t be more than happy with Jabari Parker. He’s the surest thing in this draft, a guy that could contribute in the starting lineup from day one with the Cavs. David Griffin won’t get fired for picking Jabari Parker. He could, however, lose his job if he takes the chance on Joel Embiid and it doesn’t work out. Through most of this process my draft top three went 1a) Embiid, 1b) Wiggins, 2) Parker. The raw abilities combined with the size and athleticism of Embiid are truly enticing…even enticing enough to take him in spite of his back issue. But when you add in a broken foot? That makes it a little more dicey. One is a fluke…two is a trend. And the NBA has a long history of big men losing injury battles.

Taking Embiid first overall at this point moves beyond “risky” to “reckless.” Griffin would be putting his job on the line with that decision. The good news is that the Cavs doctors have had a chance to get a look at Embiid and weigh the risk versus reward. If they determine that Embiid will be fine then they could play this situation perfectly. They could trade back to No. 3 and pick up some extra assets and still get the guy they want. And that is ultimately the beauty of where the Cavs are: they control the situation. Oddly, this year’s draft is exactly like last year’s…only the exact opposite in a way. Last year there were about six guys who were the consensus top players in the draft. The Cavs held the first pick and their choice of the lot of them. They really coudn’t screw it up. Some would argue that they did anyways but not me. The fortunes of the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers would not have changed one bit if they would have taken Victor Oladipo, Ben MacLemore, or any of the lot over Bennett. Go look at their stats…they were all terrible. And I still think Bennett has as much, if not more, upside than any of them. [Editor’s Note: The guy with the MOST upside is the Greek Freak who was not a “top guy”] But we digress…the point is that last year there really was no wrong decision.

The same holds true for this year. There really isn’t a wrong decision. Smart minds differ on who is better: Parker or Wiggins? If the Cavs stay put and take one of those two guys they can’t be wrong. The other guy could turn out better but when it’s a 50-50 shot and you take it…the results shouldn’t color the decision. I almost expect nothing exciting to happen. I sorta feel like the Cavs are just going to sit pat and take Parker (if you believe the rumors these days…which you shouldn’t of course).

But it’s when you get lulled into that false sense of normalcy that the unpredictability of the Cavs hits you again. So I expect the unexpected. And nothing will surprise me.

In the end I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavs traded back, drafted Dante Exum, traded Kyrie for Kevin Love, and brought back LeBron. [Editor’s Note: Lebron has opted out] Ok, I lied…that would surprise me.

But only a little. Because while the Cavs never actually win anything, they’re always interesting.


Cleveland the GOAT podcast – Episode 002

Episode – 002 – BIG Z

Ben and Ryan discuss Big Z’s jersey retirement, the return of Cleveland legends and Mike Brown’s future.  The kinks are still being worked out, so thanks for listening.

The NBA Doesn’t Have a Tanking Problem, They have a Parity Problem

The topic of tanking in the NBA has been a widely discussed issue for the past several years and has been at the forefront of people’s minds this season in particular even from the start with the hype of this upcoming draft class. In Cleveland we’ve had our fair share of tanking discussions given how much losing the team endured over the past three years.

It’s undeniable that there is some element of tanking that takes place in the Association in the sense that teams are intentionally bad in an effort to get a better draft pick. The Cavaliers accomplished this task by simply not making an effort to add really any good veteran players for three years and instead invested in young guys who weren’t ready to win on their own in the big leagues yet. Other teams have been more overt in their tanking efforts, with this season’s Sixers being the prime example. They traded away their All-Star point guard for an injured rookie in the offseason to get things started. Then when they weren’t losing enough games they dealt away two of their three best players for nothing of immediate value and really only minimal future value (three second round picks) and replaced them with D-League caliber players. Not only are the Sixers just not trying to make their team better, they’re intentionally making it much worse.

A cry has gone up around the league about how this tanking needs to be put to an end. Bill Simmons wrote at length earlier this week about it and dealing directly with Philadelphia. There is a sense that the tanking that goes on every year is a real problem in the league that needs fixing. This problem is supposedly fixed by changing the draft lottery system that is currently in place. There have been numerous proposed changes to the current lottery system such as having a draft wheel or (one of Simmon’s ideas) basing lottery chances off of three-year instead of single-season totals. The idea is that installing devices like this would keep teams from being intentionally bad. That could happen theoretically. But a downside to any of these is that it hurts the spirit behind every draft in all sports—making bad teams better. Sometimes teams are just bad—like the 2010-11 Cavs for instance. The concept of giving the worst teams in the league the top choices in the draft is something that goes on in all sports. In fact, the NBA is the only league where having the worst record isn’t even a guarantee that you’ll get the top pick. The draft lottery isn’t about “rewarding” teams for being bad so much as it’s an effort to level the playing field in the league.

All of this blustering over “fixing” the lottery, however, gets us away from the real issue in the NBA is: parity…or the lack thereof.

Fun fact about the NBA…over the last thirty years (essentially my lifetime) there have only been eight franchises (out of 30) who have won championships: Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Heat, and Mavericks. In that same time period the NFL has seen 15 of its 32 franchises win the Super Bowl. In baseball we’ve seen 18 of 30 MLB franchises win World Series championships in the past three years and they even lost one year to a strike in 1994. Breaking those down by percentages paints a very shocking picture for the NBA:

MLB: 60%
NFL: 47%
NBA: 27%

Maybe instead of trying to keep the bad teams from getting better through the draft lottery, the NBA should work on evening out the talent field in the league so that different teams are winning championships instead of the same handful every year.

Just about every year when we go into a new NBA you have a really good idea right from the start which teams have a realistic shot at winning the championship. This year we knew from the start that it was really just the Heat and Pacers in the East.[1] The West was a little tougher to forecast but it really came down to the Thunder, Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, and maybe Rockets. That’s seven teams out of 30 that had a realistic shot of winning the championship this season.

There is a general notion about the NBA that nothing surprising ever happens in the playoffs, with the theory that everything falls basically according to chalk. I don’t subscribe to that notion necessarily. I wish everything did go according to plan because then the Cavs in 2009 and 2010 would have actually made the Finals and in theory won, having had the best record during the regular season those years. The Mavericks winning in 2011 certainly wasn’t what everyone expected to happen. So surprises do happen from time to time. But those surprises don’t happen very often and like I demonstrated earlier, a select group of teams wins the NBA Title every year.[2]

Now feels like a good time to point that winning the draft lottery and getting the top pick doesn’t guarantee a championship either. Of the last thirty number one draft picks only three of those players ended up winning a championship with the team that drafted them: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan. Only a handful of other No. 1 overall picks have even made the Finals with the team that took them No. 1: Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard. So just because you win the lottery and get the No. 1 pick doesn’t guarantee anything.

What happens instead, with the LeBron-era Cavs being a prime example, is that you get the No. 1 pick and you take a supremely talented player who is too young and inexperienced to win right away. You then are on the clock to try and grow that player in a very short time-frame (about seven seasons) and build a quality team around him that is capable of winning a championship before losing him in free agency to one of the glamor franchises.[3] This of course is no easy task given that in order to pick at the top of the draft you have to be a bad team. One star player can make a huge difference in the NBA but young players on their rookie contracts are seldom the difference-maker on championship squads. The Cavs were mostly able to do that as I mentioned above with LeBron hitting his prime in those ’09 and ’10 teams that won 60+ games. But they couldn’t get all the way there and then it was over and back to square one with being bad again.

Rinse and repeat.

Building a championship team isn’t an exact science but there are some trends we can notice by looking back at the previous winners.

Heat (2012-2013)—Team was built mostly on convincing multiple All-Star players to play for less than they could make elsewhere to work together. This was made possible, however, because the Heat already had Dwayne Wade on the roster, who they got with a high lottery pick.[4] Wade was, however, on his third contract with the team, which is worth noting as we’ll see. They were then able to get more complementary pieces to join the team on the cheap to fill out their championship squads.

Mavericks (2011)—Dirk Nowitzki, the central player on that team obviously, was really the only major player who also drafted by the team (9th overall in 1998)[5] but he was on at least his third contract with the team, it being his 12th year in the league. The rest of that team’s core was made up of players acquired through trades and free agency: Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Peja Stojakovic. This was really a very savvily built championship team but really needed some breaks to get there. They get a combusting Lakers team in the second round, a too-young Thunder team in the West Finals, and a too-new with an oddly skittish LeBron James in the NBA Finals.

Lakers (2009-2010)—Those two Lakers championship teams were built on third-contract Kobe Bryant along with other key players who were acquired via trades and free agency like Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom. Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum were also drafted by the Lakers. Fisher was taken in 1996 and had left and then come back. Bynum was 10th overall pick in 2005 and was on his second deal. The Lakers had gone through a few lean years with only Kobe until they were able to land Gasol for what looked like pennies on the dollar at the time.

Celtics (2008)—Paul Pierce, like Kobe, was drafted by the team but was on his third contract. The other members of the “Big Three”, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, were acquired through trades. Three other core players that season were drafted by the team (or at least acquired on draft day by the Celtics): Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, and Kendrick Perkins—all outside of the lottery in fact. The interesting thing to note about this Celtics team is that they had been quite terrible for a while prior to winning the championship in 2008. They used all that losing to acquire a bevy of young players that didn’t fit well together and were too young to win NBA games and then flipped most of them in those Garnett and Allen deals. If they hadn’t spent all those years tanking losing they wouldn’t have had the high draft picks to get players like Delonte West, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, and the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft that become Jeff Green. None of those were great players, but they used all of that “stuff” to acquire two future Hall of Famers who were expendable on bad teams. Sometimes it breaks great and those opportunities present themselves.[6]

Spurs (2003, 2005, 2007)—I’ll cover San Antonio’s three championship teams that spanned five seasons all at once. They were of course centered on Duncan, the aforementioned No. 1 overall pick who actually won a championship with the team that drafted him. But he did so in large part because he was willing to take less money than he could have in order that the Spurs could retain their better players. The Spurs did a great job building their team. Most people know how Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were late first and early second round picks, respectively, and how they ended up being great All-Star players and comprised the core of those championship teams. But the Spurs also won with Bruce Bowen who was an undrafted player who bounced around the league and overseas for almost a decade before landing with in San Antonio in 2001 where he spent the final eight years of his career. The Spurs were able to land Michael Finley on the cheap in free agency in 2005 in large part because he had been cut by the Mavericks and bought out of his final three years and $50+M remaining on his contract.

Heat (2006)—This is one of the few exceptions in recent history of a young star player, Wade, winning a championship before his third contract. Wade, of course, couldn’t have won in 2006 if it weren’t for the help of the refs and Shaq. In fact, Wade was really the only Heat-drafted player who had any real impact for that championship team. The rest of the roster with Shaq, Alonzo Mourning (who played the bulk of his career with Miami before leaving and then returning), Antoine Walker, James Posey, Jason Williams, and Gary Payton, were all acquired along the way with trades and free agency. Shaq, the main piece, was acquired in a big trade in which the Heat sent out Caron Butler and Lamar Odom among other pieces. It must be noted that the reason that Shaq was on the Heat was because he and Kobe could no longer play together in LA. The Heat don’t win in 2006 if Kobe and Shaq are still co-existing in 2004.

Pistons (2004)—One of the most unique NBA champions, the Pistons were the beneficiaries a super weak Eastern Conference and the imploding Lakers team. Still, it was a great defensive team that was generally devoid of a typical “star” player. They built their team through trades for Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace and hitting on free agent Chauncey Billups, a former high draft pick who took a while to really come into his own in the NBA. Tayshaun Prince was a later first round pick who was most effective on that team because of his defense, much like Bowen was for those Spurs teams. Ben Wallace, the backbone defensively of those Piston teams, was an undrafted player who had been thrown into several trades before landing in Detroit. I don’t know if the Pistons knew what they were getting in Wallace when they acquired him in that sign-and-trade with the Magic for Grant Hill, but they sure found a diamond in the rough.

Lakers (2000-2002)—These Lakers championship teams were of course centered on Shaq and Kobe, the latter acquired by the team on a draft-day trade in 1996 and the former in free agency that same summer. Even with those two Hall of Famers as the core of their team it took them until their fifth season together to win a championship.[7] Like we noted with Wade’s first title, Kobe won his first championships prior to his third contract but also with the help of another great veteran player who just so happened to be Shaq, the most dominant player of his generation.[8]

That was just a quick rundown of the past decade and a half of the NBA and it sheds some light on how championship teams are built.[9] While there is no one model for building a team there are some trends. For the most part, the stars of those teams were past their second contracts with the teams that drafted them. What that means, essentially, is that they’d had a chance to hit free agency. Some of them—like Duncan, Kobe, Wade, Nowitzki, and Pierce—stayed with the team that drafted them.[10] With the possible exception of Nowitzki, depending on you feel about guys like Kidd and Marion at the time, all the other guys needed additional superstars to help them get those rings. The Spurs got theirs through great drafting outside of the lottery. The Lakers got Gasol by trading pieces and parts (including Marc Gasol before we knew he was good). The Celtics got Garnett and Allen by trading the young players they’d drafted while being bad. And the Heat got LeBron and Bosh (probably) through an intricate scheme of tampering going all the way back to the Olympics and convincing those players to play for less than they could be making by paying them under the table to make up the difference.

(Ok, I made up that last part. But I’m convinced there’s something underhanded going on there. Let’s at least agree that Pat Riley looks like someone capable of concocting a less than ethical plan like that.)

It is a generally held belief around the league that the best way to build a winner is by doing what Oklahoma City has done—bottom out for about three or four seasons and build around the high draft picks you get from sucking. Outside of Pierce, that’s essentially what the Celtics did to get the rest of their players. They just flipped most of those young draft picks into established stars. But beside Boston, that team-building method hasn’t exactly yielded any championships.

It appears that the best way to build a championship team is by building around stars who are in their prime, which generally happens around year 6-10 or so.

Crazy concept, I know. Here’s the problem…you can get those players only three ways: draft, free agency, or trade.

Free agency hasn’t been shown be a reliable option for most of the league. The fact is that stars in the NBA just don’t leave to go to about half of the cities in the league. They’ll sign big money with glamor teams like the Lakers, Heat, and Knicks but you never see stars in the prime of the careers going to places like Cleveland or Milwaukee.

Trades are really tough, especially when trying to acquire a star. You need a bevy of assets, like young players and draft picks, along with a losing team that is willing to part with their star player because they don’t think they can keep him and don’t want to lose him for nothing. However, the problem with that is that many teams don’t want to trade for a rental unless they know said star will resign with the team. And as we’ve mentioned before, stars don’t usually sign with the less-glamorous teams.

That leaves the draft as being the only viable option for most of the league. This forces teams, like the current and LeBron-era Cavs, to bottom out in hopes of landing a star through the draft. Once they get that star, like we did with LeBron and again with Kyrie, the team is on the clock—about seven or eight years. In that time they have to grow that star player into being able to contribute to winning a championship while building around him with other really good to great players.

The problem, again, is that the most talented players entering the league are still way too young in their basketball maturity to contribute to a winning team. Duncan came out of college after four years and won a championship, along with former No. 1 overall pick Robinson, in his second season. That equates to about year 6 in his basketball education. LeBron’s year 6 was the 66-win 2008-09 Cavaliers. So the Cavs essentially had a two or three year window in which LeBron had developed to the point where he was good enough to be the central figure of a championship team. That’s a really small window!!!

If we’ve learned anything from this history lesson it’s that you unequivocally need stars to win championships. And every one of those championship teams (Pistons being the exception in all of this) that we looked at had at least one star that they drafted. The interesting thing that is worth noting is that not all of those stars were taken at the top of the draft. Sure LeBron, Duncan, and Shaq all went No. 1. But Pierce was the 10th pick in 1998. Nowitzki went one pick ahead of him that same draft. Kobe was the 13th pick in 1996. So you don’t necessarily have to be at the top of the lottery to land a star player necessarily. What you do have to do is be good at drafting and finding talent. That’s what the Spurs did so well in finding Parker and Ginobili.

But that shouldn’t preclude bad teams from getting the top pick in the draft, it should be even more of a reason to give them the first shot at getting those players. Because isn’t that the goal? Don’t we want to see parity in the league? Don’t we want to see new teams win the championship? Shouldn’t that be the goal?

I’m asking because I seriously don’t know. What I’ve seen from the NBA is a league that has allowed young talented players to enter the league before they’re ready to really be a winning player. And by the time that they’ve matured to be a contributor to a championship-level team they’re hitting free agency where the league has cultivated a culture that encourages stars to leave smaller cities in favor of glamorous places like LA, New York, and Miami.

THAT is the real problem in the NBA…not tanking. Tanking is the only reason for hope for many franchises. I live in Wisconsin and all the Bucks fans that I know are glad that their team is losing. Sure, they may not enjoy watching the team right now just like Cavs fans didn’t really enjoy the past three seasons of losing basketball. But the Bucks were stuck in a place where they were making the playoffs as the 7th or 8th seed and then losing and never getting a high enough pick to get one of those star players. They really like Giannis Antetokounmpo but it’s tough to envision him as the lone star of championship team. So they’re enjoying the fact that the team is losing instead of trying for the 8th seed because the roster as currently constituted will never be championship quality. And a place like Milwaukee, like Cleveland, has never really attracted a star player via free agency. So for all intents and purposes, their fans are actually rooting for the team to lose and get a high lottery pick. There’s even a super popular fan website about it.

So if tanking is the only real method for most of the league to land foundational star players then why is the league worried about “fixing” it? For many fans losing to get high picks is the only hope they have. And after that then just hope that they reach maturity at just the right time or sign on for a third contract to extend the championship window (an issue that is currently confronting the Thunder). If tanking is the only thing that is keeping fans invested then why would you want to take that away from them and resign them to mediocrity?

If the NBA instituted this crazy wheel idea then fans would know when their turn for a top pick was rolling around. And if you’re a fan of one of the non-glamor franchises you have to wait every five years or whatever for your top five pick to roll around to get excited about the team again. And if your team blows that pick then you’re screwed and you have to wait for your turn to roll around again. With the current lottery method if a team blows a pick they at least have the assurance that they’ll get another shot at it the next year.

Instead of trying to “fix” the tanking issue maybe the league needs to raise the age limit again so that the players who are coming in are a little more seasoned. So by the time these young stars are hitting their basketball prime in year 6-10 it isn’t falling at the end of the team control for the franchise who drafted them and is instead just after their rookie deal. Maybe the league needs to figure out a better way of leveling the talent around the league so that you don’t have a couple super teams while the rest is a bunch of crap.

I’ll readily admit that I don’t have all the solutions. But I’m not paid to make those decisions. What I do know is the real issue for the NBA isn’t that teams are being intentionally bad. The real problems with the league are that only 27% of the franchises have won a championship in the last 30 years, there are only about seven teams every year with a realistic title shot, and word “parity” isn’t a part of the NBA vocabulary.

If the NBA would worry more about setting up teams for sustained success then the “tanking problem” would take care of itself.

[1] Some people (not me) thought that maybe the Nets had a shot coming into the season which obviously hasn’t panned out. Turns out betting on a bunch of over-the-hill veterans isn’t a great recipe for building a winner. Who knew?

[2] The Mavs in general are the sole exception to the rule. Dallas is the only franchise without multiple titles over that 30-year span.

[3] David Stern liked to bury his head in the sand on the issue of all the best players fleeing to the top franchises but it’s an undeniable fact that the cream of the crop in the league tends to couple together in select locations instead of spreading around.

[4] The Heat also had another high lottery pick in between drafting Wade and the big three…Michael Beasley (!) who they had to trade away for basically nothing to clear up cap space.

[5] Because of the NBA’s hokey record keeping with draft picks, history will tell you that Nowitzki got drafted by the Bucks and then traded to the Mavs. The reality is that there was a deal in place prior to the draft where the Mavs would take Robert Traylor 6th and then trade him to the Bucks for Dirk and Pat Garrity who would then get flipped to the Suns for Steve Nash. How’s that for a trade? Tractor Traylor for Dirk and Nash??? I feel like we don’t make a big enough deal about how great of a trade that was. Granted, the Mavs screwed it all up by letting Nash walk, but they did get their championship in the end so all wasn’t totally lost I guess.

[6] Incidentally, this is what I think Chris Grant was trying to do all along with this Cavs rebuild. But players like Garnett and Allen never became available like they did for the Celtics. I’ll get to more of this in a bit though in the body.

[7] I mentioned earlier how most players hit their basketball maturity around years 6-10 after high school. Kobe won his first set of championships in years 5-7, furthering that theory.

[8] This is debatable of course. I do believe that in the totality of their careers that Tim Duncan is the greater player. But when Shaq was in his prime and was really trying his hardest there was no one better. In that three year stretch from 2000-02 there wasn’t a better player in the league. Then in 2006 he certainly regained some his former greatness, no doubt driven to get another championship to spite Kobe.

[9] I could have gone back further and pointed out how the Bulls won six championships because they had Jordan, who they took at the top of the draft, playing in the prime of his career for the team that drafted him in year seven in the league—11 in basketball maturity. How bout that?

[10] Worth noting that Duncan, Kobe, and Wade all stayed with their teams where they won championships prior their free agency because they were helped by former No. 1 overall picks in Robinson and Shaq.

Cavaliers Victory Over Thunder could be the Turning Point in the Season

There are moments where seasons turn for better or worse. Sometimes it’s difficult to spot them in the moment and sometimes it isn’t. There are times where a team comes through and wins a game and you just get that sense where that specific victory means way more than one single game in an entire season.

For the 2013 Cleveland Indians that game was September 24th against the White Sox. Chris Perez blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth by giving up two home runs to put the Tribe down by one going into the bottom of the inning. Late in the season with the club embroiled in a fierce fight for the Wild Card this just felt like a defeating blow. Every game was crucial at this point.

Then, with two out in the bottom of the ninth and Michael Brantley on second representing the tying run, old man Jason Giambi turned on a 1-1 pitch from Addison Reed and sent the game-winning and season-saving homer into the night.

Now maybe that one game didn’t “turn” the season for the Tribe necessarily. It was late in the year and they’d already had a slew of dramatic walk-off wins throughout the season. But given the stakes and what they were up against, that single win is without a doubt the most memorable game of the season for any Tribe fan. It saved a chance at the playoffs and ultimately powered the club through the rest of their ten-game win streak to end the season and got them to the post season.

Wednesday night’s win in Oklahoma City for the Cavaliers is one of those games that really just felt like it meant more than just one game in 82. Ultimately we might look back on the season and see the firing of general manager Chris Grant as the turning point. After all the Cavs went on a six-game winning streak following the instillation of David Griffin.

But after three straight losses against Eastern Conference playoff teams it seemed like what slim chance the Cavs had of sneaking into the playoffs was slipping away. The team was getting almost no production from the bench with the injuries to Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, and CJ Miles. They were working hard and battling every minute in those games (unlike the first half of the season) but it just didn’t seem like they had enough.

After losing Tuesday night in frustrating fashion because of some really crappy questionable officiating the team plane arrived in Oklahoma City at 2:00 AM Wednesday morning to play the best team in the Western Conference later that evening. Now mind you, entering the game the Cavs had only won eight road games on the season. The Thunder, on the other hand, had only lost eight games at home this season. This was not a game that anyone expected the Cavs to win.

Except that the Cavaliers DID win.

In a hard fought game that saw Cleveland go down by 12 early in the third quarter before battling back to bring it close, the Cavs played phenomenal basketball in the fourth quarter to the tune of 42 points to win the game 114-104. Maybe it didn’t have a dramatic finish like the Giambi game for the Tribe. But it was a game where the season appeared to slipping away for good and there wasn’t much chance to right the ship again only for it to turn right again.

It’s worth noting that this was the third straight home loss for the Thunder, their first three-game home losing streak in five years…since back when they were bad, basically. However, it’s not like those previous two losses where against fluff competition: Heat and Clippers. So OKC isn’t really in the midst of a tailspin per se and they had been off since Sunday while the Cavs had played the previous night. So again, there was no reason why the Cavs should have won that game.

But they DID win. And they did so by not giving up when they got down early in the second half…like they’ve done so many times in the past. They won by playing team basketball, moving and passing to get the best shot. They won because everyone contributed—including the bench. And maybe most importantly they won because Kyrie Irving played like he was the best player on the court…which is saying something considering Kevin Durant was playing for the other side.

And maybe more than anything else they won because they knew that they needed to win that game. With their backs against the wall they pushed back and refused to just roll over and be defeated.

With all that said, this wasn’t just some gritty or plucky win. They played really good basketball and BEAT the Thunder. They actually have been playing much better recently, in spite of the three-game slide they just snapped. Even with the injuries to what is probably three of their six or seven best players they are playing much better post-Grant firing. The addition of Spencer Hawes has a lot to do with that.

He’s been a really nice complement with both Kyrie and Tristan Thompson (like I wrote about here and we talked about on our podcast here). It’s a very small sample-size of only four games obviously but Hawes is having an undeniably positive effect on both ends of the court. Let me hit you with a couple stat facts…

  • The duo of Hawes and Thompson has the highest +/- of any two Cavs players for the whole season at +4.0.
  • Hawes is a member of four of the top five duos of Cavs teammates (Jack, +3.0; Deng, +2.5; Irving, +2.3).
  • The current starting lineup of Irving, Jack, Deng, Thompson, and Hawes is +4.5—far and away the best five-man unit that’s played more than ten minutes together.

If/when Varejao comes back I actually hope that Mike Brown keeps Hawes in the starting lineup because that unit is working so well together. And it’s worth noting how well the Cavs have been with Hawes on the court considering they’ve lost three of the four games since he joined the team.

Also, Varejao statistically works really well with the bench guys like Waiters, Miles, and Dellavedova. In fact, the Cavs top three-man unit is Delly/Waiters/Miles at +6.5 and the second is Delly/Waiters/Varejao at +4.8. And while we’re on the topic of three-man units, Hawes is present in each of Nos. 4-8 on that list. Third best, though with not a lot of floor time together, is Miles/Varejao/Zeller, which only furthers the notion that Vareajo belongs with the bench crew—and Zeller should probably nudge Anthony Bennett out for the fourth big man in the rotation.

The rest of the Cavaliers schedule this season is still really tough. They have one of the hardest remaining schedules in the East. They won’t be able to keep up their current level of play if Varejao, Waiters, and Miles don’t come back soon. The starters have played really heavy minutes the past two games and it won’t be long before they break down unless they start getting some help from the bench.

And even if those three guys come back it’s still a long shot for the Cavs to make the playoffs. But they are trending in the right direction. They’ve won 7 of 10—the only non-playoff team in the East with a winning record in the past ten games—and the current 8th seeded Hawks are in a tailspin having lost 10 of 11. The Cavs sit four games back of the Hawks and five back in the loss column with the Pistons in between a half game better. Cleveland only has 23 games left to play so it’s still not very likely that they get there. According to Hollinger’s NBA Playoff Odds on ESPN.com the Cavs only have a 7.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. According to Sports Club Stats they need to finish out the season 14-9 to have a greater than 50% chance of making the playoffs (62.2%).

If the Cavs do pull off the improbable and edge into that final playoff spot, I guarantee we’ll all look back on Wednesday night, February 26th as being the game that changed the season. Because beating the Thunder wasn’t just one win in an 82-game season. It was a win that wasn’t supposed to happen because this team wasn’t good enough. But on that night the Cavaliers showed their true potential.

I look forward to seeing if they carry it through the rest of the way.


A Mostly Factual Retrospective on the Reign of Joe Banner with the Cleveland Browns

I never really held a high opinion of Joe Banner as far as an NFL decision maker is concerned. Anyone who read me throughout the football season will understand that. To me he was always someone who was more bluster and posturing than substance. He promised a lot and delivered basically nothing. Ultimately he wasn’t qualified to hold the position that he maintained with the Browns as I wrote in more detail a few weeks ago upon the canning of Banner and Mike Lombardi.

The Browns front office structure had not been “normal” under Banner, who held way more power and personnel control than a typical CEO who doesn’t have a football background would and should have. However, according to CBSSports’ Pat Kirwan, things were way more unnatural than any of us could have possibly imagined. According to Kirwan’s sources the new Browns coordinators were supposed to report directly to Banner—not head coach Mike Pettine. This is about as far from “normal” as you can get. If this is what Banner thinks makes for a successful process in running an NFL team then it’s not surprising why things didn’t work for his first head coaching hire Rob Chudzinski. Calling Banner “a bit of a control freak” seems pretty light given what we know now.

This recent news has reignited an idea in my mind that it would be fun to do a little retrospective on Joe Banner’s tenure in Cleveland—not solely based on actual facts alone but also including plenty of observation, conjecture, and general make-belief. So what follows is what I think happened during Banner’s reign in Berea, parts and all of which may or may not be completely true and/or completely made up…but I feel like I can’t be too far off.

October 17, 2012: Banner hired as CEO

After spending 18 years working in the front office with his childhood friend and owner of the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, Banner left Philadelphia in search of a bigger role with an NFL team, something he readily admitted during his introductory press conference. Banner found that sucker willing partner in the new owner of the Browns Jimmy Haslam.

Haslam and Banner were not an arranged marriage necessarily so much as they were a couple that was forced together by their mutual friends and then got together because everyone around them said they should. Haslam claims to have done his due diligence prior to hiring Banner and that he received nothing but glowing remarks. It is probable that those glowing remarks came for two reasons: 1) Banner’s close friends in the business wanted to see him land a good gig and would obviously praise him; and 2) other NFL owners (particularly those within the AFC North) upon hearing that Haslam was considering a glorified accountant who used to sell suits as his football guy obviously responded “You can’t find a better man for the job!”

So that’s how Haslam became hoodwinked into bringing Banner to Cleveland and had him put in charge of all football decisions.

Banner’s introductory press conference held some foreshadowing of what would lie ahead for his reign in Berea…

On the topic of the GM and coaching staff (which were already in place with Heckert and Shurmur at the time, it being in the middle of the season), Banner said, “It really is just about really making sure you’ve got the best people working for you and you’ve got a common vision, everybody pulling in the same direction so that’s going to be our focus.” Little did we know at the time that that “common vision” was only viewed clearly through the lenses of Banner’s spectacles.

“I know these fans have been through a lot of hopeful starts” he said, “and I don’t want to sit up here and be the next promiser in their eyes.” Smart idea. These fans have been given enough vain assurances over the years.

But yet he went on… “We’re going to lay the foundation for things that are going to get put in place, done right and then last a long time.”—Whoops!

And then came the gold nugget paragraph that I and other Browns fans and bloggers will hold over Banner’s head till the end of time…

“If you ask me to really put a time frame on how quickly I think we’re going to win how many games. I really can’t do that. There are too many unknowns. I don’t think it should take very long before you’re all sitting here, and the fans watching the team are sitting there going, ‘You know what? These guys know what they’re doing. We’re on the right track. We can start to enjoy this. We’re going to end up in a really good place.’ I think you’ll start to feel that reasonably quickly. I think you’ll feel like there’s a plan, this is well run, these guys know what they’re doing, their priorities are exactly what they said they were. Obviously, this season we’re observers. I don’t think it’ll take long before you start to feel like I’m starting to see some smart things happen, some decisions that make me feel like this team is on the right track and I think we’re going to end up in a good place.”

Banner was right in one sense…it didn’t take long for us as fans, sitting here, watching the team, to come to a conclusion about how smart Banner is. Unfortunately for Joe there isn’t a Browns fan in the world who ever uttered the words “You know what? These guys know what they’re doing. We’re on the right track. We can start to enjoy this. We’re going to end up in a really good place.”

But we’re only getting started at this point.

December 31, 2012: Browns fire Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert

In full defense of Banner, Shurmur needed to be fired. He was in way over his head as a head coach. He got promoted one spot too high. That was totally legit.

Firing Heckert so he could replace him with his puppet Mike Lombardi, on the other hand??? Ehhhhhhh.

Before we get ahead of ourselves with Lombardi, though, (and we’ll get to that, don’t worry) the Browns decided that they would be hiring a head coach first before the new GM/player personnel guy. Banner said, “We think that the head coach is going to play even a bigger role in where we go from here. That will create a better situation for us to identify what role the GM, potentially director of player personnel, whichever it ends up being, exactly what qualities do we need in that person so when we fit everybody together we’ve got real strength in every area that we think we need to be strong in.”

And by “fit everybody together” he of course meant “make sure we have people who I can control.” But we didn’t know this just yet.

Banner would go on throughout the press conference to talk about why they would be hiring the coach first and how that would open them up to more possibilities should they hire a coach who expects/deserves/needs more control over the roster. This was all well and good and it certainly seemed to everyone at the time that they had their eyes set on a select group of candidates.

And we were right…mostly.

January 4, 2013: Dinner with Chip Kelly

All props in the world to Banner for identifying a top-notch head coaching candidate. Chip Kelly was everything the Browns could have hoped for in a head coach. They set their sights high.

Banner, in the first sign of his undying bravado, believed that he could land the big Duck. How could he possibly lose? The Browns had a great dinner with Kelly that led to multiple reports that Friday evening that Kelly would indeed be the next head coach of Cleveland Browns.

Banner was the man! The #InBannerWeTrust hashtag was flying around Browns Twitter! They even talked about it as a virtually sure thing on the Cleveland Browns Daily radio show—a show run by the Browns! Banner knew he had him! They had it all locked up! Fly in the lawyers and we’ll sign him at dinner on Saturday! HERE WE GO BROWNIES HERE WE GO WOOF WOOFF!!!

And then Kelly got up from dinner and let Banner know that he still wanted to meet with the Bills and Eagles. The next day Kelly met with the Eagles for a lunch that never ended. After nine hours with the Eagles the Browns were no longer in consideration for Kelly.

Kelly (probably) had his reservations about the front office structure of the Browns. It isn’t natural for a guy with such a wealth of football knowledge, power, and control like Kelly had at Oregon to just give that up to a guy whose claim to fame in the football world is that he’s really good with the salary cap. With those reservations already in his mind going into Saturday’s lunch, he had them confirmed when he sat down with the Eagles (Banner’s ex) who clued Kelly in on what a disaster working for a team controlled by Banner would be like. Kelly ultimately made the right choice and went to Philadelphia where he got them into the playoffs in his first season doing amazing things on offense and maximizing the talents of what was a relatively marginal team.

Banner was left to wonder what happened, and how anyone could possibly resist his charms.

January 6, 2013: Browns “reboot” the coaching search

Nothing says “we had no idea that our top choice would possibly say ‘no’ to us” quite like “rebooting” your coaching search.

Banner’s arrogance hadn’t allowed for the possibility that the guy they targeted could possibly go elsewhere. No one is smarter than Joe Banner after all!

But the Browns were left without a real Plan B and the wheels were already in motion with other coaching vacancies being filled around the league and Banner and his Browns left behind trying to catch up on the fly.

January 11, 2013: Browns wind up with hire Rob Chudzinski

After missing out on their top choice and failing to recognize the potential in other coaching candidates (hello Mike McCoy and Bruce Ariens!) the Browns landed on local boy Rob Chudzinski after Banner and Haslam shared a moment across the table at dinner with the former Browns and Panthers offensive coordinator.

Banner and Haslam praised themselves for their thoroughness in the coaching search and reiterated multiple times during Chud’s introductory press conference that they had found the right guy to be their coach for a long time. They spoke about Chud as one of the smartest, young, innovative minds in football. They affirmed his strong leadership. They spoke about continuity and how good franchises don’t turn over their coaches every couple years.

Banner said of his first coaching hire “We’ve come up with a candidate we feel very, very confident in.”

All is well in Bannerworld J

January 18, 2013: Browns hire Mike Lombardi as lead puppet Vice President of Player Personnel

Lombardi had been long rumored to be joining Banner in Cleveland since even before the latter was even announced as CEO of the Browns. Banner lied about denied any prior contact or even having seriously considered Lombardi for the job until after they had fired Heckert.

Lombardi would go on to be “promoted” to general manager to allow Ray Farmer to join the team under the title of Assistant GM. But none of this really mattered for squat. This press conference would be, little did we know at the time, the last time we’d really see Mike Lombardi in any formal matter in his role as Browns GM. This is, of course, not normal. And as time would progress the true totalitarian reign of Joe Banner would become more and more prevalent.

One really good Banner arrogant bluster nugget did come from the Lombardi presser though. Amidst skepticism about the moves that he had made—hiring Chud first (a coach without great credentials) and then Lombardi (a GM with a poor track record of picking good NFL players)—Banner was questioned if winning would validate those decisions. He responded “It started with winning being the only thing that mattered anyway. I don’t want to put a ‘this year’ on it, because as we’ve said we want to build this the right way so it’s sustainable [emphasis mine]. The only reason any of us are doing this is for the thrill of victory. There needs to be no more motivation, or any criticism or skepticism doesn’t change the drive to do that as quickly as we can.”

Ah, yes…you just couldn’t help yourself could you, Joe? We’ll see in time just how sustainable those decisions will be.

April 25, 2013: Browns throw Chuck Klosterman out of the War Room on Draft Day

Chuck Klosterman, a widely respected writer for Grantland, was promised access to the Browns War Room during the Draft where he would write an in-depth piece about the inner workings of an NFL franchise as the draft unfolded and all that stuff. Only problem for Klosterman was that when he arrived at Berea he wasn’t actually allowed access to much of anything at all.

Instead what Klosterman chronicled was an organization fraught with paranoia. Afraid of anyone spying on them they even erased their white board when the IT guy came in to fix the cable. Klosterman referred to them as being “crazy on purpose.” He would write that “I’ve never witnessed this level of institutional paranoia within a universe so devoid of actual secrets. I don’t even know what they don’t want me to know.”

Klosterman did note in the piece that Banner without a doubt was the one running the draft. Banner is a man who believes that his wisdom is so far beyond other humans. To allow lesser beings to have access to the inner workings of his brilliant mind would compromise his whole operation.

So good. But we’re just getting started, really.

September 18, 2013: Browns trade “star” running back and face of the franchise Trent Richardson

Incidentally the best thing that Joe Banner did in his brief time in Cleveland!

Banner denied that trading their marquee player meant that they were giving up on the season but the message had been sent to everyone: This team needs a franchise QB and the best way to do that is to bottom out and pick one at the top of the draft.

Everyone understood this point. Richardson had been lackluster (to put it kindly) as a player with the Browns so getting back first round pick was golden. But he was the face of the franchise, a guy most fans (not me) were really behind. There were more No. 33 jerseys in the stadium than anyone. This one was a shot to the fans. But the carrot at the end was the franchise QB. This season was a wash. Everyone believed this…including the coaching staff.

And then the Browns went on an improbable three-game winning streak!

November 13, 2013: Banner praises head coach Rob Chudzinski

During the bye-week, with the Browns sitting at 4-5, Banner couldn’t help praising himself by way of praising the guy he picked to be the Browns new head coach. “I’d be hard-pressed to think that in nine weeks a first-time head coach can do any better or any more than he’s doing,” Banner said. “All of the measurables that you’d look to come up with, if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment, I just think he’s doing an outstanding job.”

Banner of course has no problem gushing about how great of a coach Chud is when things are going well. This is vindication! This is proof that Joe Banner is smarter than everyone! Screw Chip Kelly! We’ve got Rob Chudzinski!

Banner couldn’t help his bravado at this point. He spilled the beans about how they viewed the team after Week 2 when they traded Richardson. “I did that trade thinking that our team and their team were in totally different places and this would be a trade that legitimately would work well for both teams.” He legitimately thought the Browns sucked and were trading away their best player!!!

Even when Joe Banner is wrong everything turns out right! He can’t be stopped! He’s the smartest man in football! Go Browns!

December 30, 2013: Browns fire Rob Chudzinski

Wait what!?!?!?

In a move that blindsided fans, media, players, and coaches, Banner fired Chudzinski after only one season…despite singing his praises only a month and a half previously.

The players and coaching staff—along with most of the fans and media—understood that this season was about getting ready for the next one. So it wasn’t surprising to see the team fall apart towards the end, especially considering the revolving door of mediocre to bad QBs all season long. Yet Chud was fired supposedly because Banner and Haslam did not see enough progress in the second half of the season.

“At whatever level you may assess the team or the talent,” Banner blusters, “as you go through a season you see teams get better. Sometimes they are not very good teams that get better, sometimes they’re the best teams in the league. It was concerning to us that that wasn’t happening. It left us feeling the best thing to do was to make a change.”

More Banner bluster…

“I think it’s just what we said and if you look around, you’ll find similar situations to what you’re describing and teams that improved as the year went on. I don’t want to walk through all of the teams around the league, but I think that the improvement that should be happening during the season, regardless of the talent level that you’re at, is something that you have to be able to see. It’s something that’s happening on many of the rosters.”

I’m curious how many “similar situations” there were around the NFL that were forced to start eight combined QBs and RBs in one season? Let alone with a first year head coach.

And that’s of course not to mention that they received almost no help from the 2013 Draft class because the Browns (fairly, I might add) traded multiple picks for future selections…again, showing everyone they were focused on 2014 more than 2013.

Banner flatly denied that there was any disagreements with the coaching staff about personnel: “I want to be unequivocal, there was no such thing.” But yeeeeeeeet…we know otherwise. Banner wanted the coach to cut Greg Little late in the season to send a message and Chud refused, that method of fear mongering not being genuine with his coaching style. The Almighty obviously didn’t take too well to his totalitarian authority being challenged like that.

Banner would of course take this public opportunity to puff up himself… “I think the fact that this didn’t go well doesn’t change the track record we both have in attracting good people [emphasis mine], recognizing good people and having continuity once we’ve done that.”—We’ll see about this in a bit.

“I just want to add” Banner would say, inadvertently sealing his fate, “that as unpopular or undesirable for us to be sitting here right now and acknowledging that we didn’t get it right, I think the fact that we are making this change makes a statement that we’re not going to accept not being really successful. Whether you agree with the decision or not, that’s an important message for our fans to hear. It may be one of the things that we feel will make a difference as we go forward. We are going to demand of everybody, especially and starting with ourselves [again, emphasis mine], that we be successful. If we’re not, we’re going to do what we need to do to get there.”—In retrospect, this is an eternally condemning statement given how things played out. Haslam would ultimately hold Banner to that promise. But we’re not there yet…

“I really think the most important thing going forward is,” as Banner revs up his personal hype machine again, “are we going to be able to identify and attract the right coaching candidates…I think we also have in myself somebody who has a 14-year history with the same coach and a great amount of success that should give somebody comfort.”

Banner would go on to address the notion that some coaches wouldn’t want to come to Cleveland because of the organizational structure with Banner holding so much power (paraphrasing…kinda): “I think we’re open to whatever structure we need to have to get the right person.”—Sure you are…we’ll see in a bit.

At the meeting where Banner and Haslam announced to the assistant coaches of the change, Norv Turner spoke up and forcefully challenged the head men. He wanted to know why they’d been sold a long-term building project only to have it yanked out from under them after only one year with a purposefully undermanned roster. Turner had tolerated that lack of talent on the roster because they had been promised the team was being built with 2014 in mind. Only now Turner and the others won’t be around to finish what they started.

The reality of the situation is (probably) that Banner, despite being spurned by his first big coaching target in Kelly, believed he could do better than Rob Chudzinski. The confidence and bluster that Banner displayed after having to can his first hire after only one season told only one story: Joe Banner still believed in Joe Banner.

Banner believed that they would be able to land a big target and they set their sights high once again. The list of top candidates included Bill O’Brien, Josh McDaniels, Gus Malzahn, James Franklin, Adam Gase, and Dan Quinn. That’s an impressive list. Again, props to Banner on being able to identify some real quality talent and set his sights high.

Only problem is that none of them saw the perceived “comfort” that Banner believed working with him would bring. Several of the coaches preferred the stability of being an assistant coach for a good team over taking over a train wreck under a seemingly unstable front office structure that only gave the last guy one year with an undermanned roster. Many of the candidates expressed their unease with taking the position in their interviews. Instead of Banner trying to evaluate for himself which coach he deemed worthy of being his next hire, the Browns CEO was forced to do a sell job and try and convince a qualified candidate that being head coach of the Browns was in fact a good and stable job. But the man who made his mark selling suits was unable to sell himself as the leader of a team because smart football men saw through the bravado and all that was left was a weak man who was losing power by the day and the trust of his boss with every failing interview.

Sometime in the month of January, 2014: Browns attempt to trade for Jim Harbaugh

Determined to not fail on his pursuit of a great coach, Banner took the biggest swing yet by trying to trade for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. The details are sketchy as to why exactly Harbaugh would want to leave a team that has gone to three straight NFC Championship Games including one Super Bowl. Bill Barnwell wrote a really good piece for Grantland breaking everything down. But none of that really matters to us.

All that matters is that Banner was super desperate to land a big fish and was even willing to mortgage the future by giving up draft picks if it meant not coming up empty on a big promise again. No matter how it all went down, Banner and the Browns came up empty.

But, WOW, was this a fun and entertaining story!!! Who could have seen that coming??? You keep doing you, Joe.

Sometime in the month of January, 2013: Browns interview Gary Anderson…seriously

This is the depths that Banner sunk in his search for a coach…Gary. Anderson.

Sometime in the month of January, 2014: Banner inserts himself as a head coaching candidate

Unable to find anyone to take the job it finally dawns on Banner “I’m smarter than all of these people anyways! I’ve been in football for almost 20 years now! How hard can coaching be anyways? Why should I bother with any of these phonies who wouldn’t know a great opportunity if it put a suit on them when I can do a better job myself? I’ll just be the next head coach of the Browns!”

When Banner brought the idea to Haslam and Lombardi they both laughed uproariously thinking it was just Joe being his silly, whimsical self again, not realizing that he was totally serious. When Banner realized they thought he was joking and wouldn’t take his idea seriously he started to awkwardly laugh himself and “admitted” that it was just a joke.

[Ok, this part may or may not be completely fabricated. But at this point, would you really be surprised if it was true?]

January 23, 2014: Browns finally wrangle someone into taking the job hire Mike Pettine

Hey, nothing says “attracting good people,” “strong leader,” and “moving in the right direction” quite like “former defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills Mike Pettine.”

Ultimately we have no idea if Pettine will be a good coach or not. But the fact is that he wasn’t on Banner’s radar until all the other guys said “No thanks.” Otherwise he wouldn’t have waited two-plus weeks to interview such a hot commodity.

It’s the Tom Brady corollary: Everyone praises the Patriots for getting Brady with 199th pick in the draft. But the reality is that if they thought he’d be anywhere close to that good they wouldn’t have waited until the sixth round to draft him. It was more luck than anything on their part. Same holds true for Pettine. Sure, he could wind up being the greatest coach of all time. But if he is it will be luck on Banner’s part. If they really believed he’d be great they would have interviewed him right away instead of waiting two and a half weeks while everyone else filled out their coaching vacancies. Anyone could have gotten Pettine just like anyone could have taken Brady. One team lucked into one of the greatest QBs of all time. We’ll see how things work out for the other.

Banner smartly steered clear of taking any questions at Pettine’s opening presser but he did take some time to make himself look smart and funny in addressing the infamous “Three Stooges” label that the Browns front office had gotten: “I don’t know if you had a chance to meet Mike, but since Mike Lombardi and I are Moe and Larry, we went and set out to find Curly and we succeeded. That’s why it took so long; there aren’t a lot of Curlys running around the country.”


What a crack up this guy is!!!

But he can’t stop there… “I know we were exhaustive to the point that we caused people to question and wonder, but we think that was the right way to do it. [And I add parenthetically…LOL] It’s a very, very important decision to make sure we met as many people as we possibly could” especially when you keep striking out on every guy you talk to.

Banner said of Pettine’s qualities that “we’re very attracted by his intelligence, his aggressiveness, his toughness and the type of discipline I think he’s going to bring to the team” and the fact that he would actually, you know, take the job. “We think he’s an outstanding fit” because he has to fit, seeing as how there were literally no other options.

Eventually after that: Banner has the Browns coordinators report directly to him instead of Pettine…you know, like normal teams do.

Banner is in full-on control freak mode right now. This is a completely insane plan for any type of business, let alone a football team.

So much ego.

So much belief in himself in spite of all the surrounding evidence that disproves his abilities to run the football side of a football organization.

I mean, really??? Why not just make yourself the coach at that point?

This last gasp of insane power mongering of course led to this…

February 11, 2014: Browns fire Joe Banner

Haslam had finally had enough. It didn’t even take two full years of working with Banner before Haslam realized the error of hiring a coat salesman to run his football team.

Furthermore, Banner’s brash and braggadocios personality had finally worn thin. Haslam himself was tired of all the unfulfilled promises. He had seen first-hand the disdain with which competent head coach candidates treated Banner for his lack of football acumen. Haslam finally realized that the team could not be successful as long as Banner was the guy calling all the shots.

The embarrassment that Banner had brought to the organization had finally reached a tipping point. A change was necessary and well overdue.

Haslam of course said some nice things about Banner: “Joe and I, after a lot of conversation, mutually agreed that it was best for the organization if we streamlined things, where accountability and reporting lines were much clearer.”

But even that statement tells us so much about what went on during the dictatorial reign of Banner. The structure was far too cluttered with the paranoid Banner needing to have a hand in every level of the organization. He had essentially everyone reporting directly to him. Again… “control freak” just doesn’t do it justice. It’s no wonder that the Browns didn’t win last year.

Banner did some nice things running the Browns from a business standpoint, bringing in Alec Scheiner. They really are doing good things with the game experience and facility improvements and making things better for the fan experience (aside from the whole “winning football games” thing obviously).

But in the end Banner, much like Pat Shurmur, got promoted one spot too high. He was never qualified to make real football decisions. But his ego and need for control had grown to the point where he no longer lived in reality. I really believe that in his mind Joe Banner believed that he was smarter than everyone else and that he could do the job of running a team better than anyone. Banner is Icarus, who was given a great privilege but became too proud and arrogant with the gift he was given. He flew too high and it became his undoing.

The crazy thing is that if Banner had allowed for a normal organizational structure right from the beginning things could have worked out differently. If he had allowed those in position to just do their jobs without needing to meddle with everything we may have seen a different outcome. We may be sitting here saying to each other, “You know what? These guys know what they’re doing. We’re on the right track. We can start to enjoy this. We’re going to end up in a really good place.”

But that didn’t happen. And instead I sit here and say, “You know what? That guy had no idea what he was doing. He was so far off track. The last two years were absolutely unbearable. We’re actually in a worse place now than when he got here.”

Cavaliers Trade for Spencer Hawes: And the value of second round picks

The NBA Trade Deadline almost always disappoints from an “actual significant trades that happen at the deadline” standpoint and this year was no different. Only three starting players were traded and no first round picks changed hands.[1] But for those of us who engrossed ourselves in the Twitter experience of the deadline it was enjoyable enough, even for a lack of actual trades.

There were plenty of rumors over the past several days and many of them revolved around our very own Cleveland Cavaliers. We heard that Harrison Barnes was coming to Cleveland, that Luol Deng was going to Phoenix, that Jarrett Jack was going to Brooklyn, then to Sacramento, and that Tyler Zeller was going to the Clippers for Reggie Bullock(???). The best nugget came from one of Sam Amico’s sources who claimed that the Cavs had a potential “home-run, win-the-press-conference” deal that they passed on in favor of keeping their young core intact.[2]

In the end they only made one trade and it wasn’t a blockbuster by any stretch: Spencer Hawes for Earl Clark, Henry Simms, and two second round picks.

It’s tough to see Earl Clark go though, isn’t it?

Just kidding.

It’s pretty insane to think that at the onset of the season Clark was this team’s starting small forward and now he’s basically an after-thought in a trade for a backup center. He’d fallen completely out of the rotation—and for good reason—in favor of giving Anthony Bennett minutes. Clark was one of the key free agent signings this past summer for the preposterous-at-the-time-and-even-way-so-more-now price of $4.25M. Clark won’t be missed and I’d say that he’ll be forever forgotten if not for that time when he stepped out of bounds with the game on the line…we’ll always have that memory.

Simms is, well, a nobody. He worked hard. He’ll probably get some decent run in Philly which is good for him. And that’s all I have to say about Henry Simms.

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the picks that the Cavs up in both this and the Luol Deng trades. Second round picks carry interesting value these days in the NBA. It’s true that very few significant players actually come out of the second round of the draft. Many guys never actually play in the league. However, many smart teams these days have found the value of those second rounders in that they provide very cheap labor and allow teams to front-load their cap money to their bigger stars. Some teams, like the Rockets, have even managed to find a few serviceable (and even good in the case of Chandler Parsons) players in that late round.

So second round picks are “worthless” as they once were. But because of this new “value” for second round picks has also opened up a new market for them in trades—and one that the Cavs have utilized lately. People made fun of Chris Grant for his hoarding of draft picks and how he’s traded second picks on draft day for multiple second rounders in future seasons and things like that. However, because of that the Cavs, now without Grant, have been able to parlay those second round picks into actual players.[3] Now because the hit rate on these picks isn’t very high you’re never going to get a ton for them. That’s why the Cavs (among other teams) have only been able to acquire players on expiring contracts with those second round picks as currency.[4]

This is what the Cavs should be using second round picks for at their current stage of development. They already have eight players who are currently on rookie deals so they don’t need more young guys at this point. Now, once guys like Kyrie, Tristan, Dion, and Zeller come up for new deals over the course of the next several seasons, those second round picks will once again become valuable as they’ll represent cheap labor to fill out the roster. But that’s not where the Cavs are right now. Kyrie and Tristan aren’t eligible for an extension until the 2015-16 season with Dion and Zeller coming the year after that and Bennett the year after that. So they have time before they worry about getting back into the business of acquiring second picks again. And as we’ve seen over the past couple days, it isn’t crazy tough to do that.[5]

With all that as our basis, this was a good deal for the Cavs to acquire Spencer Hawes. They didn’t give up anything of real lasting value to the team for a guy who is able to help the team right away and potentially in the future should they choose to re-sign him. Hawes is the fifth big guy on the Cavs, essentially replacing Simms and Clark in that role. He can play both the four and the five so he brings good versatility in that way, though he’s primarily a center. He also provides nice insurance for Anderson Varejao, who we know is oft-injured…like right now!!!

However, his greatest strength is his shooting and the ability to stretch the defense out to the three point line and open up the paint for slashing guards like Kyrie and Dion. Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland tweeted out this chart yesterday and it shows a rather interesting fact: Hawes is actually the best three point shooter in the NBA from the top of the arc!

This is certainly a great weapon for a Cavs offense that is so pick-n-roll/pick-n-pop heavy. Both Varejao and Zeller have the ability to knock down an open jumper off the pick-n-pop but neither guy has range all the way to three. Bennett has that kind of range but he’s far from being a reliable player at this point and his three point percentage is still down at .234, while Hawes is all the way up at .399. This makes him an ideal player to work alongside Tristan Thompson actually.

I had initially thought with the addition of Hawes, Tristan would be kind of the odd ball of the bigs, being the only guy who isn’t really a threat to step out and hit a jumper. He’s improved, but he’s not enough of a threat yet to keep the defense honest. However, I’ve come around on it. Picture this with me…when the Cavs run the high screen for Kyrie, for example, they can have Hawes set the screen and pop for the three while Tristan waits on the block for the drop-off pass should his defender commit to a driving Kyrie. That’ll work. And you can even stick Bennett into that Tristan role as he can either step out a little for a baseline jumper or do his “specialty” which is jamming the ball through the rim.

The Cavs offense has become so guard oriented and for good reason. When you have guys like Kyrie and Dion who are beats to guard with the ball in their hands you have to take advantage of that. Early in the season Mike Brown was trying to do some post-up things with Andrew Bynum and Tristan and all that served to do was neutralize the team’s biggest assets in favor for guys who weren’t efficient enough operating out of the post. The clogging of the offense has also been issue all year because of this lack of a big who can shoot. It’s no secret why the offense has started to look better with Bennett on the floor now that he’s playing and shooting better. Space is huge for a team that has penetrating guards. This is what makes Hawes such a valuable addition.

He’s obviously going to need to show better defense than the “Oh-lay!” effort he showed when the Cavs played the Sixers earlier this week. Hawes isn’t known for being a great defender by any means but to my knowledge he wasn’t known as a sieve either until this season. But that whole Sixers team is a mess as we saw first-hand on Tuesday and as we saw with our own team the past three seasons. It’s tough to expect these guys to bust their butts every night when everyone knows that the front office wants nothing more than to see them lose games. That’s how get effort like the Sixers and Bucks have been giving all year. Hopefully Hawes can at least play average team defense in his time here in Cleveland.

In my Trade Deadline piece I ended by saying that I didn’t really expect the Cavs to do anything too major and I’m kind of glad that they held off. While I would have enjoyed a three-team deal like the one I laid out with the Cavs getting Jeff Green and Alex Len for Luol Deng, stuff like that rarely ever happens in the NBA. For this season, given how well the team is playing (albeit against weak competition), I like the group that we’ve settled into. Guys are starting to finally figure out their roles, Kyrie and Dion are playing really well together, and they’re giving very real effort that just wasn’t there two weeks ago.

So I’m fine with having them ride this squad out the rest of the season and see where it takes them. At the end of the year if they end up letting both Deng and Hawes walk in free agency it won’t be the end of the world. The team will still have plenty of cap space to add more pieces through free agency or trades. And we’ll still have the young and developing core of the team intact with many years of control still ahead thanks to restricted free agency. Sure it will be nice if the Cavs make the playoffs and these young guys get that experience of playing in the postseason. But even if they fall a little short and still keep showing the kind of improvement they’ve been making during this winning streak then I’ll be happy(ish) with how this season has turned out.[6]

But if you look at the landscape of the Eastern Confernece and see how teams are playing it’s not hard to envision the Cavs making the playoffs if they continue to play like they have, especially with the addition of Hawes. They’re three games back right now and have some pretty big games coming up against playoff teams. So we’ll find out pretty soon if this winning streak was a mirage of improvement or something real and tangible.

[1] But we got one of those starters!!! Though, a starter on the Sixers isn’t like a real starter.

[2] This was probably nothing more than one of the Cavs front office guys trying to put something out there to make the team sound like they’re standing firm with their young guys or that they were really burning up the phone lines and exhausting all their options. Also helps to boost the morale of players like Dion and Tristan and Zeller who were rumored to be traded. Lets them know that the team is behind them.

[3] You’ll remember that Grant used a couple second rounders in the 2012 Draft to move up several spots to get Tyler Zeller. Another nice benefit of carrying extra “worthless” picks.

[4] The Sixers are currently cornering the market on second round picks, having traded for something like six or seven yesterday alone. In the 2014 draft the Sixers will likely have seven total picks (depending on some protections) with five of them coming in the second round. There’s no way they use all those picks on players they intend to bring to the team next season.

[5] If he’s still on the roster for the 2015-16 season don’t be surprised if you see Jack’s expiring contract traded away for some second round picks.

[6] Ultimately I had high hopes for this team so they’ve already fallen well short of my expectations. So, given how I felt coming in, anything short of the second round of the playoffs is a disappointment. But they sunk so low this season that if they can keep showing real improvement I can be happy with that.