Tag Archives: Cavs

The Draft, Love, Jinxes, and Cleveland’s Curse of Hope

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of men.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

A lot can happen in 50 years. 

I could go on and make a long list of amazing accomplishments or advancements in society like the rotary phone morphing into the iPhone and the price of gas and all of that stuff you see all the time. But there has been one thing that has certainly not happened in the last 50 years…

Cleveland has not won.

I cannot lay claim to having suffered as much as most Cleveland fans. My fandom extends only back as far as 1995 when my family moved from Connecticut to the suburbs on the east side of Cleveland. But my indoctrination into Cleveland’s sports futility did not take long to manifest. Within one month of my family taking up residence in the state of Ohio the Indians lost the World Series and the Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore. It was a weird thing for a ten-year-old kid who loved sports to get dropped into.

I don’t remember a specific instance, but someone back then probably (or at least should have) warned me about getting involved in this whole “being a Cleveland sports fan” thing. Because being a Cleveland fan is not for the weak of heart.

It’s a crazy thing sports. All we have as fans in the end is hope. Only one team can win any given sport championship each year. Odds are that it won’t be our team this year. But we can always hope that maybe “next year” will be the year. But for the Cleveland fan that hope is eternally unfounded. 

Hope must be built and founded upon something of substance. To do otherwise is just plain stupidity. And that’s what is most maddening about being a Cleveland sports fan…we tend to put our hope on something of substance only for it crumble into utter demise.

That feeling of hope is probably never more real and prescient than at the NFL Draft…which just so happens to start today.

Drafts are glorious things. We spend months upon months pouring over mock drafts, scouting reports, YouTube highlights, and every other bit of information we can get our hands on to inform ourselves about who our team should or should not take. And while there are certainly exceptions to the rule and it’s obviously important for every team to do their due dilligence, drafts often wind up being wild crap-shoots. First round picks flop and third-day selections become cogs of Super Bowl winning teams with regularity.

And yet that won’t stop us from plopping down on our couches and losing our minds over this stuff for the next three days. Because that’s what hope does to us when it’s all we have. We cling to it like a drowning man on a life preserver. 

And it certainly never hurts to inject this steaming bowl of hope with some added spices like “the Browns are going to package their two first round picks and trade up for the next savior quarterback.” Nothing gins up more hope than a quarterback, especially since we haven’t had one in decades.

Marcus Mariota might be a great NFL quarterback. He also might not. And while it would certainly be exciting to get a guy of his stature and accomplishments, we’re only a year removed from losing our minds over drafting Johnny Manziel. Which was only a year after everyone went nuts over hometown heart-throb Brian Hoyer. Which was only a year removed from drafting Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the first round. Which was only a year after we thought Colt McCoy was the answer after he looked great in preseason. You see how this goes? Do you see what hope does to us? We’re looking at a solid five straight years of believing the “new” guy is going to be “the” guy. But that’s hope for you. It’s delusional.

Granted, the people who are delusional enough to think that trading two first round picks (and maybe more) for a QB who clearly needs time to develop and dropping him onto a team that will probably start him on day one but is starved for talent and could really stand to benefit from using those two first rounders on several other spots of need are no more delusional than I am for thinking that Johnny Football can still be a star in the NFL and lead the Browns to a Super Bowl. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

Misplaced hope can also be spurred on by other things than media-driven hype. It can also come from a major sports magazine placing outsized expectations of winning the World Series on the local baseball team. Which, now that I think about it, is really just another form of media-driven hype.

We are exactly one month removed from Sports Illustrated declaring that the Indians would win the Fall Classic this season…a declaration that, at least to me, was utterly shocking considering that the team didn’t even make the postseason last year, only made the Wild Card game the year before, and hasn’t really added much besides another year’s experience. And yet, all it took was that cover of a jovial Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley to suck me and get me excited about the Tribe again! It gave me hope.

And as I sit here today the Indians sit in last place in the division with only the second fewest wins in all of baseball. It’s still early, is what everyone likes to say and it’s a long season, yada yada yada. Well even though it’s “still early” it won’t be very long before it’s not early anymore and it certainly doesn’t help things to already be back seven games in division this “early” in the season. It also doesn’t help when you don’t have a single qualified hitter with an average above .300 and only have one guy with an on base percentage above that number. And while the pitching hasn’t been terrible, it hasn’t exactly been lights out either.

The reality is that we never should have gotten our hopes up in the first place. This was a team that hadn’t accomplished anything of real value yet. Maybe we should have waited to see them win a postseason game first before planning a parade. But that’s what hope does to you, especially when you’re starved. It doesn’t matter if it seems too good to be true. I might as well dive in head first because if it is true then it’s gonna be awesome and don’t bother me with the details about what might happen if it’s not.

Of course, when it comes to placing hope in something Sports Illustrated has espoused only to have it bashed you can always blame “the Jinx” (or jixes).

But when it comes to placing your hope in a juggernaut of a basketball team that has been rolling everything in their way since the middle of January only to have one of their stars get his arm ripped off…who do we blame then?

This year’s Cavaliers team is almost certainly the solidest foundation that hope has been built on in this town in a long time. While they didn’t win as many games in the regular season as they did back in 2009 and 2010, this team was certainly built to do bigger and better things in the Playoffs. Cleveland fans had every reason in the world to believe that this team would win a championship. It wasn’t delusional at all.

And then that long haired dope on Boston had to “accidently” get his arm “tangled up” with Kevin Love while going for a lose ball and now the Cavs are without an integral cog of thier offensive attack and maybe more importantly their rotation for the rest of this postseason. And that’s the problem as always I think for Cleveland sports fans. We hope without ever considering that something could go wrong. (It’s not like it’s ever gone wrong before, right?)

The saying is “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” But we never seem to do that, though, do we?

And that goes back to the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of this piece. Hope, in reality, is just a dream. It isn’t a reality at all. And maybe that does make hope “the greatest evil of all” because it only furthers and deepens our pain when hope proves unfounded. Maybe we should accept that nothing good is ever going to work out for Cleveland sports. Maybe, as Bill Simmons likes to joke, God really does hate Cleveland. Maybe we should give up hope altogether.

This brings me back to Johnny Manziel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I don’t think there’s a player in Cleveland sports outside of LeBron James who has stirred more hope in me than Johnny Manziel. I watched almost every game of Manziel’s college career. The kid was electric on the field, and passionate on the sidelines. He played with a flare and enthusiasm that I hadn’t ever seen in a football player, particularly a QB. He was magic. He was the antithesis of everything that I had seen from the Browns since they came back in 1999. I wanted that fire on the Browns more than anything.

And then it happened. It was like a wonderful dream. I’ll never forget the buzz of that night from the disappointment of trading down and then taking a defensive back, only to trading back up to grab the Texas A&M quarterback. It was amazing and exhilerating. And in a world where LeBron was still in Miami and the Cavs were still in the lottery this was better than anything I could imagine.

Then it all cratered. And as seemingly everyone was jumping off the bandwagon in droves I was hanging in there…still hoping…still believing.

I refuse to give up on the belief that the amazing things that Johnny Football did in the vaunted SEC can be done in the NFL. I refuse to accept that a game and a half is enough to know what we have in a player. I refuse to accept that a 22-year-old kid can’t grow up. I refuse to accept that I got my hopes up for nothing.

And you know why? Because I don’t know if I can handle putting my hope in another college phenom quarterback to be the great savior of the Cleveland Browns. I don’t know if I can handle another dream being crushed. I don’t know if I can kling to another visage of hope. Because no matter how much I enoyed watching Marcus Mariota in college and no matter how much intellectually I understant what makes him a viable QB, he’ll never give me the hope that Manziel did.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
― Langston Hughes

Until the day that Johnny Manziel is either cut from the Browns or he raises the Lombardi Trophy wearing “CLEVELAND” in big, bold, gaudy lettering accross his chest, I will continue to hold onto this dream. I will continue to hope.

I choose to believe that Johnny Football can reclaim that magic in Cleveland.

I choose to believe that despite losing Kevin Love, having LeBron and Kyrie is still good enough to win a title.

I choose to believe that it is still early in the season for the Tribe…for just a little while longer.

I choose to believe that Cleveland will win a championship, and that that day isn’t far away.

You can mock me all you want. Call me delusional. Call me a dreamer.

It’s not gonna bother me at all. Without hopes and dreams we’ll never fly.

We don’t call it Believeland for nothing.


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 Cavaliers 2013-14 Season Preview: The Year of Kyrie

Basketball is back and all is right in the world again. We finally have a reprieve from the constant state of depression that is the Cleveland Browns because the Cleveland Cavaliers are primed and ready to take on the league and go on a playoff run.

It’ been a fun offseason in Cleveland with Mike Brown coming back as head coach, the additions Andrew Bynum and Jarret Jack, the drafting of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, and the hand-switch of Tristan Thompson.

The projections for this team have been all over the board. Bill Simmons had the Cavs all the way down at No. 21 in his preseason rankings and still many others have had them as high as 5th in the East. That of course is because there are so many if’s with this team. If Bynum can get healthy. If Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving can stay healthy. If Anthony Bennett is actually good. If Mike Brown can figure out offense. If Dion Waiters can improve that jumper. If Chris Grant can swing some of those assets in a big trade.

These will all be fun storylines to explore as the season rolls along and they do have a very real impact on the eventual outcome of the 2013-14 Cavaliers season. But for me the success of the Cavs this season hinges on the two key points…

1. Mike Brown instilling a defensive mindset on the whole team

Brown 001

It’s no mystery to anyone who watched the Cavs under Byron Scott the past three years that the team was a joke defensively. Now a lot of that had to do with the fact that the team was very young and typically young players are bad at defense. But under Scott it appeared most of the time that there wasn’t much of a defensive system and that guys were almost just running around out there without much communication on whether to show on screens or how to rotate. And furthermore the team never really showed any improvement at all on that end…something you would expect to see out of young players.

Dan Gilbert left no doubt through tweets and comments that this was his biggest issue with Scott and was probably the driving force to bring back Mike Brown as the head coach. We all have our issues with Brown’s offense since at times during the LeBron era it looked like they ran two plays: iso-LeBron or pick-n-roll for LeBron. I worry a little bit that that might be something we see again, this time with Kyrie having the ball.

But as I was listening to Bill Simmons podcast the other day with Joe House where they did the over-under’s for all 32 teams—in which they picked the Cavs under 41 wins—and Simmons made an interesting point when arguing that the Dallas Mavericks would actually be pretty good this year. His point was essentially “When has a team coached by Rick Carlisle ever been bad?” This question made me think instantly about Mike Brown. “When has a Mike Brown-coached team ever been bad either?”

In his six seasons as an NBA head coach where he’s actually been able to finish the season (I’m throwing out what happened last year in LA) he’s never had a losing record. He’s won at least 50 games four times and would have five if not for the lockout-shortened season where his Lakers were on a 50+ win pace (41-25). He’s twice coached the team with the best record in the NBA. Simply put, Mike Brown teams are never bad, and they’re usually pretty good.

It all starts with the defense. Because of Brown’s commitment to his teams being solid on the defensive end that mentality drives them to victories. Teams who are good on defense are always going to have a chance to win night in and night out. Just look at the Bulls. Even last year without Derrick Rose they still made the playoffs and were a tough beat because they played hard defense all the time.

While on the surface the Cavs roster doesn’t look like one that will be particularly intimidating defensively, especially since they were so bad last year, don’t forget that Brown had great defenses with guys like Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall, and Mo Williams getting serious minutes. With Brown it’s about instilling a team defensive concept; five players playing as one cohesive unit. We didn’t see that at all under Scott.

And while they may not have played well to this point in their careers necessarily you can see the potential in most of the Cavs players to be good defenders. Kyrie with his quickness is a great defensive asset. Dion Waiters has the size and build of a prototypical defensive wing stopper not to mention his great athletic ability to boot. The small forward guys in Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee are in the NBA because of their defense. Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett certainly have the physical makeup with their large frames and long arms as well as great “hopping” ability to be very good post defenders. While Andy isn’t a shot-blocker at all we know that he is a very good defender in the post as well as out on the perimeter hedging on screens and recovering.[1] And when healthy, Bynum is one of the best defensive centers in the league.

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers

So this team clearly has promise because the roster has potential. Now it’s just up to Brown to mold them into that dominant unit…which is exactly what I expect him to do. It won’t happen overnight but we’ve already seen in preseason that they look improved defensively so expect to see them continue to grow at that end as the season progresses.

Now I do have some concerns about the offense. I really worry that the last four minutes of close games will be all iso-Kyrie ball. But hey, that’s what the NBA is now and it’s not like under Scott, an offensive guy, we saw much in the way of creativity late in games. So while we could sit here and fret about the offense, take solace that we were actually a pretty good offensive team last year for stretches and this team has guys that can score, both in the starting lineup as well as coming off the bench.

So when you’re tempted to worry about Mike Brown as the head coach again just remember that defense makes everything better. I feel safe in saying that a Brown-coached team will never blow one, let along multiple, 20-point second half leads.

The Cavs will be a good defensive team this season and in turn will be able to compete for the playoffs.

And secondly…

2. Kyrie becoming a transcendent NBA superstar

Irving 003

I feel like there has been so much noise about everything else going on with this Cavs team that the fact that Kyrie Irving is an incredible player has become such a marginalized topic of conversation. I realize that people would rather speculate about the rotation, or lament how the Cavs should have drafted Jonas Valanciunas over Thompson and/or Harrison Barnes over Waiters because those discussions spark debate and conversation.

But I’d rather talk about what is the most important key to the Cavs’ 2013-14 season and that’s Kyrie making the leap from All-Star to Superstar. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the video game covers and the Uncle Drew commercials and miss that most of the time when Kyrie steps on the court he’s head and shoulders the best player out there. He showed his greatness this past summer when competing with the other Team USA young guys and it was clear to everyone that there wasn’t another player out there who could even approach Kyrie’s greatness.

I wrote about this back in the slowness of late July but I’ll bring it back up again here. I believe that a case could be made that by the end of the year Kyrie will be looked at as a top five player in the East and a top ten player in the NBA. And the teams of the guys who are in that discussion usually finish at the top of the conference.

I look at Kyrie’s progression as a player as mirroring that of Derrick Rose’s progression through his first three season. Rose went from Rookie of the Year, to All-Star, to MVP. I’m not saying that Kyrie will win the MVP this season but I think he’ll be in the discussion. Check out the comparisons of Kyrie and Rose’s point and assist numbers from their first two seasons:

Kyrie—18.5/5.4, 22.5/5.9

Rose—16.8/6.3, 20.8/6.0…year three—25.0/7.7

And while Kyrie had a slightly worse two point percentage than Rose through their first two years, Kyrie was a way better three point and free throw shooter and also has better steal numbers. Why then, with an improved roster around him, wouldn’t we actually expect Kyrie to put up those same third-year numbers as Rose or even better?

Now those Bulls teams went from 41 wins in each of Rose’s first two seasons to 62 in year three. I don’t think the Cavs will break the 60-win mark this season but would it really be all that crazy for them to jump 20 wins considering that the Bulls did it? And a large reason for that jump was a change in head coaches to a defensive guy. Hmmmmmmmm. Would it be crazy if the Cavs who won only 24 games last season won 45 this season?

I, for one, expect it to happen. I expect to Kyrie make that jump to becoming a superstar player who throws his team on his back and drives them to the playoffs and beyond.

I expect the Cavs to finish somewhere in the fifth or sixth spot in the East but I wouldn’t rule out them going higher. We all expect the Heat, Bulls, and Nets to be the top three teams and barring injuries to key players on those teams I wouldn’t expect the Cavs to crack that top three. But after that it’s open for debate as far I’m concerned if Kyrie is able to reach superstar/alpha dog status. The Pacers are a good team but not a great team. I expect the Knicks to drop off—I mean, have you seen their roster? And I don’t look at the Wizards, Pistons, Hawks, Raptors, or Bucks as being any better than the Cavs. Kyrie is certainly a better player than anybody you’ll find on any of those other teams despite how Brandon Jennings and Brandon Knight think about themselves.

Look, I’m an eternal optimist but I really truly believe that this year’s Cavs roster is greatly improved to be able to contend for the playoffs and even to make some noise when we get there. I loved the signing of Jarret Jack to help out a porous reserve squad. Having him come off the bench with Alonzo Gee and Bennett is a pretty good rotation to go with the guys that the Cavs have starting. I fully expect Thompson and Waiters to continue to get better at their games and grow as players and play smarter basketball. I have no idea if Andy can stay healthy or what we’ll get out of Bynum but if we can squeeze 82 combined games out of those two then I really like our chances.

But more than anything else I am sure that we are in for a monster of a season from Kyrie Irving. And with Kyrie playing like a superstar there’s no telling what the ceiling for this team can be.

I’m not saying that the Cavs are going to the Finals or anything…but I’m also not not saying it.


[1] Varejao’s absence from the lineup for those extended stretches the past several years I believe led to many of the defensive issues the Cavs had. They still didn’t run much of a system under Scott but the drop off from Andy to Tyler Zeller or Ryan Hollins was pretty stark.

NBA Draft Review: How Chris Grant decided on Anthony Bennett

There were six guys that were the general consensus top six guys available in the 2013 NBA Draft. The job of Chris Grant and his staff was to whittle that list down till they arrived on one guy to take with the No. 1 overall pick. In the end they landed on Anthony Bennett from UNLV to be the Cavaliers’ pick. Let’s explore what may have been the thought process that they used to arrive at that choice.

First of all, despite what many bloggers may have thought, there was no one outstanding player in this draft. There were a lot of voices yelling since the Cavs won the lottery that there was no one who should be considered beside Nerlens Noel because he had the most upside and potential. Evidently all those people were wrong. A combination of his ACL injury, weight, limited offensive game, and maybe some character concerns caused Noel to get passed over by the five teams at the top of the draft. They can all be wrong, but it’s not often that that happens. There was enough of a reason for each of those to look at Noel and say “No, thanks.”

This year’s draft prospects from the end of the college was a class of six guys: Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Nerlens Noel, and Otto Porter. When Chad Ford put out his annual “Draft tiers” column where he polls NBA GM’s and scouts to get a feel for how they rank the players he left the top two tiers blank meaning that there are no guys projected as future All-Stars. Ford noted that Noel, Bennett and McLemore all got some votes for tier two but not enough to make them a consensus there. So this landed all six of those prospects in tier three.

At this point, any of those guys were an option. And while on this point, there’s no such thing as a “reach” as long as they took one of those six guys. There’s not enough separating those guys to make it a big deal that you’d take one over the other. All discussions of a “reach” are unfounded and misinformed. Some have also made the suggestion that the Cavs should have traded back and still could have gotten Bennett or one of the other guys. The obvious problem with that scenario is that you have to have someone to trade down with. Evidently because all of these guys were about equal no one was willing to give up anything significant to move up. I originally thought right before the pick that they’d take Noel and try to trade him. The problem with doing that is no one wanted him. The Pelicans ended up taking him at No. 6 and then trading him to Philadelphia. From the rumors we heard all the way up till the pick it appears that the Cavs were trying really hard to make a trade. But in the end, Grant must have decided that it was better to stay where they were at No. 1 and make the selection for themselves as opposed to taking a deal with limited assets and having the decision dictated for them by what other teams do. And I’m fine with that.

Grant said last night that they narrowed their choice down to a few guys on Wednesday night and then at some point on Thursday morning they narrowed it down to Bennett. Grant talked a lot in his presser about improving the talent on the team. To me that’s what probably eliminated Porter. He’s a very good basketball player and a guy I really like. But he’s very limited athletically and he might have a hard time guarding the super athletic small forwards in the NBA. In college he did a great job guarding 4’s but he’ll have a harder time doing that in the pros. Additionally, he’s not a guy who can get his own shot whenever he wants. The talent level of Porter wasn’t good enough to warrant the pick.

I think that there probably were some very real concerns about the injury issues around Len and Noel. I don’t have any sources on that, I’m just reading into it. While they might have been medically cleared as being on the right track to recovery those are injuries that can be recurring and ultimately debilitating, especially in big guys. The Cavs organization has had to deal with their fair share of injuries over the years from their best players. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had all of his foot surgeries that really killed what could have been a great NBA career. Kyrie Irving has missed more games than they’d like in his two seasons with various injuries. And the team’s current center, Anderson Varejao, has only played a season’s worth of games in the past three years. There may have been enough of a concern with those injuries to warrant passing on them. With Noel there’s also all the other issues that I’ve continued to harp on for the past month. I didn’t want Noel and of the six guys he was the one guy I was truly concerned about. I’m glad they passed on him.

The guy that I did want was Len. But I can’t be upset for the Cavs passing on him. Bad teammates and poor system aside, he didn’t dominate in college. There were times where he wasn’t assertive enough and didn’t dominate inferior competition given his size and ability. When you get it narrowed down to six guys who you like, you have to nit-pick about things that you don’t like and weigh those against each other. For all the short-comings that people might bring up about Bennett, you can’t say that he doesn’t bring it all the time. And as much as I am in love with Len’s talent and potential to be a franchise center, I can’t say the same about him.

That brings the Cavs’ options down to Bennett, McLemore, and Oladipo. The thing that’s interesting about each of those guys is that they all play a position currently held by a top pick from the previous two drafts: Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. I don’t think that mattered at all to Grant. He’s been all about amassing talent and taking the best players, regardless of how they fit.

It may have been character concerns that made McLemore slide in the draft like Noel. It may have also been his passiveness in big moments in games or his inability to get his own shot. As great of a shooter as he is there’s no denying that in the NBA guards who aren’t great dribblers have a tough time getting their own shot. Again, you have nit-pick to narrow the choice. But that is a very real issue. The Cavs like guards who can handle the rock and create offense (see Irving and Waiters) and that’s not McLemore.

I really like Oladipo who ended up going No. 2 to the Magic. The guy plays hard all the time, is long and super athletic and has continued to improve his game all three years in college. Some people have wondered how his offensive game will translate to the NBA and whether his improved shooting percentage will be sustainable. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that the Cavs final choice came down to Oladipo and Bennett.

In the end they chose Bennett, a guy who hustles like crazy and is an absolute brute on the offensive end. He’s built like a tank, can run the floor, play above the rim, and shoot it from the outside. He was what they deemed to be the most talented player in a draft that was devoid of elite, superstar players.

The rebuilding of the Cavs has been about adding talent, not necessarily filling in spots in the starting lineup. From here Grant and the Cavs have options. They can allow all the young pieces to grow and develop together into what is a playoff and hopefully championship contending team. Or they can wait for the opportune time to flip some of these players in a trade for an established superstar player. You never know when players like that will become available. No one knew last summer that the Thunder would trade James Harden when they did. But the Rockets amassed enough assets to make a move for star and jumped at the opportunity. Expect Grant to explore all his options over the next couple years. If there’s a chance to add a great player like Harden he’ll no doubt take it.

For the time being I’m excited to watch this basketball team. They’re loaded with young talent and very likeable charismatic players. We’ve had to endure a lot of losing the past three years. Things are going to take a turn. The additions of Bennett and Sergey Karasev will be a big part in what finds this team back in the playoffs and contending.

Enjoy the ride…and go Cavs!

NBA Draft Preview: Why Alex Len is the Right Pick for the Cavaliers…Probably

In his three years running the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Grant has consistently bucked conventional wisdom and made the moves on draft night that he truly believed in, not the ones that smart guys thought he should make. For his boldness, there will always be critics who decry the moves that he makes.

Two years ago the selection of Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall was met with general praise. However, Grant shocked everyone when he took Tristan Thompson at No. 4, choosing to bet on the surest thing he felt was left in the draft. Grant knew that above all else, Thompson wouldn’t bust and that he would work his butt off to improve. Through two years of the Tristan Thompson experience, it appears to most people that that was a very savvy selection and the growth of Tristan has been quite something to behold.

One year ago Grant made another splash when he took Dion Waiters, a guy they had not even talked to or worked out, with the No. 4 pick. Many thought that Harrison Barnes would and should be the pick instead and have since continued to crush the pick. For me, I love it. I was a skeptic from the beginning but I’ve come to understand how Grant arrived at the choice and having watched Waiters play one full season (in which he was named a first-team All-Rookie) I’m excited about his potential to be a very good player in the NBA.

With the No. 1 pick again this year, it appears that Grant is ready to shock everyone again and pass on Nerlens Noel for the generally unheralded center from Maryland, Alex Len. Jason Lloyd from the Akron Beakon Journal has been driving the conversation about Len being a top target for the Cavs for the past month and just yesterday multiple national guys also began to get wind that the Ukrainian big man might be the No. 1 pick:

When David Stern comes to the podium and announces the Cavs selection tonight nothing really would surprise me much, but at this point most signs point to Len being the pick. And for the first time in his last three big selections, I understand upfront why he’d take Len.

The NBA Draft is all about projections. Teams cannot afford to simply take the player that is most ready to contribute from day one. Instead, they must serve as weather forecasters and look to the future and attempt to identify which players will be a raging storm and which will dissipate and ultimately amount to nothing more than a few drops in a bucket. While I’m sure there is a science to what each of these men do, with both the weather man and the GM, the process is far from fool-proof. Chris Grant’s job on Thursday night will be to project whether it’s Noel or Len who will ultimately be the better professional player.

The case for Noel is built mostly on the hope and belief that the elements that are not present in his game currently (jump shot, post moves, poise in the paint, thicker build, etc.) will develop over time. Right now Noel’s offensive game is nothing to speak of short of just dunking the ball. If he is unable to develop a low-post or face-up game then his ultimate NBA future will be consigned to a guy like the Bucks’ Larry Sanders—a skinny, yet very good defensive player and shot-blocking presence but not a threat on offense and therefore, not an All-Star player.

The fans of Noel, for reasons that remain unclear to me, are convinced that Noel will develop into a very good offensive player and has the potential to be an elite player. Their point is generally that when Noel bulks up and when he develops his jump shot and when he acquires a low-post game and when he learns how to handle double-teams that he’ll be a great player overall because he’s already a great defensive player. They treat these improvements as if they’re a foregone conclusion, not one that’s up for any debate. Noel will get much better offensively because he has the mystical secret ingredient “potential” that will get him there.

The Noel backers summarily decry Len’s game and pick it apart. He isn’t strong in the post. He doesn’t demand the ball. If he was so good why aren’t his numbers better? They attribute all the flaws of Len’s game to his lack of ability and ceiling with the brazen conclusion that Len can’t improve his game like Noel can because evidently he doesn’t possess this mystical magic “potential” to get him there.

What has remained a mystery to me is how anyone can judge one player’s potential against another’s. I can understand that if Len was a plodding stiff who looked awkward and lacked athleticism that you could make the case that he has a low ceiling. Lack of elite athleticism for his position is what will likely keep Otto Porter from being a great NBA player. But Alex Len is every bit the athlete and then some that you’d want in an NBA center. He has size, length, quick feet, soft touch, explosion, and good timing on shot-blocks. If you were molding a 20-year-old center prospect out of clay he would look a whole heck of a lot like Alex Len.

Those who want to criticize Len for not being strong in the post somehow seem to forget that Noel was even weaker there. When bodied up against thinker post players, Noel was unable to hold his ground and was over-powered often. Oh wait, I forgot—Noel possesses the mystical juice “potential” so that won’t be a problem for him the pros.

It is true that given his talent, it’s surprising to look at Len’s stat line and see that he only averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. If he’s so good why didn’t he put up better stats? Why didn’t his team make it to the NCAA Tournament? What these arguments overlook is that basketball is a team game and if the five guys on the court aren’t working together everyone suffers. It’s been thoroughly discussed over the past month how bad Len’s teammates were at Maryland. Their guards especially were selfish and turnover prone. The better question to ask isn’t about his point totals but about his shots. Why was a 7’1” athletic center only getting 8.5 shots a game?

None of this matters though because if Len was so good he would overcome his teammate’s shortcomings the way Noel did. Like how Noel propelled his team to the NCAA Tournament while amassing gaudy statistics that make Len look like a little fairy boy. In reality, Kentucky didn’t make the tournament either and lost in the first round of the NIT. And before the Noel fans jump up and defend their man because “if he hadn’t gotten hurt they would have made the tournament” let me point out that at 17-6 before the Florida game, with losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and Baylor (all non-tournament teams), it wasn’t like they were lighting the world on fire or anything. (For the record, on February 12, the date Noel got hurt against Florida, Maryland was 17-7.)

And about those “stats”…let’s look at Noel and Len’s per 40-minute numbers:

Len—18.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.0 blocks
Noel—13.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 5.5 blocks

Noel has the edge on blocks while Len has the edge in points. Why again is it a big deal that Len didn’t have the stats? If Len’s “poor” numbers are some sort of indication that he’s not going to be a good pro then why aren’t Noel’s similar numbers an indication of the same thing? Why does the argument only go one way? Why can Noel get so much better but Len can’t?

Silly me, I forgot again about the mystical nectar of “potential” and its powers to turn even the most pathetic offensive player into Kevin Garnett.

Here’s the point I’m trying to get and I’ve gone over the top on purpose: When you get to the level of these players where they’re on the brink of being professional athletes, they all have potential. It’s not some mystical essence that God only deigns to bless certain players with and not others. While it’s true that not everyone is as athletic and physically gifted as others it also doesn’t mean that everyone can’t work hard to improve their game. If Noel had made the same improvements in his game that Len made from his freshmen year to sophomore his fans would point that out as a sign that he’s on his way to stardom! Look at what he was able to accomplish in just one offseason with American coaches! Think of his potential when he gets to spend every summer working with NBA coaches and trainers!

I feel like over the past month leading up to the draft that in making the case for Len as the No. 1 pick that I’ve had to tear down Noel in the process. In reality, I think Noel will probably be a good NBA player. And I can’t say for sure that I think Len will be a superstar. When judging the potential of these two players it’s foolish to make the arguments on when, but rather it should be if.

If Noel is able to bulk up his frame to at least 250 lbs. he’ll be a force on defense. If he can develop a jump-shot or low-post game his offense can blossom to the point that defenses have to account and game-plan for him. If Len has the fire inside him to be great then he’ll only continue to improve his game. If he continues to get stronger with his post play on defense then he too can be a force on defense. If he refines his low-post game then he can be the best offensive center in the NBA.

If, not when.

And I realize that’s not exciting and that’s not sexy. I realize that when we go into these drafts we want to go nuts and talk about how great these players are and how they’re going to transform our franchise into a champion. But the reality is that this is a weak draft. The reality is that if Noel or Len for that matter were so good that the Cavs would have found it a lot easier to trade the pick. But the fact that they haven’t only serves to further cement the notion that there’s not really a whole lot of difference between the No. 1 pick in this draft and the No. 5. Any of those guys could end being the star of the draft. What will ultimately be the deciding factor will be the situation that they find themselves in and how they work to continually improve their game.

For me, I’m willing to bet on Len because I can see the components of his game that are the foundation of what could be a great player. There’s less presumption and projection with Len than there is for Noel. I truly believe that if he continues to improve and maxes out his potential that he can be the best center in the league. Given his size and athleticism it’s not hard for me to project those improvements on his game. I have a harder time doing that with Noel. I have a hard time grasping how long it will take before a guy who some scouts believe isn’t competent enough to get passed the ball on offense right now will develop into a reliable option. I have a hard time looking at his body and figuring out where he’s going to put 50 extra pounds. I’m not saying it’s impossible or that it can’t happen. All I’m saying is that I have a harder time making that projection in my rationale than I do for Len.[1]

Alex Len is the right pick for the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick………..probably.

How’s that for conviction?

[1] Did I dance around this enough to avoid the Noel fans from jumping down my throat?

NBA Draft: The Mostly Unimpressive Pro Player Comparisons

This year’s NBA Draft is terrible. It’s definitely the worst in the past ten years and you probably have to go back to 2000 to find one that rivals it. We’ve been consistently told that there are no superstar players at the top of this draft. In fact, many don’t think you can even project any of these guys as potential All-Stars. Chad Ford put out his annual “Tiers” column last week and the top two tiers were left completely blank. Ford compiles his list based on input from NBA teams and couldn’t get any of them to consistently project any of these players as future All-Stars. Furthermore, he notes that this is the first time he hasn’t had any players in tiers 1 or 2.

So, seeing as how all these players suck, we thought it would be fun to give you all some comparisons of what you can expect each of the consensus top six prospects to be as pros by comparing them against former players.

Now, since there are no All-Stars in this draft, you won’t find us comparing any of these guys to superstar players. Nerlens Noel does not project to be Kevin Garnett. Ben McLemore is not the next Ray Allen. Heck, we don’t even see Alex Len as comparing to Zydrunas Ilgauskas.[1] We’ll give you two pro player comparisons for each prospect. One that is largely unimpressive…not bad, just unimpressive. These players can have made a maximum of only one All-Star team. You won’t hate the comparison, but you definitely won’t love it.[2] The other comparison will be if the prospect totally bombs…so basically your worst case scenario for each guy. You get the idea…

Note: My editor, Ryan, gave me a lot of help on this one. His takes are included in italics.

Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers v Orlando Magic, Game 1

Theo Ratliff—Made his bones on the defensive end as a disruptive shot blocker (3.7 blocks per game in 2000-01). Was never a great rebounder because of his weight (only 225 lbs.). Ratliff had a nice long career and made plenty of money simply because he kept getting chances to develop into more of a complete player. GM’s loved his length and athleticism and defense, but the offense and physical build never came.

Brendan Haywood—Never as a great of a defender as he should be. Has also had injury issues to have held him back.

Editor’s take: How good of a defender can he be? He could be an elite rim protector but I’m not sure he can hold up for 82 games as a post defender. He may be more of a 4.

Alex Len

Rik Smits—“The Dunking Dutchman” was an All-Star in 1998. He was very talented for his size (7’4”) but never developed into a great player. He is beloved amongst Pacers fans for his hard play and occasional great performances. But as the second best player on teams with superstar Reggie Miller, the Pacers never won a championship.

Darko 001

Darko Milicic—This one was actually brought up by Chad Ford on the BS Report this week. When you list off the strengths of Len’s game (“Skilled big man, Good touch around the basket, Solid perimeter game, Nice passer out of the post, Good shot-blocker and rebounder, Good athlete for a player his size”) they are everything that you’d want out of a big guy in the NBA. But they’re also all the things that were said about Darko.

Editor’s take: It’s hard to see someone like Len developing offensively and defensively equally and not being a bust or superstar. Most likely scenario is that he focuses on one end and plays catch up on the other end the rest of his career.

Victor Oladipo

1994 NBA Finals Game 4:  Houston Rockets vs. New York Knicks

Mario Elie—Not a great player or an All-Star but a versatile defender who was a key piece on three championship teams.

Tony Allen—Great perimeter defender but a train-wreck on offense. Simply being on the floor during late-game offensive possessions makes it harder for his team to score because he’s not a threat.

Editor’s take: He’s going to be a great defender. Can he be the 3-4th guy on a really good team or the 1-2 guy? Also, this guy isn’t Wade. Dwayne Wade scored 30ppg one season…just STAHP with the Wade projections.

Ben McLemore

Hornacek 001

Jeff Hornacek—A very talented player but is best known for being a great shooter (.403 career 3PT%). A one-time All-Star in 1991, Hornacek is probably best known now for how he finished his career playing as a complementary piece on the Jazz with Malone and Stockton.

JJ Reddick/Dell Curry—Great shooters, but their inability to create their own shot with the dribble is what reduced them to simply being a bench/role player and not a star.

Editor’s take: His ability to put the ball on the floor will set his ceiling. If he can’t do that he needs to be able to work off of screens extremely well. Mclemore, to me is the least likely to be out of the league in 5 years…he can shoot! P.S.:All of his comps scream best player on a bad team. P.S.S.: How awesome would Mclemore look with Hornacek’s carefully coiffed hair?

Otto Porter

Russell 001

Bryon Russell—Known best for being a defender but not much more. Best offensive season was in 1999-00 when he averaged 14.1 PPG. Never a good enough shooter to be a real threat and make up for his other offensive short-comings.

Corey Brewer—Very good college player but never anything of note in the pros. Plays with heart and energy but ultimately doesn’t have the skill to make a real difference on a contender.

Editor’s take: The degree to which he can play defense/work out of the post is kind of what will make or break him. Average athletes don’t typically break out as elite defenders right away. Porter needs to stretch his range and develop a herky-jerky post game to get a good second contract.

Anthony Bennett

Cedric Ceballos—Not nearly as big as Bennett but an explosive player who once led the league in field goal percentage. He was an All-Star in 1995 and won the Slam Dunk Contest in 1992. But for all of his talent he didn’t bring it all the time and won’t be remembered as a great player.

Weatherspoon 001

Clarence Weatherspoon—Our old pal and the guy who coming into the league was called “Baby Barkely”. At 6’7”, 250 lbs. he fits the profile of Bennett. He was also extremely lazy and oftentimes could be found just sitting in the corner on offense waiting to throw up a bad jumper. Ah, those were the days. Possibly an even worse case scenario for Bennett is another former Cavalier, the late Robert Traylor.

Editor’s take: Some fun players…not exactly successful. Larry Johnson/Antwon Walker (best case) separate themselves with better rebounding and longer range. Ceballos had crazy high FG % for someone his size.

[1] Z made two All-Star teams so he’s out of the discussion. Also, if he hadn’t been derailed by all the surgeries he likely would have been a great, maybe even transcendent, center in the NBA. But alas, we’ll never know.

[2] I mean, after all, who wouldn’t love a reincarnation of Big Z in a more athletic body?