Tag Archives: Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland’s Faith Rewarded: Cavaliers are Going to the NBA Finals

It was Friday, April 11th, 2014 and I sat about 12 rows behind the Cavaliers bench in Milwaukee as they squared off against a Bucks team that was looking at finishing with the worst record in the league. With only three games remaining in the fourth of four consecutive losing seasons, the squad from Cleveland already knew they were not going to make the playoffs…and they played like it.Sitting next to my brother, we watched as our beloved hometown team played like a bunch of worthless individuals who hated each other just about as much as they hated their coach. That’s the cool thing about sitting so close behind a bench is that you can really get a feel for how the team interacts with one another. It was painfully obvious that Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were not going to be going on vacation together that summer. Their on-court chemistry was as frosty as it appeared to be off. They both made a handful of fantastic individual plays that drew some “ooh’s” and “ah’s” from even the opposing fans but they weren’t playing anything that even remotely resembled team basketball. (The duo combined for just five assists in over 60 minutes of playing time.) Or winning basketball for that matter.

The starting small forward in that game for the Cavs was Alonzo Gee, a man who suited up for 250 games in the wine and gold from 2010 to 2014, earning a starting nod in 166 of those contests. Gee, through no real fault of his own, is probably the most emblematic figure of those four dark years of Cleveland basketball. Gee has only started nine games outside of Cleveland in his career and for good reason. Yet, while he was here, there was never really anyone else to play the unfortunate role of filling a position that had previously been held by a hometown hero who just so happened to be the greatest basketball player on the planet. For four years the Cavs tried to rebuild a team that was left in ruin when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010 and yet, at the end of that fourth season, the man who was left playing the King’s former position was someone called Alonzo Gee.

For four years Cavs fans had to endure the likes of Alonzo Gee trotting out on the court in a futile attempt to win basketball games. Earl Clark (still trying to inbound that ball), Andrew Bynum, Henry Sims, Donald Sloan, Omri Casspi, Samardo Samuels, Manny Harris, Kevin Jones, Jeremy Pargo, Anthony Parker, Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody, Lester Hudson (#respect), Mychel Thompson (Klay’s brother who somehow started 3 of the 5 games he played in for the Cavs), JJ Hickson, Christian Eyenga, Joey Graham, Jamario Moon, Jawad Williams, and Leon Powe—just to name a few—all played “significant” roles for the Cavs over that four-year stretch. I put “significant” in quotes because, well, one could make the case that no one played a significant role because the team never accomplished anything significant.

The bright spots were few and far between. Kyrie was obviously spectacular often and gave some hope. Dion did fun things quite often and enjoyed himself quite a lot in those times. Tristan Thompson wasn’t as bad as the other two big guys taken just before him in the draft. And Baron Davis had one of the most entertaining 15-game cameos you could expect from a washed-up former All-Star on a crap team.

But the darkness was what overwhelmingly prevailed. Anderson Varejao spent more time in the trainers room than in the paint. Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson moped around like 8-year-olds whose dad had just put down their dog. The aforementioned collection of “basketball players” got into games the team was allegedly trying to win. Antawn Jamison was the “best” player on the team at one point…I guess. Former All-Star Luol Deng came over from Chicago and immediately decided he hated everyone and wanted to leave. Byron Scott stood, arms folded, scowling at the court for three years, refusing to call time outs. Mike Brown came back for some reason. (Keep gettin’ dem checks, Mike!) And while winning the draft lottery three times was exciting and all (while being a bit bittersweet because, you know, you kinda have to suck to be in position to win it that many times), it yielded probably the most disappointing individual of all those years in Anthony Bennett—who likely will go down as the worst number one draft pick ever.

Four years…and it didn’t seem like the tunnel was getting any shorter. The light was still barely perceptible in the distance. Sometimes it felt like the night was never going to end.

And yet, as the great fictional philosopher turned district attorney Harvey Dent once said in the movie The Dark Knight, “But the night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”

The dawn finally came on July 11, 2014, just three months after I sat and watched that garbage of a basketball team play out the string in Milwaukee, when LeBron announced “I’m coming home.”

The jubilation and disbelief in that moment that it actually happened is being felt once again tonight. The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed back to the NBA Finals.

I have to sit here for a couple minutes and just stare at that last sentence and let it sink in because I don’t know if I fully grasped it until just now when I wrote it…The Cleveland Cavaliers—an organization that posted a record of 97-215, fired the same coach twice, used the first pick in the draft on Anthony Bennett, and started Alonzo Gee 166 times over a the previous four seasons—are headed back to the NBA Finals.

David Blatt (maybe the luckiest man in the world to have LeBron dropped in his lap his first season coaching in the NBA) put his arm around LeBron standing by the Cavs bench, while Kendrick Perkins and Joe Harris played out garbage time of the dismantling sweep of the 60-win Hawks, and told him that he “deserved this.” LeBron certainly made sacrifices and took a considered step of faith in coming back to Cleveland leaving a stable organization that had just gone to four straight Finals. But LeBron came back home for his fans and for the “unfinished business” of winning Cleveland its first title in over 50 years. He knew it was going to be hard and it was going to take work and it wasn’t going to be magically great overnight. But LeBron was patient and kept grinding and teaching and leading. And as the squad came together through the bold moves of David Griffin, the play on the court crystalized into something special…a team.

LeBron certainly does deserve this. I wrote as much prior to game one of the Eastern Conference Finals. But he’s not the only one who deserves this.

Cleveland deserves this.

We deserve this team for never giving up over the past four years. Sure some bandwagon fans jumped off and have predictably found their way back. What of it? They can enjoy it too. But no one will enjoy these Finals more than the true fans. I’ve had NBA League Pass for the past four years. I watched almost every minute of every game during that four year stretch. Maybe because I like to torture myself…but more likely because I love Cleveland and I love the Cavaliers. And because I had hope.

I’ve written in the past about the delusion of hope that plagues fans, particularly Cleveland fans. I kept watching the Cavs through all the terrible players because I believed in that hope that it would get better. Sure, I’ll admit that as I sat watching Kyrie and Dion pay zero attention during a Mike Brown timeout on that Friday evening last April that I felt as suckered into believing in “Hope and Change” as everyone who voted for Barack Obama (twice) probably feels today looking at the mess that America is right now. (Political humor!)

But the Cleveland fan’s faith has been rewarded. The prodigal son came home and is bringing his hometown team with him back to the Finals, a place he’s going for the fifth straight year.

Cleveland deserves this team because their grit and determination in spite of the many changes and difficulties that came along the way are an embodiment of the character of the city that cheers them on. Cleveland deserves this team because they never gave up on their goal just like the fans never gave up on the jersey no matter what D-League player was wearing it. Cleveland deserves this team because we’re going back to the Finals.

There’s still a long way to go and the test the Cavs face in the Finals is going to be harder than anything they’ve faced all season. Winning the championship will not be easy by any stretch and chances are the Cavs will be the underdogs when the matchup is set—which will bring some added “us against the world” intensity, for sure. But that shouldn’t keep us from enjoying where we are tonight. This is only the franchise’s second trip ever to the Finals of course…a place they have yet to actually win a game. So this is still an accomplishment worthy of celebrating.

Remember that long list of crap players? Of course you do…like me, you also watched them flounder around the court for four years. Well that group of (no offense coming from the 5’7” kid who couldn’t get off the bench of his high school team) worthless players has been replaced by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, James Jones, Kevin Love (in a suit), Anderson Varejao (who stuck around but is also currently wearing a suit as well), Shawn Marion, and Mike Miller—a team Cleveland deserves and can be proud of.

Still four more wins to go, starting on June 4th. But for now, we’ll enjoy where this long dark night has brought us.

The sun has come up in Cleveland. The Cavaliers are headed back to the NBA Finals.



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.


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.

Cavaliers Fire Chris Grant because Someone Needed to Lose Their Job

It was inevitable. Someone needed to get fired as I said last night…

This morning I wrote that it should have been Mike Brown and not Chris Grant. I won’t re-hash everything I wrote there because you can read it yourself. But I’m not exactly doing cartwheels about what the Cavs and Dan Gilbert decided to do today. Brown has done an atrocious job of coaching this basketball team and appears to have lost the trust of the players.

Incidentally that may have been what cost Grant the job. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, who broke the story, it was Grant who pushed to bring Mike Brown back to Cleveland as head coach after the firing of Byron Scott. This obviously put Dan Gilbert in a tough spot where he was forced to sit at that press conference and eat some crow while announcing that he had made a mistake in firing Brown the last time. Now he looks even dumber for bringing him back.

There’s no doubt that this team had much higher expectations that what the team has accomplished to this point. With the roster as currently constructed, there’s no reason why this Cavaliers basketball team shouldn’t be battling for playoff positioning with the likes of the Wizards and Hawks. But instead they’re free-falling and the players are revolting against the coach. It’s not a lack of talent so much as it’s a lack of leadership.

Many have pushed the sports-talk radio line that “if you had said three years ago that this team would have gotten two No. 1’s and two No. 4’s along with Jarrett Jack and Luol Deng you’d think this team would be a lot better than 16-33 right now.” That’s fair, and everyone would assume that. Heck, I picked them to go to the playoffs prior to the season without even factoring in Deng, and once they added him I thought it was a guarantee. But clearly there are more factors at play with this team than just that they have all those high draft picks.

I wrote the day prior to the Deng trade about how, while the perception is that Grant missed on so many draft picks, the reality is that he didn’t have much to choose from. Again, I won’t repeat everything I wrote, but if you go back and look at the options that were presented to him at the spots the Cavs were selecting, there aren’t many picks that he could have taken in place of the guys he chose that would have dramatically improved this team from a talent standpoint. In the past two drafts the two best players taken after Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett were both point guards. The only player that I believe you could make a case for taking over Waiters which would have a marked impact is Andre Drummond who was a boom or bust pick. Waiters is better than Harrison Barnes and if you still think that’s a question then you don’t watch basketball. Bennett is actually starting to play better so there’s hope for him yet. His play over the past couple weeks is equivalent to what the rest of that class is doing. The year before that, Kyrie was obviously a great pick and as easy as that one seems in retrospect there were plenty of people calling for Derrick Williams at the time. Tristan Thompson is certainly a bit of a disappointment. But the only other real option where he was taken was Jonas Valanciunas, who isn’t much different from Thompson. People will make the case for Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leornard who were both taken in the middle of the first round that year but no one had them pegged as being an option at No. 4.

So while the narrative is that Chris Grant didn’t do enough to improve the team with those draft picks, it misses the fact that those were some of the worst drafts that we’ve had in a long time.

The other big part of being a GM is obviously trades. And the case could be made that no one is better at making trades than Chris Grant. In his time running the Cavs he turned Mo Williams, Jamario Moon, JJ Hickson, Ramon Sessions, and Jon Luer into Kyrie Irving, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev, Luol Deng, and a future first round pick. If he could have gotten Kyrie for that pile of worthless pieces that would have been a steal. No one is better than Grant at trades to the point where other teams were afraid to make deals with him for fear of getting fleeced.

Furthermore, what Grant did was what needed to be done to rebuild a team in the NBA today. He had to strip it down, bottom out, and rebuild with young players and through trades. He did just that and he put together a team that, on paper, is talented enough to be in the playoffs in this pathetic Eastern Conference. The drafts weren’t good, but the plan worked. This team should be better than it is right now.

But the players are selfish, lazy, and don’t respect the coach. And that’s how you turn a team with multiple All-Stars, years of playoff experience, and young talented players into one of the most frustrating basketball teams that I can remember.

The only positive that I can draw from firing Grant at this point is that it saves the team from the GM making a panicked trade in an effort to save his job. With David Griffin taking over all the moves that are made will have the future in mind, not just trying to save the present. Especially since this season is lost already.

Dan Gilbert was pleasantly candid in his press release announcing the dismissal of Grant. He expressed his displeasure with the state of the team, calling it “unacceptable.” The money line though was when Gilbert promised “There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term.” So that provides some hope, knowing that the owner is sufficiently pissed off to the point where he doesn’t care about money when it comes to fixing the team. That means that even though Mike Brown is in the first year of a 5 year/$20M contract he’ll be gone if it’s determined that he’s not part of the solution.

Firing Chris Grant did nothing to help the Cavs actually win any basketball games this season. But what it was was a sign from the owner that he won’t stand for losing. And if you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. And that’s something I can respect.

The Cavaliers find a New Low Point: Mike Brown might need to be fired

If the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers hadn’t already reached the level of being embarrassing to their fans, they sure did yesterday. I sent out this tweet prior to the game…

Jordan Farmer, Steve Blake, Robert Sacre, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Chris Kaman, and Kendall Marshall. Those eight players combined to beat down the Cavs on their home court and hand them their sixth loss in a row.

It was a bizarre and crazy game that saw Lakers players laying on the bench because of all the space for a lack of healthy players, a guy dropping a triple double with ruptured ear drum, and a fouled out player being allowed to stay in the game. Once you strip away all of that you realize that a team which said from the start that they would be in the playoffs is now a game back from the Boston Celtics who aren’t even trying to win basketball games.

I don’t even know where to start with this pathetic waste of a team. I’ve written multiple times this season that I like the talent that’s been amassed on the roster. It’s a team that should be right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. But a combination of bad coaching, bad defense, and selfish, lazy players has served to completely submarine this season. I would love to sit here and say that they should just fire Mike Brown and that would solve all the problems. But I don’t believe that it would and I wouldn’t want to reward this lazy anarchist group of players for quitting on their coach. In the same vein I’d like to trade away half of these guys to send a message. But unfortunately that’s probably what they want. They appear to all hate each other and hate the coaching staff. Well good news, guys, the fans are starting to hate all of you too.

The fans of Cleveland deserve so much better than what this team is giving. After sitting through watching this team lose on purpose for the past three years, accepting that it was all just part of the plan, this was supposed to be when things changed. Yet this feels worse than that 2010-11 team that lost 26 games in a row. After all we’ve been through as a fanbase, this is what we get? I hate this team.

Kyrie Irving is the star player on the team and many in the national media seem to feel sorry for him that he’s stuck on this dysfunctional Cavs team. Well here’s a news flash…he’s just as much a part of the problem. He plays no defense and appears to have no heart and drive to win. A great player doesn’t sit around and let this kind of a losing streak happen. A great player doesn’t get benched for the entire fourth quarter and most of the second half against a team that is picking up point guards off the street. You’re the number one freaking pick in the draft!!! A two-time All-Star!!! But you’re getting diced up by Jordan Farmar who hadn’t played in a month and has started a TOTAL of 30 games in his NBA career. It’s completely and utterly inexcusable. Can’t wait to watch this kid “represent” Cleveland at the All-Star game in a couple weeks.

I kinda actually feel bad for Chris Grant a little. He’s taking quite a bit of heat for the current state of the team and word around the league is that he’ll be fired at the end of the season. His moves aren’t perfect but they’re all defensible to some extent as I’ve written before. The idea behind building this team was that you go out and collect talent then hope either those player coalesce into a great team or you flip those talented players for one or two great players down the road. It’s not a perfect model but it’s worked before in places like Oklahoma City, Houston, LA (Clippers), and Boston.[1] The problem for Grant and the Cavs is that the players he’s acquired seem to be totally deprived of anything resembling heart, leadership, or a desire to win. And furthering the problem, a superstar player hasn’t become available to trade for as they would have hoped. And that’s the crazy thing. As bad as this team is right now, if they were to trade something like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and some picks for another legitimate star player we’d be back to talking playoffs again. But no player like that is available right now. And so we’re stuck. And it’s not like other teams probably even want any of the players on this roster given what they’re watching this season.[2]

It’s been said of this team that “this is what happens when you spend three years tanking…players don’t know how to win!” That seems logical I guess on the surface but it’s not actually rooted in fact. Only Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee have been on the team for the previous three years of losing on purpose. Irving and Thompson are the only other players who have even been on the team for two years of losing. So that means that 11 of the 15 players on this team haven’t been with the franchise for multiple years of losing. Furthermore, guys like Varejao, Luol Deng, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, and CJ Miles have substantial playoff experience. So there are actually guys on the team who, by definition, “know how win.”

And beyond that, we’ve seen teams be “losers” for multiple seasons with young rosters and then be able to turn it around to become a winner again.

The Pacers held a losing record for four seasons before making the playoffs (even with a losing record) in 2010-11. They have progressed from losing in the first round, to losing in the semi’s, to losing in the conference finals, to this season where they hold the best record in the East.

The Warriors experienced Cavs-like levels of losing for four years with win totals of 29, 26, 36, and 23 from 2008-2012. Then they jumped up to 47 wins and a trip to the Western Conference Semifinals last season.

The Thunder, going back even to their Supersonics days, had their own four-year losing stretch in which they won only 35, 31, 20, and 23 games. After that stretch they won 50 in 2009-10 and you know where they’ve gone from there.

And then there’s the LA Clippers, losers for decades. From 2007-2011 they amasses win totals of 23, 19, 29, and 32. They followed that run of futility with what will likely be three straight trips to the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

So maybe what we’ve learned from all this isn’t necessarily that you can go from being a perennial loser to the playoffs so much as that maybe we just need that fourth year of losing. But the point remains, the theory that if you lose for a few years the guys won’t know how to win is simply false. Which leads us back to the Cavs…

And no matter how much I try to find fault elsewhere I keep coming back to Mike Brown. He’s supposed to be a strong leader and a defensive genius. Yet the team is mutinying against him, showing a lack of leadership. And despite spending considerable time in the preseason bragging about how he coached great defensive teams with liabilities like Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, this year’s team ranks 23rd in opponent points/game, 21st in opponent field goal percentage, and 27th in point differential. I bought into the idea of Mike Brown coming back because I believed in his ability to teach defense. It’s hard to say whether he’s failing with this team because he can’t figure it out or if the guys just aren’t trying. But Brown certainly doesn’t appear to be helping anything. Everyone looks worse under Brown this year than they have in the past. Kyrie has taken a step back from where he was last year. Dion hasn’t progressed much. Anthony Bennett was handled about as poorly as possible. Varejao isn’t producing as well as he did last year prior to his injury when he when he was putting up All-Star numbers. Deng hasn’t been particularly good either since coming over from Chicago, seeing a dip in both points and shooting percentage.[3]

Brown keeps talking about and making lineup and rotation changes, including benching most of the starters for the entire fourth quarter against the Lakers. But all this seems to be about as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Nothing Brown is doing is working and what’s more worrisome is that the team is getting worse, not better…and it’s happening fast. The Cavs have only 16 wins this season and only three of those have come against teams with winning records. Two of those were against the Nuggets who are only a game over .500. The Clippers were the other team. And they’ve had atrocious losses to bad teams like last night against the Lakers and the 44-point loss in Sacramento.

I don’t know what else can be done short of firing the head coach. I don’t know who you can trade to get anything even close to equal value. I don’t understand how firing the GM will really help. Above everything else it appears with this team that, despite what the players are saying, they have no desire to play for Mike Brown. And if that’s the case then he probably has to go. The season is a loss at this point. They can stop thinking about the playoffs. It’s not happening. I’d settle for them to just be watchable again.

Brown doesn’t appear to be working with this team. And if it’s not going to work then you might as well cut bait and move on. Because if this keeps up any longer Dan Gilbert is going to lose what little faithful Cavaliers fans he has left.

[1] People forget that before they won the title in 2008 the Celtics were a terrible basketball team in spite of having All-Star Paul Pierce still on the roster. They won 33 and 24 games in the two seasons prior to the title. After amassing all those losses and collecting assets they were able to flip all those miss-matching pieces for Kevin Garnet and Ray Allen.

[2] Turns out it’s actually hard to build a winning team in the NBA. Who knew?

[3] Deng isn’t a good three point shooter, only .331 for his career. Yet, for some reason he’s putting up 3.1 per game since coming to Cleveland. He shot only 62 in 23 games with the Bulls and he’s already shot 43 in 14 games with the Cavs. Here’s an idea…stop shooting so many three pointers.