2010 was an unmitigated disaster for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were upset by the Boston Celtics in the Semifinals of the playoffs and then the summer of LeBron began. James decided to leave the Cavs, launching one of the biggest downfalls of an icon in a city and an exuberant amount of backlash, the likes of which we had never seen before. Cleveland had one of the worst seasons in their franchise’s history following the debacle, only garnering 19 wins. One year removed from a 61 win season. Since then, the Cavaliers have slowly improved and a step up is in store for them. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Once LeBron left, the Cavaliers were left without an identity and franchise player. The first year post-LeBron became a blessing in disguise because it gave them the number one overall draft pick, which they used to select PG Kyrie Irving out of Duke. Irving went on to win the Rookie of the Year last season and could be on the brink of an All-Star season. In fact, I’d be somewhat surprised if Irving didn’t make the All-Star team as a reserve this season. Look at guys like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul – they all flourished their third years in the league. We’re going to see a legitimate breakout campaign from Mr. Irving.
Irving is not a bulk scorer, keep in mind, he’s this team’s point guard. He’s supposed to be a distributor, but who is he going to defer to? Tristan Thompson had a more than solid rookie year last season alongside Irving and will only improve. He'll be a very good big man for Cleveland and will become a staple of their future going forward. C.J. Miles is a solid addition as a running-mate for Irving at the wing while Anderson Varejao is all set to return after missing most of the season a year ago. Alonzo Gee had one of the more solid years for guys you've never heard of on the Cavs in 2011-12 and Luke Walton is ready to step up and replace the massive shoes left behind by the retired Brian Scalabrine as white guy cheerleader. Omri Casspi had an awful year his first season with the Cavaliers and if does anything positive in the first half, I imagine he’ll become trade bait.
The Cavs have decided to focus on rebuilding this team through the draft. Unfortunately, there have been no LeBron James type players in these drafts so it's going to take a bit longer than they're used to. Irving and Thompson were successes last season, now it's time to see how Dion Waiters (selected fourth overall out of Syracuse) and Tyler Zeller (17th overall out of North Carolina) will fair. I don't have much doubt about Waiters – he seems like an impact NBA player from the get-go and will completely solidify the guard position for the Cavaliers. Cleveland fans should be very excited to watch Irving and Waiters running up the court together – it's rare for a young rebuilding team to have both their point and shooting guard positions filled with young studs. I'm not as convinced about Zeller. North Carolina prospects have been hit-or-miss in the NBA lately and I didn't find Zeller all that impressive from the few games I watched of him in the NCAA. The Cavs may be looking for another big man in the draft next summer.
It’s going to be an agonizingly slow process for Dan Gilbert’s Cavaliers on their way back to NBA relevance. They’re doing it the right way, thus far, I think they’ve vastly improved themselves since 2010. They’re still far from being close to a team that could win a playoff series, but give it time and some more good additions - they could be in two years. Byron Scott is the type of coach you want in this position. Level headed and someone who will get respect from his young players. He’s been in the NBA for a century, it seems, so he knows what he’s talking about.
Season Outlook: The Cavaliers add 15 wins to their total from last season and finish a hair under .500. Kyrie Irving becomes an All-Star and Dion Waiters contends for Rookie of the Year.
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