5 Questions: Cleveland Cavaliers season-ending edition
The team had spent the previous three years building a young roster of high draft picks that included Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. To that group they added veterans Jarrett Jack and Anthony Bynum, along with Anthony Bennett – the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
After three seasons, and 166 losses, the Cavs were ready to replace the draft lottery with a return to the NBA playoffs.
Unfortunately, those dreams went unrealized, as the Cavs finished the year with a record of 33-49, five games out of the final playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference.
While the 33 wins was the most for a non-LeBron James team since the 1997-98 season, and a nine-win improvement over last season, the year was still a disappointing one. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting one.
From ugly losses to unexpected wins, to accusations of “buddy ball” and rumors of locker room punches, to Irving being named MVP of the All-Star Game and the firing of general manager Chris Grant, this Cavs season is one fans will talk about for quite some time (even if it may not be for the reasons we like).
To help sort through what we all just witnessed over the past 82 games, and figure out some of the important issues facing the team this off-season, we’ve brought together an august panel of some of the best Cavs basketball minds on the Internet for an installment of 5 Questions in 5 Minutes.
Today’s participants are:
Ben Cox, a writer for Waiting for Next Year, Fear the Sword and CavsZine, and possibly the only librarian who can pull off muttonchops. He can be found on Twitter @WFNYBen.
Brendan Bowers, the founding editor of Stepien Rules and a contributing writer for SLAMonline. He is on Twitter @BowersCLE.
Demetri Inembolidis, a former contributing writer for The Cleveland Fan and I Go Hard Now. He is currently a contributor to Goodspeed & Poe and can be found on Twitter @demeatloaf.
Michael Mayer, the founder and editor of Rebuilding Since 1964 and a contributing writer for Real Cavs Fans. Follow him on Twitter @RS64mikemayer.
Wade Foley covers the Cavs for More Than a Fan: Cleveland and scouts and writes for NetScouts Basketball. He can be found on Twitter @FoleyLoaded_NBA.
Question: Was this season a disappointment, or were the expectations just unrealistic?
Ben: Of course this season was a disappointment. When you add the No. 1 overall pick and an All-Star caliber center over the off-season, expectations should be high. That neither contributed at all to this season is just one of the many, many disappointments. Were some of the 50-win predictions a bit much? Yes. But it wasn’t insane to think that this team should’ve been around .500.
Brendan: This season was a disappointment. I expected this Cavaliers team to win 42 games and finish with either the 7 or 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. That was before I realized that 38 wins would be enough to achieve that. And even with the season now behind us, I still think that was realistic. From an organizational standpoint, the Cavs underachieved in just about every way imaginable.
Demetri: The season was a big disappointment. Improving by nine games is nice, but they were supposed to make the playoffs. Chris Grant drafted Anthony Bennett because he was ready to play and contribute right away. He wasn’t able to. Grant signed Jarrett Jack to have a similar role that he did in Golden State and he did nothing but disappoint until the latter portion of the season. Grant signed Andrew Bynum in what we thought was a low risk/high reward move and he did nothing but affect the locker room in a negative way. Luol Deng was supposed to be the team’s first legitimate small forward since May of 2010 and he was also disappointing. The only positive moves that Grant made were signing Earl Clark (and that’s only because it led to the team getting Spencer Hawes) and signing Matthew Dellavedova.
The season was disappointing more so than a product of lofty expectations. We thought the Cavs were making the playoffs because they play in the JV league known as the Eastern Conference. Going into the season with these expectations in the Western Conference would have been silly. This was different.
Michael: I know this is a cop-out answer, but I think it was a little bit of both. None of the young players made quite the leap we hoped they would, and the team as a whole definitely underachieved. That said, they were 24-58 last season and they didn’t really make any huge upgrades over the summer, so all of the talk about making the playoffs was probably hopeful at best.
Wade: Maybe this is a bit of a cop-out, but honestly, both. Dan Gilbert and the Cavs organization put pressure on Chris Grant and Mike Brown to win immediately, and publicly stated that this team wouldn’t be back in the lottery any time soon. Those types of public declarations cause hype. Still, this team should have been better than what it was. So many crazy occurrences derailed the Cavs’ momentum this season, but it’s safe to say that being back in the lottery once again is definitely a disappointment.
Question: Tristan Thompson is eligible for a contract extension this summer. Can the Cavs afford not to offer him one?
Ben: Yes, they can certainly afford not to offer Tristan a contract. Teams get themselves in financial trouble when they overvalue and overpay their own role players. Tristan Thompson is a role player who was drafted 4th overall. That’s a prime recipe for an overpay. I’d let Thompson eventually test the waters in unrestricted free agency. If someone signs him to a reasonable contract, match it. If they overpay … let him go.
Brendan: Yes, they can afford to not offer Tristan an extension this summer. In fact, I’d even be OK with letting him play out his current deal, go into restrictive free agency and see what he commands on the open market. From there, the Cavs can decide to match that offer or not, but there is no real reason to jump the gun.
Demetri: They can afford to not offer him a contract extension. He’s good for a double-double on most nights and is a high character presence in the locker room. I think the Cavs will offer him a contract extension and I also think he and his agent will try to get more money from the team. If there comes a point where both parties are at an impasse, losing Thompson wouldn’t be the worst thing. They have Bennett waiting in the shadows. On top of that, Thompson is a player that has serious offensive limitations. The new NBA requires that a PF can step out and shoot. Thompson would rather let the 24-second shot clock expire than take that shot. If he were a defensive juggernaut like Ben Wallace, then you could justify building a front court around him and his limitations. Thompson is not. Keeping him is a good idea if he can be retained for the right price.
Michael: Certainly they can. I would be very wary of giving Thompson a lucrative extension at this point. He is clearly an NBA player; I’m just not sure how he will fit with whatever team the next GM (or David Griffin, if he stays) will want to build. There is risk involved with letting him reach restricted free agency in 2015, but I think that’s the most logical play right now. Especially if there is still some hope that Anthony Bennett can be something.
Wade: Can they afford it? Sure. If Thompson and the Cavs don’t come to an agreement this summer, he’ll play out next season and then become a restricted free agent, where the Cavs can then match any offer he receives from another team. Depending on how he plays next season, this could either save the Cavs some money or cost them a little more. Thompson and the Cavs will have serious discussions about that this summer though, and I expect they’ll come to an agreement. Thompson didn’t make the leap this season that most people were expecting. He’s an energy big who leads all NBA power forwards in offensive rebounds per game with 3.3. He seems like a great guy and appears to love Cleveland, but needs to vastly improve his offense and shot-blocking abilities. The Cavs should offer him around $30 million over four years. If he accepts that, great. If not, they might have to take their chance in restricted free agency next offseason.
Question: Can Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters truly co-exist?
Ben: I think they can, but the roster around them has to look different. If they’re going to go to war with two ball dominate guards, they need shooters and guys who can defend surrounding them. They also need a coach who can stagger minutes better. That being said, I think it’s more likely one (Dion, unless Kyrie plays hardball) gets dealt.
Brendan: Yes they can. What it requires, though, is work. They need to be placed in an offensive structure that capitalizes on their abilities first. Then Irving and Waiters need to work on developing an understanding of how to make each other better. They’ve only played about 150 games together for two different coaches. They could become a dynamic backcourt eventually if they keep working. It’s real early in their combined development still.
Demetri: I believe that Waiters and Irving can co-exist happily. It’s not the perfect match, but they are both immensely talented and I think that they would be doing themselves a disservice by not buckling down and figuring it out one way or another. It’s clearly a maturity issue with these two. Getting them to co-exist will require a lot of leadership from the coaching staff. David Griffin seems to be the type of person who can get through to stubborn people. I think he can do a lot to help those two play together if the Cavs retain him.
Michael: Hopefully I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. And it has nothing to do with their personalities or any “beef” or whatever. I just don’t see how two guards who are most effective taking defenders off the dribble are going to ever thrive playing together as long as there is only one ball. If it is going to work, they need to be surrounded by shooters who space the floor.
Wade: Yes. A few months ago, I wasn’t so sure, but I would really hate to see either of them go at this point. Waiters really stepped up his game the last half of this season and reclaimed his starting spot. He became more consistent and averaged 19 points and 4 assists per game post All-Star break. Waiters and Irving are both very talented scorers and skilled passers. As long as the Cavs acquire a talented off-ball small forward for next season, I think they can make it work. One of the two might have to become slightly more of a facilitator (which Kyrie did more of at the end of the season), but it’s definitely possible.
Question: Will Mike Brown return as coach next season?
Ben: Probably. I hope not. But he probably will. Brown and the Cavs did just enough down the stretch that I think Dan Gilbert gives him another go. Plus, that five year contract … I mean, I know Dan is cool with spending whatever it takes, but I doubt he fires coach Mike after one year. That being said, I really, really, really don’t want to spend next winter watching Mike Brown’s offense.
Brendan: I would think he has to be back. Look, Brown’s offensive system is non-existent. And he needs to hire an assistant coach who he turns that side of the ball over to completely. But after letting Brown go in 2010, Gilbert just fired the coach he hired to replace him 12 months ago to rehire Brown. If he fires Brown, again, that’s three coaches in four years for Kyrie Irving. That’s embarrassing from an organizational standpoint. So he might need to give this one more year and commit to making it work. Even though it hasn’t yet.
Demetri: Mike Brown will be back. Struggling teams need stability. It’s no secret that Mike Brown struggles coaching on the offensive end. Instead of being wishy-washy about it, he doesn’t give much thought to that side of the court. Teams need to have a balanced approach, but I also firmly believe that Brown is a good coach. The Cavs were ranked 22nd in offense and 19th in defense. Last year, they were 19th on offense and 27th in defense. It was a rough year and Mike Brown was to blame for some of it, but the team showed improvement. The Cavs were 17-16 since their embarrassing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 5. There were plenty of bad stretches by the team, but firing Brown because of their poor start to the season wouldn’t be fair to a new coach who is leading a young team.
Michael: Hard to say right now, but I lean toward saying that he won’t be back. Indications are that Dan Gilbert will let the new GM make that call, and I’d imagine that whoever that is will have their own idea about who should be coach. It will cost a lot to send Brown packing, but Gilbert has never shied away from spending money.
Wade: As much as I’d like to see someone like Steve Kerr get a crack at it, I expect Brown to be back with the Cavs next season. For one, he still has four years left on his contract. Obviously Gilbert isn’t shy about spending money for success, but that’s still a good chunk of change. Second, the Cavs were an over .500 team after Chris Grant was fired and David Griffin encouraged running the floor with the addition of Spencer Hawes. It’s probably not fair to pin the Cavs abysmal offense all on Brown, so I think he’ll likely get next year to prove his worth. If that doesn’t start off well once changes are made this summer, then there’s a good chance he doesn’t last the whole season (probably more than four games though).
Question: The Cavs will offer Kyrie Irving a contract extension this summer. If he turns it down, what is the team’s best play?
Ben: If he flat out turns them down (not some play for an opt out or early termination) then I think they have to look into trading him. I have no idea what a fair deal would be, but it’d have to involve at least one high lottery pick this year. There’s no way that they’ll win an Irving trade or get equal value in return, but if they can get a high pick or two and a useful role player, that’s as good as they can hope. (Or they can try to trade everyone else for a star to pair Irving with and hope to convince him later, but that is super-duper risky.)
Brendan: The Cavs drafted six players in the top-19 over the last three years. They drafted four in the top four. There is one guy in that group who could play in 10 All-Star games and that’s Irving. So despite the assets the Cavs may think they have, they really only have one superstar talent to build around and they can’t afford to lose him. There is also nobody in this league who is going to trade Cleveland anything better than Irving, either. So you offer the deal and hope he signs. If he asks for three years instead, sign him to that and hope for the best.
Demetri: There is not a single good answer to this question. Dan Gilbert has gone on the record to state that he will trade a superstar if he feels that he is not committed to the team. Being that you never get good value on trades for young stars, the Cavs would find themselves in a tough predicament. They won’t want to risk losing him for nothing in a few years. I think the team will look to trade him if he doesn’t show he is committed to the team for the long haul. Signing him to the qualifying offer and letting him play one last year in Cleveland is a non-starter for the team. That isn’t happening.
Michael: They don’t need to rush into doing anything right away. I think they should continue to try to build a team around him, and hope that they have some success next season so that he will want to stay. If they do get off to a poor start, or if he is pouting, then they can start listening to offers. But there’s no reason for them to panic at any point. The team has almost complete control over the situation. He can’t become an unrestricted free agent until 2016, and even that would probably be too risky for him.
Wade: The answer to this is actually fairly simple for Gilbert. No player has ever turned down the max extension while in his rookie contract and I don’t expect Irving to be the first. I wholeheartedly believe that he’ll sign the max this summer and end the drama. If he does happen to turn it down and decide to play out next season and then enter restricted free agency, Gilbert should explore trade options for him by next season’s deadline. Gilbert has the leverage here. If Irving wants to be in Cleveland and get paid, he’ll sign the max extension. If he wants out, he won’t. Gilbert isn’t going to lose another budding superstar for next to nothing. I fully expect him to attempt to make a deal for Irving by next year’s deadline if he doesn’t sign the max by October.
Bonus question: What is the one move the Cavs must get right this off-season?
Ben: The dream scenario is trading some combo of Waiters, Bennet, Thompson and picks for someone like Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony. I can’t see either wanting to be here long term. But you can sell a guy on winning+Irving+Dan Gilbert’s money. Aside from some major move, they need a wing that can shoot threes and a big who can protect the rim. The Cavs give up too many easy baskets and having some kind of shot blocker or enforcer could really help.
Brendan: It’s not one they must get right, but if you are going to keep Mike Brown the Cavs need to re-sign Spencer Hawes. With the lack of offensive structure, a big like Hawes who can pass well and create space with his jumper is even more critical. He makes things look and move like designed sets in the half court even when they aren’t.
Demetri: The Cavs need to do well in free agency this summer. The draft will be less important than previous years given that they have an 81.3 percent chance of picking ninth overall. Imagine how much better this season would have been for the Cavs if they signed the players that Danny Ferry and the Hawks did last summer instead of Chris Grant’s targets. The Cavs would likely be playing the struggling Pacers right now.
Michael: While there are plenty of holes they need to fill on the court, it is most important that Gilbert picks the right person to lead the franchise. Whether it is a new head coach with a stronger personality, a new GM or a team president, somebody has to be able to articulate to Irving and his teammates a vision for what they’re trying to become. Chris Grant understood how to amass assets, but he was pretty clueless about how to build a basketball team. They need to find somebody who will build something that makes sense.
Wade: Sign a shooting small forward! The Cavs desperately need shooting. If I had to guess, Hawes will resign in Cleveland and Deng won’t. That would mean that the main position the Cavs need to fill is starting small forward. With two ball-dominant guards, the Cavs really need an off-ball forward who can hit the three ball efficiently. There will be a few available and the Cavs better make sure they acquire one. Other than that, make the correct draft pick or use it to acquire veteran talent.
Nice work everyone, there is a lot of good perspective in here, and thanks for participating.
(Photos by The Associated Press)