The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the 2013-14 NBA season full of promise. Armed with a young star in Kyrie Irving, developing lottery picks in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, the number one overall NBA Draft pick in Anthony Bennett and a former All-Star in Andrew Bynum, the franchise firmly had its goals set on a playoff spot. The Cavs currently sit four games out of the playoffs at 18-33 and are in complete turmoil after having fired their GM, Chris Grant, last week. They most recently lost to a Lakers team that essentially finished the game with just five players.
“We were hoping regardless of what pick we got that this would be our last lottery,” Owner Dan Gilbert said after the Cavaliers received the number one overall pick for the second time in three years. Gilbert’s confidence and outspoken behavior has always been questionable and usually inaccurate. The Cavaliers did not win a ring before Lebron, and now a series of crucial draft mistakes has crippled the franchise with a team that is simply not built to compete.
The draft problems started after Kyrie Irving, a 2014 All-Star starter, was drafted. The Cavs surprised many by selecting Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall pick in the same draft, and while he has been a solid contributor, better players such as Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Jonas Valanciunas were all still on the board. The fatal mistakes came in 2012 and 2013. Dion Waiters, another surprisingly high pick, was selected by the Cavs with the fourth overall selection. A ball-dominant guard who served as a sixth man at Syracuse, Waiters has had locker room conflicts in the NBA and is clearly not suited to play alongside fellow young gun Irving. Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Terrence Ross were all selected after Waiters. The coupe de gr??ceof Grant’s draft mistakes came with the 2013 number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett. The pick was so surprising that analyst Bill Simmons audibly exclaimed, “Whoa!” directly after the announcement. The Cavs have attempted to force him into playing a position he has never played, small forward, and he has proceeded to have arguably the worst rookie season from a number-one overall pick in NBA history.
Having said all this, the Cavaliers roster still looked like it could make noise this season. A bit of a production from Bynum, a healthy Anderson Varejao, and initial success for Mike Brown in the first year of his second coaching stint in Cleveland were all that was needed for a playoff berth in the decidedly weak Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for the maligned city of Cleveland, none of these goals were achieved. Bynum was a disaster and now wears a Pacers uniform after he was traded for Luol Deng and subsequently cut. Varejao has his worst numbers in points per game and rebounds per game in three years and generally looks older, and Mike Brown has not maintained control over the team or apparently the locker room. Luol Deng was acquired for draft picks, but a report last week stated that he, too, was unhappy. Point guard Jarrett Jack is also on a four-year contract and playing miserably.
Couple all of this with the fact that Kyrie Irving has taken a step back in most statistical categories and is still not playing defense, and Waiters is in his own world and the other Cavs haven’t developed as hoped, and you’re looking at a team that is not going to make the playoffs. Shooting guard Sergey Karasev is not about to save the day.
Interim Cavaliers GM David Griffin has quite the workload cut out for him over the rest of the season, but things may not be as bleak as they seem. A trade package of Luol Deng and Dion Waiters would still be appealing to teams that either want to buy low on a young talent or acquire a solid veteran for a playoff run, and Deng’s expiring contract makes him very movable. The team needs to be retooled and repaired quickly. Kyrie Irving’s contract is a ticking time bomb, and Los Angeles and New York will come calling. Contracts need to be moved, picks need to be acquired and Anthony Bennett needs to be salvaged, otherwise a Kyrie Irving trade should seriously be entertained. It sounds reactionary, but the goal is to win a championship, and NBA teams with championships are the ones who think long-term.
The Cavaliers are a case study on how poor drafting and player acquisition can cripple a franchise. This core simply isn’t the core that will bring that elusive championship to Cleveland. Sorry, Machine Gun Kelly.
Contact Zander Frost at [email protected]