As those who follow me on twitter know, I have been less than enthusiastic about the almost orgasmic lust for Kevin Love. There is no question Love is a fantastic player. And, as Coach K said today, you wouldn’t hesitate a second about trading Love for Andrew Wiggins if that was all that was involved. It’s not even close. However, the price stability and player control situations are just as vastly different as the talent gap. High level star potential players are almost NEVER traded for known commodities when they are in the first year of their rookie deals. Especially when the proven star player has only one year left on his contract before he can opt out. I KNOW there are solid arguments on both sides of this. I have provided one point of view with my post “It’s not about Love or the loss but about Love lost“. As I have thought about this more and more, I want to think of what the Cavs can be as they are currently constituted or by adding a few small pieces. So lets take a quick look at the current Cavs and project toward their 2014-15 season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are certainly not a complete team now. They probably still need shooters and definitely need a rim protector. However, let me add that more and more NBA teams are going small and there are more than a few teams without a true center. The Cavs will be one of those teams. But I think San Antonio is another one of those teams. Last year Miami was another team without a center, so I am not overly concerned. TT and Andy have proven they can handle the center position even if it is not ideal for either of them. Since no one even knows if Brendan Haywood can play, the Cavs are thin at center. That is why I cringed when I heard we had to throw in Tyler Zeller in the “salary dump” trade. Now I am happy with the result but Tyler will be missed. He isn’t a rim protector, but he is 7 foot tall and could run the floor. I hope the Cavs can find a way to get a back up center but I am not optimistic. Ekpe Udoh might be one possibility as a free agent if he is willing to play for the veteran minimum. There are others but the options are limited since the Cavs are now over the cap and won’t get their full MLE (Mid-Level Exception) or their BAE (Biannual Exception) until next off season.
The Cavalier projected 15 man roster at this time is: Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Andy Varejao, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller, James Jones, Dwight Powell, Joe Harris, Brendan Haywood, and two spots open. Don’t count the salary fillers we obtained in the Carrick Felix trade, they are only around to provide trade dollars. There is decent depth on that roster and a fair mix of veterans and young players. I think Jones, or Haywood (if not healthy) could be safely moved off that roster if adjustments are made via trade. But, if they sign and trade Jones, the Cavs would torpedo any chance to sign other “tag on” free agents in the future. So I don’t see that happening. So that only leaves Haywood. With a few exceptions, that roster is very athletic as well and should be able to consistently run the floor. The roster, having a distinct lack of lumbering size, is matched well with a constant motion flow offense that does not depend on posting up. If the Cavs do post up, it would likely be with James, Waiters or Bennett. They have the most potential to be able to take advantage of mismatches.
David Blatt may be the “X” factor this year for the Cavaliers. He is a proven coach who clearly knows how to win. He might need to make a bit of an adjustment to the NBA game, but I think that adjustment will be short lived. I really liked the way he worked the sidelines and interacted with the players during the NBA Summer League games. He was positive but firm and his expectations were that the players should have fun but pay attention to detail. Take a look at this compilation of Blatt’s timeouts. It will give you the idea. I watched his post game speech on Cavs.com after the last Summer League game. It showed a real compassion and caring for his players. I think that translates well to the NBA where you are coaching men and not boys. But that must be balanced by setting high expectations and making sure the player knows if he is not meeting them. It appears that Blatt has that ability. Only time will tell for sure. What doesn’t seem in question is his commitment to putting an offense in place that will fit the abilities of his players. His variations of the Princeton offense will keep the ball moving, which the Cavs must do to be successful in 2014-15. Take a look at this video for some decent details of Blatt’s offense. This video is slightly dated (before draft) but still very useful.
If Blatt is the “X” factor, LeBron is the “K” factor. The “K” in this case stands for “Killer”. Over the past 4 years, LeBron has attacked the rim with more force than he ever did as a Cavalier. In addition, his mental toughness has markedly improved. His basketball IQ has always been off the charts. That hasn’t changed. These characteristics, along with his immense talent, will allow him to elevate the game of almost every young Cavalier. I don’t project the huge delay in growth that “experts” predict for Wiggins, Harris and Bennett. I think their games will move upward steadily as the season progresses under the watchful eyes of Blatt, Lu, and James. James will help on the court and the coaches off the court. This is not being factored into anyone’s projections as far as I can tell.
The combinations possible with the current Cavs roster are so numerous that Blatt will be able to “match” up with virtually anything another team throws at the Cavs except for size dominated lineups. In those cases, we will need Andy to step up and our offensive flow to stifle any defensive advantage caused by the difference in size. But when the Cavs decide to “go small” with LeBron at the 4 and either Tristan or Andy at the 5, they will be almost impossible to guard. Kyrie, Dion, and Wiggins will be a handful assuming we don’t rely on isolations which reduce our advantage in that lineup. I don’t believe either Blatt nor LeBron will let the team rely on isolation. Throw in Miller for Wiggins and it will be easy to spread the floor and open the middle.
Most national pundits and even our local media severely underestimate the potential growth of both Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett in 2014. I believe that Dion is on the verge of All Star caliber play and, if the Cavs are patient and don’t trade the sometimes feisty Waiters, they will be rewarded with the Dwayne Wade like player that they projected when he was drafted. Bennett is far from All Star caliber but he will be noticeably better than at any time last year. I think he removes the “bust” tag most threw on him last year.
Finally, I am not even adding the “Wig” factor in this analysis. Notice that I do not depend on Wiggins playing like the first pick in a stacked draft in order for the Cavs to be successful. If he does, the Cavaliers will be one of the most potent offenses in the NBA in 14-15. Plus, if he comes through, he improves the Cavaliers defensive potential.
We may never know if the heart of the team’s young stars in the waiting are cut out by Minnesota’s knife. I, for one, hope to see this current Cavs roster be given a chance. If I am wrong and we don’t see the great play I expect, then making a trade near the deadline may make sense. We will see.
The current speculation seems to be that we will get Love at some point but maybe at the cost of Wiggins, Bennett, and some number 1 picks. If so, the team is positioned even better for Blatt’s offense because of Love’s passing and shooting ability. In that scenario, the defense might suffer a bit but Love is an elite player, so we will take our chances. Even if Love is not coming our way, Cavs fans should all be ready for a very exciting year ahead. Either team will be able to compete for a championship but Love improves the odds in 14-15.