The Cleveland Cavaliers are a team playing with pretty much nothing to lose next year. There are no grand expectations, no great young talent that needs to be cultivated (except maybe J.J. Hickson) and no thought of being a playoff contender. They're at the very beginning of rebuilding, when the old guard is still there and the young talent hasn't arrived.
Such is what happens when you lose the best regular-season player in the NBA. The loss of LeBron James means the Cavaliers had to start over anyway, but to lose him and get nothing in return (except for a couple draft picks and a large trade exception that may or may not be used) stings even more. Worse, the Cavaliers did a lot to damage their long-term future in hopes of convincing James to stick around. The core of the remaining players on the team -- Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao -- all have long-term contracts. The only draft pick that's yielded anything is Hickson, and he plays the same position as Jamison and Varejao. In other words, the Cavaliers don't have a lot going for them.
One thing they might have going for them is their new coach, Byron Scott, at least if you ask SB Nation's Cavaliers blog Fear the Sword.
Enter Byron Scott. In some ways I wish the Cavaliers had made this move a year earlier. Scott runs the exact type of run-and-gun offense that LeBron would have excelled in and the Cavaliers desperately needed against teams like Boston. Scott knows the trials of rebuilding all too well having done it with two teams already. He calls this Cavaliers team much father along than the group he took over in New Orleans and new Jersey. Only time will tell.
Scott is an experienced head coach, which is good. However, in recent years, he has not fit the description above. In his previous stop in New Orleans, Scott's teams ran a predictable, boring, slow-paced offense. Thanks to the brilliance of Chris Paul, it worked, but they were not anywhere close to being a run-and-gun team. Scott's Hornets clubs finished 28th, 21st, 23rd, 26th and 28th in pace (number of possessions per game) in his five fill seasons there, and last year, the Hornets' pace only picked up once Scott was fired and rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton were freed. Calling Scott a strength and the "perfect coach" to lead the Cavaliers' rebuilding effort seems like a bit of a stretch to me, but time will tell.
One thing's for sure: Scott has talked about becoming a more up-tempo team, despite his history. Despite having James, up-tempo was not what you'd call the Cavaliers of the past. Waiting For Next Year wonders how the Cavaliers will play more up-tempo without their best athlete.
This is really the million dollar question right here. How do you take players like Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, Anderson Varejao, JJ Hickson, and Jawad Williams who have all spent multiple seasons standing around watching LeBron stand there with the ball and dribbling out the shot clock and suddenly ask them to go completely in the opposite direction and start running in transition and operating a motion offense? This will be Byron Scott's biggest challenge.
The Cavaliers actually have an abundance of athleticism on this team. Nobody on this team outside of maybe Leon Powe (depending on how healthy his knees really are) should have too much trouble getting up and down the court once Coach Scott is done whipping them into shape. I'm not near as worried about that as I am about the team falling into old habits and standing around too much in their half court sets.
The other big question has to do with Hickson. As the closest thing to young talent that the Cavaliers currently have, it's on Hickson to really step up. He started 73 games last year as a second-year player, but saw his minutes vanish after the February trade for Jamison. Jamison is still around, but Hickson is going to get a larger role this season. Waiting For Next Year thinks he can handle it.
Ah, but the question isn't "can he", the question is "will he". There's plenty of areas in which I lack optimism with this team this year, but I'm going to show a little faith when it comes to JJ. I liked what I saw out of his demeanor in the Summer League, and I really liked that even back then he was already showing some results in his shot improvement. He still had a long way to go, but he's had another 2 months to keep working at it, and I really think this season we are going to see JJ grow into a more complete and reliable player.
The Cavaliers need Hickson, because he's just one piece in their rebuilding effort, one that Fear The Sword emphasizes should take time.
The Cavaliers need to be sure not to knee-jerk to LeBron's departure. Yes, it hurts, but the best thing the Cavaliers can do is collect as many assets and draft picks as possible - rebuilding in the same way the Okalahoma City Thunder did. The absolute worst thing that can happen in the Cavaliers become a perpetual 40 win team, making it hard to collect the talent needed to become a contender again. Cleveland will never be a free agent destination meaning the team needs to build through the Draft.
What does Year 1 in that rebuilding effort hold for the Cavaliers?
- Fear the Sword: No record prediction
- Waiting For Next Year: 28-54