Our series NBA Exit Interviews look to SB Nation's team experts to make sense of the NBA season that was and the offseason to come. We begin our journey through the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went from first to worst ... in the entire NBA. After losing LeBron James in free agency, Cleveland fell all the way down the standings, breaking the NBA's record for longest losing streak on the way.
Conrad Kaczmarek of Fear The Sword checks in with us about what to expect from the Cavs this summer.
TZ: Obviously everyone knew it'd be tough to recover from the loss of the two-time reigning MVP. But did you expect the team to fall as far as it did?
CK: It's hard to really capture the full impact that LeBron's departure had on this organization, but I never expected this team to end up in dead last. Truthfully, I don't think anybody should have. Major injuries to Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison were things that nobody could have expected and the Cavaliers certainly would have won a few more games if not for being constantly bombarded by injuries.
TZ: Speaking of Varejao and Jamison, they in a way represent the remnants of a title-chasing team that now looks to rebuild through the draft (with two top-10 picks in 2011) and using cap space and trade assets. Does either player fit in the short- or long-term gameplan? I'm particularly curious about Varejao, as he isn't exactly an old man, but figures to be substantially older than the new Cleveland core.
CK: Jamison and his expiring contract were nearly dealt at the deadline and will undoubtedly be on the trading block this offseason. While Varejao is an excellent defensive veteran, his services are likely more valuable to a team on the cusp of a championship than to a rebuilding one. It was my opinion that the Cavaliers should have been trying to trade Varejao to teams with a need for a defensive big man, such as OKC. Unfortunately, he got hurt before we could see if anything was in the works. I expect the front office in Cleveland to be actively trying to move both players to acquire more trade picks and young players.
CK: JJ Hickson finally seems to be working out and playing up to his potential, although he has a long way to go. It will be interesting what happens with Ramon Sessions if the Cavaliers draft Kyrie Irving. That would presumably put Sessions 3rd on the depth chart behind Irving and Baron Davis. There had been rumors of moving Ramon Sessions before the trade deadline and his stock may have risen high enough now to grab some additional rebuilding pieces on the trade market.
TZ: How far is this team from becoming a legit threat to go .500? Can a good draft and free agent/trade period do the trick, or will it take a few years?
CK: That's the big question looming around Lake Erie. We, the fans, have been spoiled by the Cavs' play over the last seven years and are a tad anxious to get back to that level. Depending on who comes out of this draft and how the Cavs' picks work out, it may not be far off. People tend to forget about the traded player exception that seems quite valuable to other teams and could perhaps bring another draft pick or quality player to the Cavs. People love to talk about how weak this draft class is, but if the Cavaliers get lucky and hit on both picks, .500 might be a realistic goal a couple years from now.