The Cleveland Cavaliers had a quiet offseason, once again choosing to bide their time and build their talent base slowly. With Kyrie Irving and loads of cap space, this was a sound approach. However, for it to be as effective as it can be, the young talent that the Cavaliers select in the draft has to perform up to expectations.
So, let's talk about that young talent.
The Cavaliers shocked everyone by picking Waiters at No. 4 in the 2012 NBA Draft instead of Thomas Robinson and Harrison Barnes. Since then, I've tried seeing this from the Cavaliers' perspective as much as I can ... and I still don't really get it. It seems to me that the only defense of this pick is "the Cavaliers must really like him, and we have to trust them on that." Obviously, they could be right because you never know with the draft, but knowing what we know now, it was a curious selection at best.
For one thing, the Cavaliers never actually worked Waiters out. Of course, nobody did, because Waiters shut down his workouts and interviews right after the NBA Draft combine. Someone was going to bite the bullet and pick him. But the higher you go in the draft, the riskier it is to bring in a guy you haven't been able to see in your environment. Individual workouts may be overrated, but when you're picking someone that high in the draft, it's smart to do as much due diligence as you possibly can. I'm sure Chris Grant studied Waiters extensively, but there are some things you can gain from bringing him in to your place that you can't learn while watching tape. It's almost like a job interview: you can learn things about the applicant's personality that you can't learn otherwise.
For another, Waiters and Irving are an awkward on-court fit at best. Waiters was a sixth man at Syracuse that succeeded because he could come off the bench and aggressively attack the basket. He spent most of his time handling the ball and had free reign to fire errant shots or call his own number. Do the Cavaliers really want him doing that with Irving? Doesn't it suit them better to have an off guard that is a stronger spot-up shooter and cutter? If Waiters can't make the transition, was it worth it to use the fourth overall pick on a sixth man? There's time for Waiters to adjust his game, but he's going to have to spend a lot of time reconditioning himself to adjust to playing with Irving.
It just feels like Grant got too cute here. Waiters' game could translate very well to the NBA, but why reach to get him when Barnes or Robinson seem like better talents and better fits.
I'm not the world's biggest Zeller fan, but trading several later draft picks to move up and select him was a smart move. Too often, rebuilding teams try to flood the zone with quantity at the draft, and while that may make sense on a macro level, it breaks down in practice because those players inevitably steal minutes and opportunities from each other. The better approach is to find four or five guys and focus all attention on developing them instead of picking eight or nine rookies and having them fight it out among themselves.
As for Zeller himself, he could have a long career as a role-playing big man. That's worth trading up to get in the middle of the first round.
CJ MILES AND ALONZO GEE
It slipped under the radar, but I really liked the Miles signing. He's always had plenty of talent as a shooter and pick and roll player, but has been dogged by inconsistency and the wilting eye of Jerry Sloan. A change of scenery may do him well, especially considering the Cavaliers are in desperate need of another strong offensive player on the perimeter. I also like the decision to keep Gee for the modest price of three years and $10.5 million. Gee's an aggressive player who cuts extremely well off the ball and is starting to become a better shooter. One of those two will probably emerge as the team's small forward, and both are capable and affordable.
KELENNA AZUBUIKE AND JON LEUER
Two more under-the-radar signings that have some upside and won't cost the Cavaliers anything if they don't work out. Azubuike was a productive player until multiple knee surgeries ruined a promising career, but if he is healthy again, he could help fill the void at small forward. Leuer was very productive in limited minutes for the Bucks as a rookie and could emerge as a decent frontcourt backup.