Posted Mar 23 2012 11:09AM
This year is going spectacularly well for the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving is on the verge of winning Rookie of the Year and the team keeps losing.
Both are almost equally important to the future of the franchise. The better Irving plays, the more secure he looks as a star-in-the-making. The more the Cavaliers lose, the better their chances of grabbing another building block in the Draft.
While the Cavs are thrilled that Irving is the real deal, they don't need him to be so good that he puts Cleveland in the playoffs. As much as this may sound like yet another Cleveland bashing -- and it isn't -- the best way for the Cavs to build a winner is through the Draft. Cleveland isn't exactly Destination City No. 1 for free agents.
Therefore, all the most important basketball games for Cleveland are taking place away from the Q. And away from the Cavs. They're being contested in the NCAA tournament, where general manager Chris Grant and his elves are scouring the scene and hoping to give Irving some help. It won't be too long before the Cavs can't use the lottery to fortify themselves because Irving, by taking his team to the playoffs one day, won't let them.
The Cavs lost in overtime Wednesday in Atlanta which was, in the end, a good thing. They fell four games behind in the chase for the eighth playoff spot. They "hurt" themselves a week earlier by trading Ramon Sessions to the Lakers, which should weaken them from competing for that final spot, too.
Grant and owner Dan Gilbert have a solid plan. It's all about the Draft, all about stockpiling young talent and hoping it turns into assets to be kept or traded. It's the only logical way to go if you're a city that can't offer sunshine, tax-free paychecks or world-class nightlife to entice the top free agents. Cleveland certainly isn't alone in that regard, but the plight of the Cavs became that much more magnified in the LeBron James drama, when Dwyane Wade told LeBron that he wasn't coming to Cleveland. You know what happened next.
By trading Sessions, the Cavs now have two first-rounders in June (their own plus the Lakers') and a second-rounder from New Orleans, which is like a late first-rounder. In the future, they also have a conditional first-rounder from the Kings that could come about by 2016, along with a pair of firsts from Miami.
"If we feel like we have too many picks," said Grant, "maybe we'll put a package together to try to move up, move them to a future year, trade them for other players, attach them with players and try to move up. They're more chips in the game. And for us, the more assets we have ... the better."
Of course, that only puts pressure on Grant to make the right call in June. When you rely so much on the Draft, you can't afford to make the kind of mistake that sets a team back for years. They hit bulls-eye with Irving, who only stayed for lunch at Duke but clearly was the best player in the 2011 Draft. Forward Tristan Thompson seems a little less of a guarantee -- this could be the spot where, in hindsight, the better Thompson would've been Klay -- but big men need more time to develop than others.
Also, the Cavs aren't projected to have salary cap issues in the near future; the most expensive deal on their books is Anderson Varejao's. There's no dead weight -- thanks to the amnesty clause which wiped out the millions owed to Baron Davis -- and first-round picks don't see a big score for at least three seasons. The cap space will allow the Cavs to take a salary dump from another team, or perhaps sign a B-list free agent who fills a role.
"Our path right now is pretty clear to us, which is nice because it allows us to be very decisive," said Grant. "We finished the (trade) deadline, now the next opportunity to improve the team is through the Draft."
The Cavaliers endured a 2010-11 season that flirted with infamy, no thanks to LeBron's Decision. But while the fans were busy wasting their vocal cords on LeBron, and fretting about the losing streaks, the Cavs were sinking far enough to the bottom to increase their odds of getting Irving. In hindsight, was the losing worth it? Absolutely.
And what good would come from grabbing the final playoff spot this year? Or even next year, to be honest? The Cavs have their point guard of the future, a good kid who brings a mix of fundamentals and flash. If Thompson pans out, then that's two starting positions secured.
Now it's up to Grant to throw his Draft dart in the right direction. They need to acquire all the help they can get, build themselves into a contender, and then, three years from now, give LeBron a chance to make another free agent Decision.
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