Summer of Love

May 28, 2013
Mike Brown + Dan Gilbert

The Cavaliers offseason came into much sharper focus one week ago when Nick Gilbert worked his Lottery magic for the second time in the past three seasons. The Wine and Gold already knew it had four of the first 33 picks on June 27th – now they know they’ll have the first pick among the top 33.

But anyone who’s watched Cavalier drafts over the past few seasons knows that the brain trust doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom. What Cleveland will do with their picks and who they might take with them will be debated for the next four weeks. What we do know is that Chris Grant is holding a pretty good hand.

The regular season ended on April 17, and the offseason’s already been a bit of a whirlwind. Right now, we’re in the post-Lottery/pre-Draft quiet before the storm (unless you’re talking about Chris Grant’s phone). So, let’s recap the summer so far and look ahead to what should be one of the most interesting and important offseasons in franchise history …

Coaching Change – The next morning after Cleveland completed its season with a 24-58 mark, the Cavaliers released Byron Scott after three years on the sidelines.

Less than a week after Scott was let go, the Cavaliers re-hired Mike Brown. All Brown did in five seasons with the franchise was accumulate a 272-138 mark and a winning percentage of .663. In his five campaigns with the Cavs, Brown made the playoffs in each, winning 42 postseason games and at least one playoff series every year – leading the organization to its only Finals appearance in 2007.

Media who met Brown on the day he was hired noticed a more confident coach. And one who had a focused, positive message for a young team that limped to the finish line a week earlier.

“Our identity will be one of a tough-minded, physical, defensive-first group that is smart in all aspects of the game on both sides of the floor,” said Brown. “Our guys will feel it, they will breathe it, they will touch it, and they will see it from myself and my staff on a daily basis. I say daily because this is a process – and I can’t wait to get started.”

Brown – who will continue assembling his staff through the summer – got a nice welcome-back-to-Cleveland present last Tuesday when Cleveland won the Lottery. But aside from that, he’s got a young, strong nucleus to get started with.

Current Roster – Any discussion of the Wine and Gold’s young talent starts with the No. 1 pick that Nick Gilbert was lucky enough to secure two years ago: Kyrie Irving.

Irving’s ascension has been rapid. He was the Kia Rookie of the Year after his freshman campaign and was named an All-Star as a sophomore – winning the Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend in Houston just for fun. He averaged 22.5 points and 5.9 assists per contest and was the league’s top fourth-quarter performer.

But if Kyrie wants to make the next step to superstardom, he knows he’ll have to improve on the defensive end. (See: Mike Brown.)

Kyrie’s 2011 Draft classmate, Tristan Thompson, made big strides in his second season – even if we’re still not sure if he’s left- or right-handed. The workhorse from Texas played in all 82 contests, was one of the league’s most improved players and finished second only to Memphis’ Zach Randolph in offensive boards. And word is – the 22-year-old big man is already back in the gym.

Last year’s rookie duo had their ups and downs last year. But Dion Waiters finished the season strong enough to be named to the All-Rookie First Team after leading all Eastern Conference freshman in scoring. Tyler Zeller was forced into the starting lineup when Anderson Varejao went down. He was solid in spurts, but will have a standing summer appointment in the weight room at Cleveland Clinic Courts before Camp tips off in a few months.

Alonzo Gee was another ironman for the Cavaliers and – as the club’s best and most versatile on-ball defender – will be an integral piece for Mike Brown moving forward.

C.J. Miles –inked as a free agent last summer – was a welcome addition to the Wine and Gold last season. He set career marks in made-three pointers and was a much-needed veteran presence, both on the floor and off. The Cavaliers have a team-option on Miles this summer.

Finally, one of Brown’s favorites from his first incarnation as coach – Anderson Varejao – will try to get and stay healthy for a whole season. Varejao was the league’s leading rebounder when he went down with a knee injury last season. It’s an understatement to say that Andy’s health is a key to the Cavaliers’ success.

Cavs Free Agents – Chris Grant and the Cavs will have to make some decisions on how to round out the rest of the roster. And it may or may not include some of the squad’s current free agents.

Forward Omri Casspi and swingman Wayne Ellison are both restricted free agents. Casspi had his most difficult season as a pro, averaging just 4.0 ppg in 43 appearances – shooting under 40 percent from the floor. Ellington, on the other hand, flourished in a Cavaliers uniform after his acquisition in late January – averaging 10.4 ppg, shooting nearly 43 percent from the floor, 40 percent from long-distance and over 90 percent from the stripe.

Daniel Gibson, Shaun Livingston, Luke Walton and Marreese Speights are all unrestricted free agents.

Gibson has been with the Wine and Gold since 2006 and is still one of the team and city’s most beloved players. But his productivity has dipped in recent years. It’ll be interesting to see what decision the Cavaliers make on Boobie.

Luke Walton was an efficient role player and leader this season. He’s another guy the team and fans love, but it’s unclear what direction he’ll go in the final years of a rock-solid NBA career.

Shaun Livingston was inked on Christmas Day off waivers. He was a strong contributor at the backup point and the Cavaliers could use his experience, but Livingston will likely explore options after re-establishing himself with Cleveland down the stretch this season.

Speights – who averaged 10.4 ppg in 39 contests with the Cavs – has a player-option heading into this offseason. And after a productive run with the Cavs, the former Gator should have no shortage of suitors – especially considering the rugged big man doesn’t turn 26 until August. Cleveland will try to retain Speights, but the ball is in his court now.

NBA Free Agents – With a bunch of free cap space, the Cavaliers will also be shoppers in the free agent market this summer.

Of course, the NBA’s two free agent crown jewels this summer are Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, and it’s not crazy to think they’ll end up on the same squad. It’s unlikely that that squad will be the Cavaliers, but there are still plenty of quality names out there for Cleveland.

Among the unrestricted big men stand three centers that seem NBA-ancient but are all just in their 20s: Andrew Bynum (25), Al Jefferson (28) and Howard (27). Some second-tier names include Denver’s Timofey Mozgov, New Orleans’ Emeka Okafor, the T-Wolves’ Nikola Pekovic.

The Cavaliers’ Lottery victory, and whether or not they go big with the first pick (if they keep it) should affect how they intend to shop for big men among this year’s free agent crop.

The list of unrestricted forwards is even more interesting. Josh Smith, Paul Milsap and David West are the big names. But young veterans like Marvin Williams, Earl Clark, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer are also in the mix. And wouldn’t it be interesting if Mike Brown were to be re-united with either J.J. Hickson or even Metta World Peace?

Paul leads the list of unrestricted guards. He could wind up back in L.A. and it’s hard to imagine fellow free agent, Manu Ginobili, leaving his current situation as well. But there are still plenty of players who could greatly improve Cleveland’s backcourt, including Andre Iguodala, Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack.

Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin are also unrestricted, but we only play hoops with one ball in Cleveland, and with burgeoning stars Irving and Waiters, there simply wouldn’t be enough shots to attract either of those players.

2013 Draft – We’re still a month away from the NBA Draft, but we now know that this world is Chris Grant’s oyster. The Cavaliers hold the top pick, the 19th overall – ensured on the final day of this past season from the Lakers – and two of the first three picks in the second round.

Next year’s Draft is apparently a lock, with phenom Andrew Wiggins likely to be one-and-done after a season in Lawrence. This year’s Draft is a different story and which way the Wine and Gold will go is anyone’s guess.

Most of the focus has been on 19-year-old Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel, who played just 24 games for John Calipari’s squad this season. The high-topped 6-11 center averaged 4.4 blocks per contest before tearing his left ACL against Florida and is projected to be a defensive force at the next level. But he weighs in at only 205 pounds and won’t be available until around Christmas. One month out, it’s not a slam dunk that Noel will be this year’s top pick.

Ben McLemore, the smooth shooting guard from Kansas, might be a more polished product. And although tabbing him might cause some redundancy in the backcourt, it was also give the Cavs the most dangerous trio of young guards in the Eastern Conference. Scouts love his upside and think he could be the best all-around player in this Draft.

For months, pundits have aligned Otto Porter Jr. with the Wine and Gold. (Although that was before Cleveland secured the top pick last Tuesday.) The versatile, mature sophomore from Georgetown would be a welcome addition to the small forward spot and give Cleveland another perimeter weapon.

Another name that’s been lumped into the discussion for the top picks in Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. Like Noel, the uber-athletic swingman isn’t closed to a finished product on the offensive end. But he would provide Mike Brown an excellent new toy on the defensive side – where he’s made his bones as an aggressive, relentless defender.

If they keep the No. 19 selection, the Cavaliers can go any number of directions with the pick – likely predicated on what they do with the top choice.

If they go small with the top pick, the Cavs still may have their choice of big men like Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, Kansas’ Jeff Withey, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng, Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams or even Rudy Gobert, the 7-2 center from France.

If Cleveland goes big with the top pick, they might look at a wing player like San Diego State’s versatile swingman Jamaal Franklin, New Mexico’s Tony Snell or Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. Some international names to keep an eye on include 19-year-old Russian forward Sergey Karasev and Greek SF Giannis Adetokoubo – a smooth 6-9 athlete with a 7-3 wingspan.

Should the Cavaliers utilize their second-rounders, any number of solid prospects should be available, including Glen Rice, Jr. (who excelled in the D-League last year), Miami PG Shane Larkin, Ohio State forward DeShawn Thomas or explosive Marquette guard Vander Blue – who might have the coolest name in the 2013 Draft.

With all those options, Chris Grant has plenty to ponder between now and the final Thursday of June.

Five weeks ago, the Cavaliers were losing to the Bobcats in Charlotte. Look where they are now. And imagine where they’ll be two months from today.

Yeah. It’s gonna be a fun summer.