Despite inconsistency, Cavs right on track
MAR 05, 2013 4:14p ET
1. General manager Chris Grant.
He’s done OK so far, right?
It’s true Memphis was desperate to unload some salary, which is why Grant was able to pull off armed basketball robbery by landing Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington (and a draft pick) for Jon Leuer, who may not even be in the NBA next season.
It’s true that a lot of teams could have done something similar – but Grant was the man who actually pulled it off.
He also plucked Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson (and yes, Tyler Zeller) in the draft, and all are starting in just their first or second NBA seasons.
Yes, the trade of J.J. Hickson for Omri Casspi failed (so far), but it failed for everyone but Portland. And the Trail Blazers weren’t even involved in the deal. The team that was involved, Sacramento, quickly waived Hickson.
So that trade is hardly a fail on Grant’s part. It’s a draw.
Forget about that, anyway. Not every trade is going to be magical. Not when you’re making a bunch of them and trying to build an actual team – as opposed to one star and a bunch of nobodies.
Grant has maintained the Cavs' assets (and even acquired a few) and flexibility, and found four core guys around whom to build.
No other young team in the NBA can make that claim. None.
With another off-season approaching, fans should feel confident Grant will make the right moves. So far, he’s batting about .900.
2. Point guard Kyrie Irving.
Remember when everyone was debating whether the team should select Irving or Derrick Williams (now with Minnesota) with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011?
Honest, it really was a heated discussion on all the Cleveland talk radio shows.
The Timberwolves are still waiting on Williams. They still aren’t quite sure what position he plays, or if he even fits at all.
Meanwhile, Irving is an absolute magician with the ball, a point guard who can create his own shot, knock down 3-pointers and score over taller defenders near the rim. He’s in his second season and already proving to be unguardable.
Best of all, Irving typically saves his best work for when the game means the most.
Just like superstars before him, Irving is still learning what it takes to be a big-time winner early in his career. Most fans are impatient when it comes to that, but it’s all part of the natural process.
Aside from Larry Bird or Tim Duncan, nobody enters the league and changes a team’s fortunes in a year. Especially when the rest of the starting lineup is incredibly young and still developing.
But if you’re eventually going to be good – really good – you need a No. 1 option who can take over the game. Kyrie Irving is only 20 years old. But already, the Cavs have their man.
3. Coach Byron Scott.
No one takes more flack for the Cavs' struggles, and that makes sense. When things go wrong, it’s always the coach’s fault, as far as fans are concerned.
But guess what?
Scott has his young team’s attention. He’s been to two Finals as a coach (with the Nets), and doesn’t hesitate to call out guys, both privately and publicly. For someone who owns three championship rings (as a player with the Lakers), Scott is as a regular guy as there is. There’s nothing phony about him, and NBA players, particularly young ones, respect that.
Now, does his team always respond? Of course not. The Cavs are much too young to bring it every night. On one hand, they’re highly paid professionals and shouldn’t need extra motivation. On the other hand, they’re mostly 20-somethings who occasionally disappoint, and therefore, need a kick to the backside.
When the Cavs execute Scott’s strategy, they’re an exciting team with a big upside.
Perhaps even more important than that is the fact individual players have made strides under Scott. Just compare Thompson and Waiters now to what they were at the beginning of the year.
Cavs fans who have issues with Scott need to ask themselves a question. Namely, will Kyrie get along with another coach as well as he does with his current one? Irving really likes being a Cavalier, and Scott is a big reason why.
But Irving may feel differently about the organization if it starts making changes just for the sake of it.
4. Everyone else.
Thompson and Waiters have improved considerably in the areas of confidence and productivity. Speights, Ellington, C.J. Miles and Shaun Livingston appear to be true veteran finds who are comfortable in their roles. Alonzo Gee is an underrated defender and acrobatic dunker who can score.
As for Zeller ... well, he usually looks like a No. 17 overall draft pick who's in his first year.
But he wasn’t supposed to start right away. Anderson Varejao's injury created a hole in the middle, forcing Zeller out of the reserve role to which he quickly adapted. Playing against starting centers has been a different matter.
Either way, let’s cut Zeller a little slack and practice a little patience. Too many didn't with Thompson, and those folks have no choice but to shut up now.
Overall, the Cavs aren’t going to win much in the present. They can be maddeningly inconsistent. They beat teams they shouldn’t, and lose games they should win.
If you expected anything more, you don’t really follow the NBA. There are more positives than negatives here. Eventually, the outcome of actual games should prove as much.