NBA Preview: Cavs hope to make thunder

A lot of small-market teams aim to follow the path of Oklahoma City, and the Cleveland Cavaliers may well be on their way.

That is, if a lot of things go right.

Like the Thunder once were (back when they were called the Seattle SuperSonics), the Cavs are extremely babyish. They have the potential to be very exciting. They could even compete for a playoff spot (again, if everything goes right).

But that’s a lot to ask when the majority of your key players are entering their first, second or third seasons. Aside from 30-year old big man Anderson Varejao, that’s where the Cavs stand. And that almost always results in basketball’s version of driving 90 mph with a concrete wall in front of you.

You might plow through unscathed, you might crash and burn. Meet the 2012-13 Cavaliers.

Last season: 21-45, did not make playoffs.

Coach: Byron Scott (392-463, 13th year).

Top returnees: PG Kyrie Irving, C Anderson Varejao, PF Tristan Thompson.

Key additions: SG Dion Waiters-r, SG/SF C.J. Miles, C Tyler Zeller-r.

X-Factor: Waiters. Some around NBA circles called the guard out of Syracuse a reach with the No. 4 overall draft pick. He didn’t help matters by showing up in poor condition for the Las Vegas Summer League. Either way, in order for the Cavs to be the promising team they long to become, Waiters must start and prove he’s a capable NBA scorer right away. If Miles is instead starting opening night, it’s a sign of concern.

Strengths: Irving is the reigning Rookie of the Year and already among the top 10, maybe top seven, point guards in the league. He plays with a contagious confidence, equally adept at scoring or setting up teammates. If he’s healthy, the Cavs have a chance. Also, Varejao and Thompson make an otherwise rickety defense stable at times.

Weaknesses: Youth, man. It can be a killer. And, again, the Cavs have plenty of it. Along with Irving and Thompson (each entering his second year), rookies Waiters and Zeller are likely to be counted on heavily from the beginning. The Cavs have also had a tendency to go on long losing streaks and suffer some demoralizing blowout defeats in Scott’s tenure. Fate is more to blame than the coach. But those type of losses must cease, because they can be real confidence-crushers.

Outlook: It’s tough to get a grasp on what the Cavs actually are made of without having seen Waiters and Zeller play an actual NBA game, or without having witnessed the development of everyone from Thompson to reserves such as Samardo Samuels and Omri Casspi. Also, like so many others on the roster, Miles must have his best season. That makes this year a big “what if?” No matter, the Cavs are on the right path — a path that once worked for the Thunder. Today, the Cavs are banking on the idea that, eventually, it will work for them, too. But probably not this year. Not entirely.

Prediction: 33-49.

2012-13 schedule: Link

FOX Sports: Cavaliers home

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO