New coach, new philosophy, and most likely, some new personnel.
That’s what the Cavaliers face as they enter their first offseason in the era of Mike Brown 2.0. Brown is a defense-first leader, a man who believes every opposing possession should be a grind.
Not everyone on the Cavs’ current roster fits such a profile, and that’s OK. Every successful team has a wide range of individual styles.
Here’s a player-by-player look at those who finished last season as Cavs, and where they may go from here:
• Kyrie Irving, PG
What happened: Irving proved to be arguably the league’s best ball-handler and one of its most dangerous perimeter shooters. Oh, and he can get to the basket whenever he wants. But he is one of the Cavs’ worst defenders, and had issues staying healthy for (at least) the fourth straight year, dating back to high school.
What’s next: Kyrie will continue to be the team leader, one of the NBA’s most dynamic point guards and a fantastic teammate. But defense starts out top. In Irving’s defense, many young players struggle in that department. It will be interesting to see how well Brown can guide him along.
• Dion Waiters, SG
What happened: Waiters flashed serious potential as the No. 2 scorer the Cavs hoped he’d be — particularly in February, when he was named Rookie of the Month. Basically, he proved he can fill it up, as well as distribute when Irving is injured or resting. What’s next: It’ll be interesting to see how Waiters fits into Brown’s scheme. Waiters’ on-the-ball defense improved toward season’s end, and he’ll have to continue to make strides in that area. Odds are, he’s a keeper.
• Tristan Thompson, PF
What happened: It would be hard to find another NBA player who improved as much from the beginning of the season to the end. That’s especially true of Thompson’s offense. He actually developed a little touch on his one-handed push shot after November, and was usually around to clean up the mess of others. Defensively, he’s always been pretty good when the idea is altering shots.
What’s next: While Thompson is certainly capable of starting, the Cavs wouldn’t mind having him come off the bench in a do-it-all sixth man role. But he’s their best big man and playing the part of a reserve wouldn’t make sense today. Like Irving and Waiters, Thompson is expected to be part of the Cavs’ core for a long time.
• Alonzo Gee, SF
What happened: Gee remained the Cavs’ best defender, capable of guarding everyone from opposing point guards to small forwards. But there were still too many times you didn’t know he was on the floor. What’s next: Without question, Gee’s defense will earn him a spot in Brown’s rotation. But on a good team, he’s probably the seventh or eighth man.
• Tyler Zeller
What happened: Zeller looked like a lot of rookies, many of whom were even selected in the lottery (Zeller was drafted 17th overall). Basically, there were nights he put it all together, but there were plenty of others were he looked dazed and confused, and mostly, soft. What’s next: Despite popular opinion, Zeller has potential as a starting center. He’s athletic, can run the floor and possesses a decent perimeter shot. But he must get stronger. He says he knows that. Now, let’s see what he does about it.
• Anderson Varejao, C/PF
What happened: Too many minutes resulted in a third straight year of 31 or fewer games (and the second straight of just 25). Still, in that limited time, Varejao had his best season, especially offensively. His passing was fantastic and his rebounding better.
What’s next: The very minute he gets healthy, Varejao’s name will resurface in trade rumors. He’s just the type of player everyone wants. The Cavs will most likely keep him, and if they do, they must find a way to better manage his time on the floor.
• Marreese Speights, C/PF
What happened: Speights started off hot, making Cavs fans panic about the possibility he can opt out of his contract this summer. But he fell out of favor with ex-coach Byron Scott. Now, most Cavs fans feel if he walks, so be it.
What’s next: He left no hints as to whether he’ll pick up the option or become a free agent. It’s most likely the latter. If it is, chances are, he’ll be elsewhere next season, because the Cavs won’t overspend to bring him back.
• Wayne Ellington, SG
What happened: Ellington proved to be a steady bench player and reliable shooter following the trade that brought him and Speights from Memphis in January. Then injuries forced Ellington to start, and he continued to possess the game of a steady bench player. Not bad, just not a starting-caliber guard.
What’s next: Unlike Speights, the Cavs hold the option with Ellington. Most of their decision rides on their other moves this summer, but right now, you can expect him to return.
• C.J. Miles, SG/SF
What happened: Miles was just the third unrestricted veteran free agent signed by the Cavs in the Chris Grant era (with Joey Graham and Anthony Parker being the others) and came in firing it up. One of the best all-around guys in pro basketball, Miles proved to be a good teammate who can supply bushels of baskets off the bench.
What’s next: His contract makes him easy to move (or waive), and the Cavs have to think about doing it, as Miles brings little besides his penchant for putting it up. Still, he’s a valuable guy overall and is highly likely to get a real shot under Brown.
• Shaun Livingston, PG
What happened: The Cavs claimed him off waivers (from Washington) on Christmas Day and Livingston immediately provided size and steadiness as Irving’s backup (and an occasional starter). He never dazzled with flash, but ran the team well and provided a serious sense of professionalism in the locker room. What’s next: His contract is up and if Scott were still the coach, the plan was supposedly to let him test the market. That likely remains the case. But there’s little doubt Livingston is Brown’s kind of guy. Consider it 50-50 that he returns.
• Daniel Gibson, G
What happened: Another year, another season of inconsistency and injury. Gibson isn’t a bad player by any stretch — he just hasn’t really improved since his rookie season, despite numerous opportunities. And now, his contract has expired.
What’s next: Like Varejao, Gibson was here for Brown’s first run. Unlike Varejao, Gibson sort of fell out of the rotation under Brown (and Scott, too). He’s a good guy, but his play hasn’t warranted a return to Cleveland. He’s almost certainly a goner.
• Luke Walton, F
What happened: As usual, Walton kept the ball moving and provided his typical veteran craftiness off the bench. No one expected him to contribute as much as he did, except maybe Walton himself and Scott.
What’s next: His contract is expiring and his body is breaking down. Despite Brown’s praise on the day of his press conference, he didn’t really play Walton when the two of them were with the Lakers. He has a shot to return, but it’s a pretty doggone long one.
• Three who won’t return:
Omri Casspi, SF: A bust in the J.J. Hickson trade, Casspi’s contract expires. He has no desire to return and the Cavs have no desire to keep him.
Kevin Jones, PF: Beat out Samardo Samuels at mid-season as the last hustling big man off the bench. The Cavs like him, and he definitely offers some positives. But not likely enough to return.
Chris Quinn, PG: Heady floor leader who was signed when Irving got hurt. Offers little overall, however, and is likely destined to a career overseas.