On the Cavaliers and the Prospects of a Failed Rebuilding Process

Sometimes you think you know something. And then someone really smart says something that challenges what you think you know, and it makes you look at the subject from an entirely different point of view. And when the context changes, you can sometimes be surprised at what you learn.

I love the WFNY Podcasts that Craig is doing, and by far my two favorite episodes have been the two Brian Spaeth conversations. I don’t know Brian, save for a few Twitter interactions and one email interaction in which he sent me a promotional copy of his movie “Who Shot Mamba?” (which is genuinely funny and really stupid at the same time…it’s great). But I follow him on Twitter and read his website. He has a lot of interesting things to say and generally looks at things from a perspective different from my own.

But what I really remember the most about Brian is his old sports blog, Yay Sports!. Yes, a long time ago (in internet time) Brian wrote this really great basketball blog and I vividly remember reading it, laughing a lot, thinking about basketball from a different perspective, and just being happy that this guy was a fellow Cavs fan.

Anyway, what I’m getting at here is that while I know Brian and sports are going through a trial separation these days, I still really respect his opinion on sports and when he says something that offers an opinion that differs from my own, it’s going to make me at least consider it.

In this last WFNY Podcast, the subject of the Cavaliers came up, and Brian said something to the effect of “Look at the Cavs. Yeah, the Cavs are going about it the right way, regarding how the NBA works and how you have to operate to go from the bottom to the top. But the fact is, because Tristan Thompson is not a star and Dion Waiters is not a star, this rebuild is already blown. It’s over. It’s done. It’s blown.” After some back and forth with Craig on this subject, Brian mentioned that while he wants the rebuild to work, “I don’t have the energy to waste on hoping for things that aren’t realistic.”

Ouch. This is not exactly a fun prospect to even be considering. But this did make me think about it. If context is everything, my relative truth about the Cavaliers may not be the absolute truth at all. Maybe my hope for success for this franchise is impairing my ability to perceive the harsh truth that the Cavaliers have one good basketball player on this team right now.

Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just bad timing. I was listening to the podcast on my way into work this morning and it was coming on the heels of that embarrassment of a basketball game that occurred last night. This is a frustrating time for all of us Cavalier fans. But just as we should be careful of letting our desire for success cloud our vision, so too must we take caution to not let the frustration and growing pains of a developing team ruin our outlook for the future.

Here’s what I know. It’s really, really, really hard to get a superstar in the NBA. It’s even harder to keep them longer than 7 years. The Cavaliers have a superstar in Kyrie Irving. They have his rights until 2014/15. They hold his qualifying offer for the next year, meaning he will be a restricted free agent. Which means worst case scenario they have him for that year. So essentially, after this year we can only feel reasonably certain that Kyrie will be a Cavalier for 3 years after this one.

So is that enough time to convince Irving to stay? Should we feel reasonably assured that the team is on the right path? That’s a tough question, primarily in a season in which the team looks this pathetic. I won’t rehash the numbers again. We all know it’s been remarkably bad. Poor offense, some of the worst defense we’ve ever seen in Cleveland, questionable coaching rotations, etc.

So yeah, it’s bad. Things look bleak. But does this mean the rebuild is done? Does this mean Kyrie’s era in Cleveland is already counting down in Cleveland? Or is this just the team hitting rock bottom before it begins its ascent? Is this simply the hard part of any rebuild?

I have a couple thoughts about this. Regarding Tristan Thompson, there is no doubt that Brian is correct that he’s not a star. I don’t see him ever being a star. But then again, neither is anyone drafted after him. Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Kawhi Leonard. Some of these are solid players, but none of them are stars. Had the Cavaliers drafted any of them, I don’t think the team’s fate would be any different today.

The one thing I do know is that since Anderson Varejao went down we’ve seen the best basketball out of Tristan in his career. He looks like he’s growing into the double-double machine the Cavaliers always believed he could be. He’s probably never going to be a star, never appear in an All-Star game, never make All-NBA teams. But if he can get a little more solid on defense and recognize when to help a little quicker, along with continue to post 12 points and 10 rebounds a night, I think the Cavaliers would be fine with that.

As for Waiters, I’m going to reserve judgment. Those who have been reading my posts here know how I feel about highly drafted SGs. They struggle to adapt more than any other position. These things take time, and I’m simply not ready to write off Dion Waiters. I honestly think he could still be a star if he learns to control his shot selection. The move to the bench has done wonders for Waiters in reeling in expectations a bit and letting Dion get back to what he is at his core, a slasher.

And yet, the Cavaliers keep losing. Over and over and over again. Sometimes it’s close, which can be encouraging that hey, at least the team is competing. Yet other nights it’s ugly and hard to watch and tests all of our patience.

I know I’m not giving a lot of concrete answers here to Brian’s original point. Is the rebuild broken? Is it over already? It might be. We as fans spend a lot of time preaching patience and waiting for development. We look for the slightest hints of greatness to verify our beliefs or hopes. It’s called confirmation bias. If you want/believe Tristan Thompson will be great, you’ll focus on the number of double-doubles and the small signs of improvement. If you believe Tristan is a wasted pick, you’ll focus on his many, many shortcomings.

If you want a straight answer out of me, I do think Rebuild Version 1.0 is broken. And I don’t think it’s the front office’s fault, I think it’s just that the Cavaliers had three Top 5 picks in two of the weakest drafts. There are no franchise players that could have been picked with the Cavaliers’ two #4 picks. I do not believe the core of Irving/Waiters/Thompson is remotely good enough to compete for a title, and I don’t think they ever will be.

However, I think Rebuild Version 1.1 is alive and well. I think the weak draft classes are just slowing the process down, but the philosophy is the same. The Cavaliers probably have a couple more lottery years left in them. The idea remains the same. Shed cap space, draft in the lottery, develop players. It just might not be the core we originally thought it would be, but there’s still time to develop a core that can win a title around Kyrie Irving.

Sometimes it’s good to ask the hard questions and try to look at a question from another perspective. It’s uncomfortable to think about the Cavs failing at rebuilding, and we’ve been preaching patience around here for so long. But that’s the plan, and the Cavaliers have no choice but to continue to follow it. Somewhere out there is a future great NBA player. It’s up to the Cavaliers to find him and draft him to complete Rebuild Version 1.1.


Image Source: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press

  • Dave

    Andrew: I really like this chat….I have to disagree with you regarding the Pistons…they won a championship, and should have won a second, had Shaheed guarded Robert Horry when he made the 3 in game 6…also they had Larry Brown, and were stupid to fire him although every team does seem to get sick of him…I guess I am making your point though, that Pistons team had the perfect storm of chemistry, and coach…when they switched to Flip Saunders they were never the same…Brown pissed them off but got them to play their best….
    I do not see having a superstar and several all star players as the superstar doing it on his own.. Isiah did not do it on his own, he had several contributers…each night a different guy went double digits…so, Kyrie can have several good players that each can go off at different times, so another player supports Kyrie’s consistency…
    We will see what happens…I just see them getting another “good” player in the next draft, because it is said that it is “weak”, and yes they may have to go out and either trade for the superstar…Aka pistons trading for Rasheed….or….(which probably would not happe), sign a free agent….I just do not see a superstar coming here…David West went to Indiana, but he is not a superstar…just an occasional all star and a good player…so….ughhhh…we just have to wait and see how it pans out…I hope they can get enough good, and maybe find one more superstar with a lot of other goods….then we will be on our way…thanks again for listening and responding…

  • I think maybe we disagree on how great Joe Dumars was. To me, the 80s Pistons are different than the 00s Pistons. Isiah wasn’t doing it on his own at all because he had Joe Dumars, who I feel was indeed a superstar, playing with him. They also had a young Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer, John Salley, Mark Aguirre, etc. That team was loaded with talent in a way the Larry Brown Pistons were not.

    I just think we’ve tried the one star route with LeBron and while the Cavs could have (and in my opinion should have) won a title, they didn’t. Because it’s really, really, really, really, really, really hard to win a title under that model.

  • Dave

    I agree..that it is harder with one superstar…..and I looked it up…you are right..Dumars was a superstar…he is in the Hall of Fame…and went to 6 all star games…he just was not flashy, but an excellent defender, shooter and could play both point and shooting guard….so….yes….two superstars and lots of good players around them certainly would be the way to go….

    I agree with the premise though that Thompson, and Waiters are not superstars…although….Waiters could be over time…in the Joe Dumars mold…

    Yesterday we saw with Denver, the old Lebron dribble…dribble…everyone standing around and then he drives…Kyrie is awesome, but there has to be more movement amongst the players….this is why, as you say…another superstar would be really helpful…even for Kyrie’s psyche…so he feels he can share the ball with someone else to complete games…too much ball domination by him at the end of games and too much standing around…why does Byron Scott tolerate this? I would think he could call a play that would make them move around, even if it ended up with Kyrie making a shot, at least the defense would have to guard others….ughhhh…

  • It’s a good thing you guys don’t run teams. TT has gone a trashing and Waiters has shown flashes to the supposed “eye test.” Congrats, this is why you’re writers and commenters.