With a record of 15-23, the Cavs are in a virtual tie with the New York Knicks (18-24) and Milwaukee Bucks (18-24) for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. If the Cavs were in the West, their 15-23 record would place them 14th in the conference and firmly, unequivocally out of the playoff race. But since they’re in the East, they’re in “contention”.
Fox Sports Ohio Cavalier beat writer Sam Amico has been scolding Cavs fans on Twitter this season for not being super-duper pumped at the thought of the Cavs sneaking into the playoffs as the 8th seed. Amico’s latest is titled Playoffs a Wise Push for Cavaliers and, since I’m writing this, it’s safe to say I disagree.
People who say the Cavaliers shouldn’t make the playoffs apparently think Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, over even Alonzo Gee, will never get any better.
They think the lottery is the ticket to greatness — and in some cases, they might be right. But they might be wrong, too.
Ever hear of Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, DeSagana Diop, Hasheem Thabeet or Jay Williams?
Granted, those are a select few, and your odds of finding immediate help increase the higher you pick. At least, again, that’s supposed to be the theory.
Well ya, sure, that’s the theory. Last year the Cavs stunk, got some luck and ended up drafting first and fourth overall. They picked Kyrie Irving first and he has completely turned around their franchise (they picked Tristan Thompson fourth and he’s shown that he’s big and strong). Would the Cavs have been better served by making the playoffs last season? They could’ve blown those high picks. Ya know, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden and all that.
But people who don’t want the Cavs to make the playoffs also need to be aware of another reality. Namely, that this year’s Cavs are likely to draft near the bottom of the lottery if they qualify.
Let’s say the Cavs’ record stays about the same, they miss the playoffs and don’t move up in the lottery. Today, they would be drafting in the 8-12 range. That could garner them a good player, for sure.
It could also mean the next Dajuan Wagner, Luke Jackson, Trajan Langdon or Diop — all players the Cavs selected in the lottery. None panned out.
So if I have this argument correct, the Cavs shouldn’t draft in the lottery because former Cavs GM Jim Paxson was a terrible at his job?
I can’t believe I have to do this, but let’s look at the 2012 NBA All-Stars and where they were drafted:
1st overall pick: LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin.
2nd: Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge.
3rd: Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams.
4th: Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook.
5th: Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love.
Other Top 10: Luol Deng (7th), Andre Iguodala, Dirk Nowitzki (9th), Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Andrew Bynum (10th)
Outside Top 10: Kobe Bryant (13th), Steve Nash (15th), Roy Hibbert (17th), Rajon Rondo (21st), Tony Parker (28th), Marc Gasol (48th).
Of the twenty-five 2012 NBA All-Stars, thirteen were picked in the Top 5, another six were picked in the Top 10 and six were picked outside of the lottery (including one, Marc Gasol, in the second round). So, for those scoring at home, 19/25 of the 2012 NBA All-Stars were picked in the Top 10 (that’s 76% for you math majors).
Myself, I’d like the Cavs to draft in that Top 5 again, so they could have a shot at picking an All-Star running mate for Kyrie. But Amico quotes a GM who says that may not be necessary:
But what about the philosophy that teams that barely qualify for the playoffs are destined for a lifetime of mediocrity — not bad enough to get a good player with a high draft pick, but not good enough to win a championship, either?
“Look, the Cavs’ already have an All-Star-caliber point guard in Kyrie, and he’s only 19,” said an Eastern Conference GM. “You don’t need an All-Star shooting guard, too. Honest, you don’t. What you need is a good shooting guard, a good center and a solid bench, which they already have. You can get all those things in trades, or later in the draft.”
This drives me nuts. So the Cavs should go the “one great player and a bunch of okay guys” route again? Really? Maybe I drew the wrong lessons from the LeBron years, but my take away was that the problem was the Cavs failed to add good, young talent to grow with and around LeBron.
In the three drafts following LeBron, the Cavs had just two first round picks (oops!) and used them on Luke Jackson and Shannon Browns (double oops!). By completely blowing the drafts, the Cavs were forced to build around LeBron by overpaying mediocre free agents (Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Ira Newble, Kevin Ollie) and then trading those mediocre free agents for other, different, mediocre, overpaid veterans (Ben Wallace, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Shaq).
And then we were all shocked that LeBron decided to not-resign with a team of mediocre veterans and no capspace. Weird.
Look, of course you can find useful players later in the draft. Boobie Gibson and Carlos Boozer were drafted in the second round. Hell, Cavalier legend Mark Price was drafted in the second round in 1986. Of course, young Price came to the Cavs with two other Top 10 picks in Brad Daugherty and Ron Harper. The following year, the Cavs picked Kevin Johnson 7th overall and flipped him for Larry Nance at the deadline.
I don’t want to surround future-All-Star Kyrie Irving with other ‘good’ players, I want to surround him GREAT players. And the best way for the Cleveland Cavaliers to add great, young players is through the draft. Guys aren’t coming here via Free Agency and the Cavs don’t have the assets to trade for one (you know where they could get an asset to trade for a great player? The draft).
Amico quotes another GM:
“Fans who root for failure deserve what they get,” says a Western Conference GM. “Building through the draft doesn’t mean tanking a season. It means making the most of the picks you have, regardless of where they fall. Why is that so frowned on in today’s society?”
On the other hand, making the playoffs usually helps in areas of building confidence in young players and developing a winning culture.
This is one of my pet peeves. That fans (like me!), who think making the 2012 playoffs as an 8th seed isn’t in the Cavaliers’ long term interests, are “rooting for failure” or aren’t “real fans.” Amico has tweeted bunk like this in the past but I also hear this a lot on the guys on FM 92.3 The Fan, namely on The Bull and the Fox.
Look, this is a Cavs team (filled with non-longterm pieces like Jamison, Anthony Parker, Sessions) who’s ceiling, if everything goes right, is the 8th seed. That’s best case scenario: the 8th seed. The 8th seed is also where they’ll face either LeBron and the Miami Heat or Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. The Cavs are 0-5 against the Bulls and the Heat this season and have lost by an average score of 107-85. Man, can’t wait for four games of that!
(And I’m sure that the media would love a Miami-Cleveland first round match-up. Cleveland fans… notsomuch).
Getting Kyrie Irving playoff experience and developing a winning culture are both good things. But you know what helps develop a winning culture? Great basketball players. What’s the best place for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise to find Great Basketball Players? The top of the draft.
You can disagree with me here. That’s fine. That’s what’s fun about sports, the arguments. But just because I happen to think the Cavs would be better served long term by trading Ramon Sessions and/or Antawn Jamison (two guys who won’t be here next year) for first round picks doesn’t make me a worse fan or that I’m cheering for losing. Check my twitter feed next time Ryan Hollins does something monumentally stupid and see if I’m happy and “rooting for failure”. I just think watching the Cavs get their asses kicked by LeBron and the Heat in four games of “playoff experience” isn’t worth going from drafting in the 8-12 range to drafting 16th.
At 15-23, Cavs are in the mix for the 8th playoff spot in the East. And at 15-23, they’re also four games out of the 4th pick in the draft (the Kings currently sit fourth with a 14-27 record). Thursday’s trade deadline will tell us a lot about the Cavs and where they’re going for the rest of the season.
If I had my way, it wouldn’t be the playoffs.