It has been three years since the Circus left the city of Cleveland, when the player that Northeast Ohio idolized LeBron James decided to abandon the Cleveland Cavaliers for the bright lights of South Beach. While the former “Chosen One,” has appeared in three straight NBA Finals, winning the last two; times have been tough for his former franchise. The team has been cellar-dwellers, since James departed, making it three straight long, cold, lonely winters for fans of the “Wine And Gold.” Although their lackluster 24-58 record cost former head coach Byron Scott his job, the faithful went into the summer optimistic.
While some fans objected to the decision, most agreed that it was a good move that team owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant brought back former bench boss Mike Brown to run the squad on the floor. Many felt that Brown got the shaft unjustly when terminated three years ago, in a desperate attempt to keep James in Cleveland. Former Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry, would resign not long after because he disagreed with the move.
The other reason for heightened expectations, was for the second time in three-years, Cleveland got the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The incoming class of 2013, was not the strongest field, however with obvious needs at center and small forward, fans optimism surged. Most NBA observers predicted that the Cavaliers would select former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, even though he was coming off ACL surgery, that ended his season prematurely. Here was a Mike Brown type of player; a strong defensive presence in the pivot, who had a high upside. The observers turned out to be wrong as the club took power forward Anthony Bennett from UNLV, a position that seemed to be filled by Tristan Thompson, selected as the team’s second first round pick in 2011.
Cleveland also chose again with the 19th pick, this time taking Russian shooting guard Sergey Karasev. He is reportedly ready to play at the NBA level, praised for his basketball IQ, court-vision and passing ability. If he is able to fit that description, the Eastern European may become a big part of the Cavaliers foundation. However, the two glaring needs at the three-slot and the five, still remained unaddressed.
Saturday, the “Cleveland Plain Dealer,” reported that the club had signed their second Free Agent, as they came to terms with veteran guard Jarrett Jack, on a reported four-year pact that could earn the journeyman $25 million, if the team picks up the option for the fourth season. Jack is a hybrid-guard, as he can play at both the point and shooting guard slot, Cleveland will be his sixth team as he enters his ninth NBA campaign. He has averaged 11.0 points, 4.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds for his career and will come off the pine for his new squad.
Earlier in the week the Cavaliers reached an agreement with former Los Angeles Lakers small forward Earl Clark, who played briefly for Brown this past campaign, before Los Angeles terminated him five games into the season. Although their time together was short, apparently they formed a mutual admiration society, which led to the reunion in Cleveland. Clark has also traveled a bit as he enters his fifth season in the Association with his fourth club, he had previously been with Phoenix and Orlando. Clark had the best season of his NBA career with Los Angeles, as he averaged 7.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per contest, playing in 59 games, starting 36. He is expected to compete for the starting three slot with Cleveland.
These moves have not sat particularly well with the faithful, as I found out Sunday night, when an old friend and I talked about the off-season so far for the “Wine And Gold.” My friend is a Cleveland native, now living in the Southwest, however his loyalties all remain with the Pro Teams of Northeast Ohio. He is concerned over the team still not addressing the hole at the pivot position and is fearful that the Cavaliers “will settle,” for the rebuilding project known as Greg Oden. That scenario is not making Cavaliers fans feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Anderson Varejao was putting up All-Star type numbers before getting Injured this past campaign, however he is not a natural center. There are no indications that Bennett, even at 6’11″ can be even adequate in the middle at the NBA level. Tyler Zeller who started 55 contests for the team this past season, averaged 7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and led the team in blocks with 0.9 per contest in his first campaign in the Association. Now while this is a far different era than back in the eighties when “Big Men Ruled The Game,” you need far stronger numbers from your center to contend for an NBA Title.
Cleveland has salary cap flexibility, however the key is not spending that money, it is allocating it wisely. This is not the off-season to settle for journeyman players, as they did a few seasons ago when they signed Damon Jones, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden to contracts. That squad did reach the NBA Finals in 2007, however they were swept in that series and never made it back. If the players that the team needs to reach the next level are not currently available, hold onto the money and spend it on a player to truly fill that need. Otherwise, it will be a wasted opportunity.