The Cavaliers open the 2012-13 NBA season tonight at home against the Washington Wizards. Over the past week, SB Nation Cleveland has addressed a number of major themes and questions for the upcoming season. Martin Rickman examined both sides of the argument on whether the Cavs should trade Anderson Varejao. Amin Vafa discussed the expectations for the Cavaliers back-to-back fourth overall draft picks, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. Brendan Porath assessed year three of the Byron Scott era, and what Cavs fans should expect from the coach this season. Finally, Scott Sargent penned 20 things on year two for No. 2, Kyrie Irving.
In addition to those specific themes, all four writers came together for a roundtable on some of the issues, big and small, for the 2012-13 season. It's a thoughtful back-and-forth on what to watch and expect, with a few PREDICTIONS! mixed in.
What's the best case scenario for this team?
Martin: I'll kick this thing off. While the fan in me wants to say "the best case scenario is playoffs yeah go playoffs," I don't believe it rationally anyway. Honestly, the best possible thing for this Cavs team is to play the young guys, gel as a team, lose a bunch of close games and get back in the lottery.
Hopefully this means acquiring another draft pick or two or flipping a contract (here's looking at you, Luke Walton and Daniel Gibson) to acquire a beefy contract that actually helps the team. The Cavs aren't going to sign free agents, so trades make sense even if they overpay players a bit (as long as they're compensated with picks for the trouble). The decision on what to do with Anderson Varejao needs to be made this year. His value will never be higher than it is right now as long as he stays healthy through the deadline. If the team wants to keep him, shut off the phones essentially and let him play out his deal. If they want to shop him, do it. Pull the trigger and let the rebuild happen.
This is year three of the plan and regardless of the ultimate star power of Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters, they're nice pieces. Cleveland needs one more big time star in the 2013 Draft. Every bullet they can get in the chamber to make this happen should be priority number one.
Also, the best case scenario for the Cavaliers also means Sacramento has a good season so that pick can be used after this year. That'd be really nice.
Amin: I think the best case scenario for the team (in terms of success this season) is an 8th seed in the East. That's going to mean a lot: a completely healthy roster all year, Waiters/Miles/Zeller firing on all cylinders, and most importantly other teams in the East at the level of the Cavs screwing up. And I think the best result in the playoffs is stealing a game from Miami. Which--depending on where you are in the grieving process--could feel like a championship. But in reality, I think this is unlikely. I think (much like last year) they'll hover close to the 8th seed all year, then an injury or trade will drop them down into the top of the lottery. Hopefully, this will be the last time they'll need to do that. Well, for now.
Scott: The best case scenario is not necessarily one gauged by win totals. It involves the youthful core of this team staying healthy and gelling together throughout the season coupled with the team (vis a vis the front office) getting above-expected return in a trade for Anderson Varejao, setting the table for the future.
Brendan: I think any best case scenario begins with the development, or breakout of Irving. The Cavs are not contenders, but the best case scenario is that Irving cements his status as the next great point guard, Chris Paul redux. It will also involve Dion Waiters looking like a capable second banana, even if he can't come close to approaching that on a consistent basis in his rookie season. This scenario simply results in the force of Irving pushing the team to the Playoffs, and a seven or eight seed.
What's the biggest weakness of this team? Do you think this season could go off the rails and become depressing (for a reason other than injuries), and if so, why?
Amin: The biggest weakness of the team is definitely youth and inexperience. This roster is very very very very young, and that means they're going to have a lot of trouble finding an identity and staying disciplined game-in-and-game-out through the season. Irving will be a great leader, but not having guys like Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison (get your laughs in... now let's continue) will negatively affect the team in that regard. Oh also, without a coach like Mike Brown, they're going to continue to be sub-par defensively, and I don't think they're offensively-gifted enough yet to make up for it.
Scott: Their biggest in-game weakness appears to be their rebounding, making a potential trade of Varejao a bit of a Catch-22. Their biggest intangible weakness is undoubtedly their inexperience individually as well as a collective unit.
The only way this season could become depressing and not be rooted in injury is if fan expectations are too high. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, but in the end, there are bound to be more downs than anything. As long as we are all on the same page in terms of expectations -- regardless of how much playoff talk these guys want to throw around -- there shouldn't be a lot of room for depression.
Brendan: It's hard for me to find a scenario, without injuries, where the season is completely lost and it feels like the franchise takes a step back. Maybe it's just that start-of-a-new-season hope, but there's really only room for improvement, right? My one main concern, and Amin alluded to it, it defense. Maybe we were spoiled with Mike Brown (eek!), but I'd like to see the team play at least mediocre defense on occasion. Andy helps, but I worry they will lose a ton of games because of that weakness.
Will the Cavaliers make the Playoffs this season? If so, what seed? I assume best-case has them in the postseason, any way they make any noise at all once their there? Is the underlying assumption (postseason is best case) wrong?
Scott: Good segue. No, no, no. Even if this group roars out of the gate, the impending trade of Anderson Varejao -- yes, I'll speak of this as a certainty until it does happen -- will pump the breaks on any post-season attempt; the entire franchise will be better for it.
Brendan: I do think the best-case scenario results in the Cavs sneaking into the Playoffs. But that's really with everything perfectly coming together and other teams falling apart and tanking in the second half. In reality, the Cavaliers will hang around the in the discussion and fall off by mid March.
If the Cavs are among the top eight teams in the East come trade deadline time, do you have any issues with dealing Anderson Varejao?
Scott: Obviously not. A 30-year-old injury prone big man whose game is rooted in hustle and floor burn is not one that will still be here when the true perennial contention begins. In my opinion, the fact that he's still here is a bit of an issue.
Amin: I think the recurring issue this season will be Anderson Varejao. He's a fan-favorite, he's very talented, and he could be the difference between this team making the playoffs and it not making the playoffs. However, he's also the most valuable trade asset this team has. Former GM Danny Ferry went to great lengths to make Andy's contract cap-friendly, and as his play has improved (though he has had a few injuries the past couple of years) he has become increasingly attractive to other teams. The league is slowly evolving to the point where Forward/Centers are a valuable frontcourt commodity, and Andy's play is perfect for really any team--especially a contender that feels it's one defensive-minded big away from putting itself over the top in a title run.
If the Cavs trade Andy, I think his going rate will be: average small forward + expiring contract + lottery pick (the small forward can also be the expiring contract in my imaginary bartering scenario). I think he'll be worth that to the right team and I think that's what it will take to placate the Cavs front office (and fans, for that matter). I think this year is the year Andy gets traded. And I hope Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller are ready for that to happen.
Martin: To piggy back off what Amin was saying, I also think this is the year Andy finally gets dealt. I'm glad Chris Grant has waited to do it until there was a little more order restored to the roster. Plus, with the length of time left on Varejao's deal, it's the sweet spot for a hefty haul in the trade. The luxury tax is going to kick in and cause some real problems for teams, and a guy like Andy becomes increasingly valuable. He's easily worth as much as Jeff Green and his deal expires before he is too old.
Let the kiddies get some more time to learn from Andy, then flip him and reap the benefits. The Cavs have no excuse not to land a superstar (or two) in the next draft and this could help exponentially.
What do Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters have to do to make you at least comfortable, not necessarily enthusiastic, about the prospects of grouping them with Irving going forward?
Amin: Look, I don't need Thompson and Waiters to be as good as Irving. But I need them to be solid starters. I don't even need them to be all-stars (as long as we draft a guaranteed one next season). They just need to be part of a solid core so this team doesn't waste any of Irving's development time with a mediocre roster. I'm pretty confident they can get there, but I won't exactly be surprised if they don't get there. I really really want them to get there. Like really really.
Scott: The issue here is that this is phrased as if every fan is uncomfortable with the duo. Thompson was not drafted to be the next Al Jefferson; if he can average 12 and 10 with a block per game, the way he extends possessions on the offensive side of the ball alone should be worth the fourth-overall pick.
With regard to Waiters, I'll just need to see growth and progression as a professional. This was clearly evident with Irving -- and even Thompson, to a degree -- last season. We can all point to prospects who end up doing better than Waiters on any given night, but the fact of the matter is that no one selected after him is a surefire bet to lead a team to glory. Let's trust the process and see how it all plays out.
It's about expectations. If we aggressively peg Thompson as a 12 and 10 guy and merely hope for signs of hope from Waiters, it can undoubtedly happen. The only issues arise when individuals expect the rookie to drop 18 per night.
Martin: I think Scott is definitely onto something. I think the reason some fans are uncomfortable is due to expectations -- Waiters and Thompson were both top five picks and as such there is a caché that goes with that -- but if you consider the two prospects in a vacuum as what they are, it is a lot easier to perceive their true value.
Thompson will make people happy if he can become a hard hat rebounder who uses his athleticism to corral loose balls, grab offensive boards and get putbacks. As long as he improves from the free-throw line, increases his DREB% and executes the pick and roll more effectively, I'll be pleased. He needs to know his strengths and play to them and hide his weaknesses. We saw more out of him at the tail end of last year, and I am hoping he can build off that with a deeper front court and better wings as a whole.
Waiters is a mixed bag, and that's okay. If he is going to be a successful NBA player, he needs to be himself. Take shots, be aggressive, get creative. Never lose that competitive drive. That said, he has to listen to coaching -- and I think playing from the bench under Jim Boehiem was a great place for him to be. Byron Scott is the right kind of teacher for Waiters, so although i'm expecting some clunkers, I think we'll see some true gems out of the guard. Giving him the green light is critical. There are plenty of shots to go around and guys like Miles and Gee (after Irving, of course) can't eat them all up. Waiters should be unafraid to be a volume scorer on this team. Heck, if he replaces Jamison's shot total from last year, that's not a bad thing.
Who, if anyone, is your under-the-radar guy on the roster who will cement a spot in the rotation and impress fans?
Amin: C.J. Miles. Look, I know everyone knows who he is, and he's the biggest FA acquisition since... Larry Hughes (oh sweet lord). But his shot-making is the difference between the Cavs being able to spread their offense and make Irving a VERY dangerous passer or making defenses collapse on Irving because everyone else is not a threat. I'm confident Miles can be that guy for the Cavs, and I think he'll be a starter sooner rather than later (making either Waiters or Gee the go-to scorer off the bench).
Scott: The sexy selection here will be Miles, and rightfully so. He should, at the end of the day, be the team's second leading scorer this season.
Thompson will have his roster/rotation spot locked down from Day 1, but he is my choice for being the impressive player. I really think he has what it takes to take the next step for this team. He'll never have the scoring tenacity of a player like Josh Smith, but I truly think he can be Cleveland's version of J Smoove, complete with the dreadful free throw shooting.
Brendan: I'm going pretty far off the board here, but I've always liked Jon Leuer, even when he played in Bo Ryan's ugly slow-paced offense in Madison. We'll see if there are minutes there for him, but I do think he finds a niche spot in the rotation and contributes.
That's my way under-the-radar guy who I think fans might come to like, but I realize we haven't talked much about Tyler Zeller. He has his weaknesses, and it will be an adventure at times on the defensive end, but the numbers and production will be there -- I honestly think that's one of the safest bets as the season starts, he'll average double figures and push Andy on the glass (I'll say he averages eight boards at season's end). He's used to running up and down the floor from his days at Carolina, and he'll get lots of easy buckets this season. I doubt he's a star, but he should be getting minutes and he's going to be extremely productive.
What are your expectations for Kyrie Irving this season? Will he make the All-Star team? Any postseason awards, or any shot he shoehorns his way into one of these three All-NBA rosters? Also, how many games does he play this season?
Amin: I think it's possible for him to make the All-Star team. He needs to stay healthy -- he has an injury history but all instances are unrelated -- and he needs to avoid the sophomore slump. If he manages to do both of those, not only will he be an All-Star, but he's good enough to nab a guard spot on one of the All-NBA teams. He's the real deal.
Scott: If we're speaking from a statistical standpoint, I think it will be tough for Irving to top his 18.5 points per game that he set as a rookie, but for the sheer sake of development, I'll say he puts up 19.9. The true growth will come in his assist totals -- where he should slot it right around the seven per game mark -- and defense, potentially shown in increased steal numbers.
I think the injury to Derrick Rose will allow him to at least be in the discussion to be an All-Star. If either Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo succumb to injury, Irving will undoubtedly be there on All-Star weekend. If it comes down to pure numbers, his work may be cut out for him.
As for game total, I'm saying a healthy 74, missing a game here and there due to the bumps and bruises that he's bound to amass.
Martin: I'm worried about a decline from Kyrie in his numbers, but like Scott was saying, I think his assists go way up. Especially early in the year last year, guys weren't converting some nice passes from him. And he was expected to score a lot. So if he averages 17 points and gets up to seven assists with a few rebounds, keeps improving on the defensive end of the floor, that's just fine with me.
Obviously you hope the ceiling is Chris Paul (20, 10 & 3), but in year two with more 'weapons,' a perceived regression with an increase in wins and solid advanced metrics would be a great sign out of the second-year player. And definitely All-Star should be the goal. He has a real shot at getting there.
Brendan: I think Irving is an All-Star this season. The buzz generated from his play in Vegas this summer against the game's current All-Stars helps, and I think that carries over into the season and pushes him onto the roster in February -- not necessarily as the starter, but I think he take Derrick Rose's spot.
I don't think the Cavs will be good enough for him to somehow sneak into those loaded All-NBA teams. Westbrook, Rondo, and Paul seem to have a stranglehold on that, and I imagine Steve Nash will be in on the discussion this season as well. Those guys play for contending teams that will, and should be, in the national spotlight, and I just don't see a way Irving knocks one of them out.
I think Irving will play 70 games, sitting out a week here-and-there. He carries so much of the load, and I'll be very happy with a full 70 games.
Some rapid fire over/unders:
Total Points Per Game - Kyrie Irving - Over/Under 22
Amin: Over, because the team will need it, and I see a lot more of him playing off the ball with Waiters being able to handle the ball a bit.
Scott: Under, but barely.
Brendan: Over, he'll just get buckets.
Martin: Under, 22 is a lot of points.
Total Assists Per Game - Kyrie Irving - Over/Under 6.5
Amin: With more guys on the floor who are able to hit shots and finish at the rim, I think that'll help bump his assists up over 6.5. Not much, though, since he's not a prototypical PG.
Brendan: Over, because it's the start of the season and it's the time of unbridled enthusiasm.
Scott: Over, but barely.
Martin: Over, he's got more shooters than last year and will have more chances to make plays. We didn't see just how good a passer Kyrie really is last season.
Total Points Per Game - Dion Waiters - Over/Under 12.5
Amin: Over, because it damn well better be.
Scott: Almost exactly that. I have him pegged for just under 13.
Brendan: Under, I think he'll be in double figures but not at 13 ppg (whoops, thought I was supposed to have unchecked optimism).
Martin: Over, he'll get plenty of shots.
Total Points Per Game - Tristan Thompson - Over/Under 11.5
Amin: Under, but the team won't need that as much from him. Now if he rebounds more than 11.5 times per game, that'd be really awesome.
Brendan: Under, I think we move to playing Zeller and Andy at the same time more.
Scott: Based solely on conviction from the above questions, I'm going over.
Martin: Over, but not by much.
Total Points Per Game - Anderson Varejao - Over/Under 9.
Amin: Over, because he'll be playing a lot of minutes and the team will need him to score about 10/game to survive.
Scott: I'm going to say under, but barely. Tyler Zeller and Samardo Samuels will allow for fewer minutes for the cagey one.
Brendan: Over, he anchors the inside and he'll average double-digit boards.
Martin: Over, Andy will average a double-double this year.
What game on the schedule are you most excited about?
Amin: December 26th, when they come to DC, because I'll be in DC and I'm going to the game. It's going to be awesome.
Martin: Obviously the easy answer is heading to Sacramento to check out Sleep Train Arena, but I guess I'll go with a home game instead. Let's say the New Orleans game on Feb. 20. I think this is a great chance to see two young teams midway through the year. We'll have a good gauge on the rebuild of both side by side. And the opportunity to see Anthony Davis after he gets a few games under his belt is exciting, too.
Scott: The Lakers never made it here last season, so it will be cool to see Mike Brown again. The fact that he's also bringing Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison with him make this one a must-see for me. I'll also be looking forward to the Hornets as I'm really looking forward to seeing Anthony Davis play in person.
Brendan: Tonight, because it's the opener. But all the games against the other elite point guards will be of particular interest to me, just to see where Kyrie is going and what we can hope for from him as the centerpiece. For that, I'll go with the Clippers visit on March 1 (and the game in LA next week should be pretty fantastic).
Predict the order of finish in the Central.
Amin: GRAIN OF SALT NO-ANDY-TRADE SCENARIO Indiana, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit.
Scott: Indiana, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit.
Brendan: Indiana, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit.
Who are the two teams in the NBA Finals, and who's your Champion?
Martin: Lakers/Miami. I think Miami repeats, but this is the last effective star year for both Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant before we usher in a new era. Change is coming in the NBA.
Amin: I see a Heat/Lakers finals, and I see the Heat taking it. And that makes me throw up a little in my mouth.
Scott: Lakers over Heat in seven. 'Tawn finally get his.
Brendan: I'll switch things up and say Spurs-Heat, with Miami winning it all again.
Let's move to the instant for a moment -- the Cavs are 5.5 point favorites tonight against the Wizards. Thoughts and predictions for the opening evening at The Q?
Scott: Cavs take it home against the John Wall-less Wizards. Kyrie leads the way, but it'll be Tristan Thompson'sdouble-double and multiple blocked shots that raise the eyebrows. (What? A kid can dream, can't he?)
Martin: I think the Cavs will take it tonight. If Wall was playing, it'd be a different story, but the Wizards are already battered and bruised and we're just at Day One. The atmosphere is going to be a lot of fun tonight, and I think Cleveland needs the Cavs back more than any of us think. Irving scores a bunch, Waiters goes 4-13 or something and people complain, CJ Miles dunks, Andy has 10 boards.
Amin: I think the Cavs will win 100-92. The Q is a tough building for opponents, and the Wizards won't have their two best players in Wall and Nene. I think the Wizards will do well--especially Beal, but they won't be able to outplay a determined Irving/Varejao or a Waiters-that-everyone-has-underestimated.
Brendan: I think the Cavs win and cover that spread, although I'm very slightly concerned about Kyrie after the whole wisdom teeth thing. It may be a slow start for him, but he'll carry the Cavs to a 12-point win.
It's over/under 30.5 wins for the Cavaliers this season. In a 66-game schedule, they won 21 last season. Will they win 31 this year? Also, what's your overall record prediction?
Scott: Under. I have them winning 27 this season, finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference.
Martin: If everything goes the way it should, the Cavs won't win 31 games. This means Varejao got traded, the Cavs are back in the lottery and Irving had a good year. The team wins a couple games they shouldn't and everyone is excited about the future and the draft. Let's say 28-54.
Brendan: I think the Cavs win 34 games this season. I think they will be tough to play at home, but I'm a little worried about a young team playing 11 of 15 games in the first month of the season on the road. That will likely make things an uphill climb, but 34 seems like a good number for a team that will hopefully get stronger over the season (barring tanking).
Amin: I say somewhere around 38 wins is understandable for them. It shows good growth, but it implies they are one solid piece away from getting into the playoffs again for real. Also, every season those 6-11 seeds in the East aren't decided until close to the end. I think this will be another one of those years.