Cleveland Cavaliers: A Team on the Rise
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. For a small-market team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, that saying rings especially true after the city’s Pope-like figure LeBron James “decided” to abandon the team in the summer of 2010.
“When you lose a player like LeBron James, normally that will cripple a franchise for a while,” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luke Walton told HOOPSWORLD. “Cleveland has done an unbelievable job of getting good young players and sticking with a very solid coaching crew. As an organization, we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
Fast forward three years and this young Cavaliers team has slowly begun to build a roster full of potential stars, hoping to reap the same sort of success that the James-led Cavaliers were able to accomplish.
“You can take a lot of positives away from the last couple years,” Cavaliers forward C.J. Miles said. “We obviously want to win more games and not have to be looking at incorporating rookies every year, but if that’s the situation that you’re in, you have to try and build that way. Between Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters, those are four great young talents. We’re a team that is definitely on the right path.”
Now in his second season, Irving has developed into an All-Star and could potentially find himself in MVP discussions for years to come. His teammates have seen his progression and know that even at 21 years old, he’s already established himself as one of the league’s brightest stars.
“I see the work that Kyrie puts in every day in practice and during games,” Omri Casspi said. “He is a special talent. He’s already right up there with Chris Paul. He’s a great scorer, a great point guard and a great leader. There’s no question that he’s the future of our team.”
While nobody expects the Cavaliers to make the playoffs this season, it’s hard to judge how good this team actually is. Anderson Varejao, the team’s high-energy big man, played in just 25 games before an ankle injury and a blood clot in his lung ended his season in late January. In addition, the Cavaliers’ two leading scorers Irving and Waiters have missed extended time and their return this season is in question.
“First thing we need to do is stay healthy,” Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott said. “I think the biggest problem over the last three years has been our injuries. We have to stay healthy for an entire season if we want to see some success.”
Despite the injuries to key players and a record of 22-47, the Cavaliers have still improved this year.
“We’re a much better team then we were in the beginning of the season,” Walton said. “Even though we’re still struggling, we’re playing much better basketball right now. The style we’re playing and the way we’re working is definitely pushing us in the right direction. We have a lot of injuries on this team and we’re a young team, but we’re still focused on what we want to do. In this league it’s all about winning down the stretch and executing and once we really get consistent at that I think our record will be a lot better than what it shows.”
Even people outside of the Cavaliers’ locker room agree.
“The Cavaliers have quietly built a very talented young core of players,” Miami HEAT head coach Eric Spoelstra said. “This is a good group of players. They’ve given us fits in all three games and they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. But this is arguably as good a young group of talent that they’ve put together and drafted as any team in the league. It just takes time. When you have young players, there’s no fast tracking experience. You’ve got to go through adversity but they’ve done a nice job of putting together this team.”
This offseason, the Cavaliers could potentially have as many as four first-round picks in the 2013 draft. To go along with those picks, the team only has seven players with guaranteed contracts in 2013-14. On top of that, the Cavaliers will have more than $20 million in salary cap space. It could still take a few more years for them to make any real noise in the Eastern Conference, but the organization is confident that they’re moving in the right direction. With continued development and key players remaining healthy, this team hopes to once again give the city something to cheer for.
“If we continue on this path,” Zeller says, “hopefully next year or the year after we can make a playoff run.”