Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 7/12/13
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images It all started July 8, 2010. That was the night that LeBron James announced on TV that he was moving on, taking his talents to South Beach. With that one awkward sentence, the previous 7 seasons of exciting Cavaliers basketball was blown up, turned upside down, and left for dead. It’s been three long years since then. Three unbearable offseasons, really. Not that the previous few offseasons prior to The Decision had really contained all that much excitement, but compared to trading for Jeremy Pargo or signing CJ Miles 1 , trading for a 37 year old Shaquille O’Neal suddenly seems like the most exciting thing to ever happen. The Cavaliers’ front office, led by GM Chris Grant, has been preaching patience, asking fans to please sit tight and just hold on. That brighter days were coming. It was a lot of necessary pain, miserable losing streaks, uninspired basketball, and a sometimes seemingly aimless pursuit of lost glory. But the Cavaliers told us they had a plan. It’s entirely premature to say those dark, trying days are behind us. Championship contention still waits a couple years on the horizon. But there’s no denying this has been a very different offseason for the Cavaliers. And at worst, fans at least have something to be legitimately excited about. For the first time since LeBron James left, there is at least some real hope worth hanging on to in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, whether it be from the mouth of Dan Gilbert, Chris Grant, or even Nick Gilbert, have insisted that the days of chasing Draft Lottery glory were over. That now was the time to start to make the leap forward. When you compare previous offseasons, its pretty easy to see that, at minimum, the Cavaliers are at least being truthful in taking steps forward this time around. When LeBron left, there was no real contingency plan in place. And what could the Cavaliers have done that offseason anyway? Prior to The Decision, with LeBron showing no commitment to staying past 2010, the Cavaliers had no real choice but to try to win immediately 2 . So the Cavaliers took on as much salary as they could, taking on questionable long term deals to appease LeBron in the short term. So in the 2010 offseason, LeBron was gone and so was Shaq. But the likes of Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, Boobie Gibson, JJ Hickson, Jamario Moon, Delonte West, etc were all still under contract. The Cavaliers had no draft picks. There wasn’t much for them to do. They signed Kyle Lowry to an offer sheet, which Houston promptly matched. They traded Delonte West for Ramon Sessions. They signed Joey Graham. That was it. With a new GM (Chris Grant), a new coach (Byron Scott), and a dark cloud hanging overhead, the Cavaliers entered a confusing season, unsure of whether they were a team capable of fighting for a playoff spot or if they were stuck in rebuilding purgatory. The 2011 offseason wasn’t much different. Mo Williams was already traded. They traded JJ Hickson for Omri Casspi and that infamous protected first round pick. They used their amnesty clause on Baron Davis. The best part of that offseason was adding Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, but with the NBA Lockout in place, there was really only a late, abbreviated offseason in which the Cavaliers didn’t do much. Last offseason saw the team add draft picks Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. They re-signed Luke Harangody, they traded for Jeremy Pargo, and they signed CJ Miles. For the 3rd year in a row, the Cavaliers entered a season without adding a single real impact player outside of the draft. Obviously, adding players through the draft is a key part of the rebuilding process. Infusing the roster with young talent was a much needed step, but a step that brought with it a lot of growing pains. Over those 3 years, a lot has changed. The roster, the front office, the coaching staff, the culture. The Cavaliers that coach Mike Brown inherited are completely different from the Cavaliers that he last coached. But this offseason just feels different. For the first time, the team is adding real high-caliber players, guys who deserve big minutes in the NBA. What we are seeing now is hopefully only the beginning, but it still feels like some of that patience and rebuilding process talk is starting to bear some fruit. The free agent class of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, and Earl Clark isn’t going to transform the team into Championship contenders. Heck, if Bynum repeats last season’s performance, the Cavaliers could very well be an Anderson Varejao injury away from the Lottery again. So it might seem like these acquisitions’ impact is being overstated. But the real point is that these players are transforming the roster into something that looks like a real NBA roster. Just take a look at last season’s opening night roster: Kyrie Irving Dion Waiters Alonzo Gee Tristan Thompson Anderson Varejao CJ Miles Daniel Gibson Tyler Zeller Donald Sloan Luke Walton Omri Casspi Jon Leuer Samardo Samuels Luke Harangody Jeremy Pargo As of now the roster currently stands as: Kyrie Irving Dion Waiters Alonzo Gee Anderson Varejao Andrew Bynum Tristan Thompson Jarrett Jack Anthony Bennett Sergey Karasev Earl Clark Tyler Zeller CJ Miles Carrcik Felix Kevin Jones Chris Quinn The differences here are subtle, yet tangible. As the Cavaliers get ready for Vegas Summer League to start tonight, there’s a different feeling around this year’s event. Summer League is always fun, but in the past, Summer League served as a feeding ground for the Cavaliers’ roster. Manny Harris made the Cavaliers off a strong Summer League showing. After Samardo Samuels played well against the Cavs for Chicago, he was signed almost as soon as the Bulls released him. This isn’t to say that there’s no chance anyone from Summer League makes the team. Rather, things are just different because this time around the Cavaliers aren’t looking for players who will play serious minutes. Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels both actually started some games for the Cavaliers. Now the guys coming from Summer League would be afterthoughts. In a recent WFNY podcast, Jon Steiner and Craig Lyndall questioned whether Kyrie Irving was really a top player in this league. They asked how he could be, when the Cavaliers were so ineffective as a team. It’s perhaps a fair question to ask, but the team’s problem was most certainly not when Kyrie Irving was on the floor. The problem was when he was on the bench 3 . Initially his replacement was Donald Sloan, before Shaun Livingston took over. And while Livingston was a great story and played solid basketball, he’s not Jarrett Jack. And perhaps that’s the biggest thing Bynum and Jack bring to Cleveland. These are not only impact veterans, but they are players who have played in the playoffs. Andrew Bynum has won an NBA Championship, and in his last year in Los Angeles he put up 16.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game in the playoffs for Mike Brown. Jack is one of the mentally toughest players in the NBA, a guy who plays hard and who, despite lacking natural defensive ability, is always giving strong defensive effort. The Cavaliers are trying to change their culture. Mike Brown’s defensive schemes and coaching success was a start. Signing Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack is just the next step. No matter what the Cavaliers actually get out of Bynum, it’s hard to find a really compelling argument as to how this could be a mistake. Even in the worst case scenario the Cavaliers are out nothing more than $6 million, money that needed to be spent anyway to reach the Salary Cap Floor. If Bynum does play, though, and can stay healthy, he will be instrumental in the Cavaliers moving from perennial Lottery contingent to a winning basketball team who will play postseason basketball. Jarrett Jack completely changes the look of an already strong backcourt and will be anchor for the bench unit. And don’t be surprised when you see Jack playing in late game scenarios. His toughness, fearlessness, and winning mentality will make it tough for Mike Brown to keep him on the bench in close games. Unless you can trade for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, or sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh, it’s hard to become a Championship contending team in one year. Most of the time it’s a series of steps forward. This offseason feels like the first time we’re the seeing “the plan” snap into action. And for the first time since 2010, the Cavaliers can actually go into the season with real hope of playing winning basketball and pushing for the playoffs. It’s a welcome change for a fan base that has been patiently waiting for things to get better. ___________________________________ no offense to either player unless you consider trading LeBron in 2009 an option sometimes because he was tired, other times because he was injured
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