It’s hard not to feel some pain for Anderson Varejao after hearing the news that his knee contusion was in fact a torn muscle in his leg. Memories of Andy winning the game with a buzzer beating 3-pointer against Atlanta, and giving Ray Allen the business during a national televised game against the Celtics are two of my favorite moments I’ve enjoyed at the Q. I’ve really never enjoyed watching basketball more than watching Andy and LeBron fly around the court together.
That being said, Andy’s injury increases the Cavs’ chances of completing a successful rebuild.
The longer Andy is off the court, the worse this team is.
The worse this team is, the more ping pong balls they have in the lottery. 1
The more ping pong balls in the lottery, the better chance of landing a superstar.
The father of fictional NASCAR great, Ricky Bobby, once said, “If you aint first, you’re last.” And in the NBA if you aint anywhere close to being first, you damn well better be getting close to last. The truth of it is that no matter how frustrating and hard these Cavs’ games are to watch, especially without Varejao, each loss ups the team’s chances of a successful rebuild.
The conversation around rebuilding in the NBA starts and ends with Oklahoma City. Dan Gilbert even referenced the Thunder’s team building philosophy during last night’s Fox Sports Ohio broadcast. The Thunder went through four straight seasons with 50 plus losses, and then in 2009-10 shot up to win 50 games, 27 more than the year before.
2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder
Rk Player Age G GS MP TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
1 Kevin Durant 21 82 82 39.5 7.6 2.8 1.4 1.0 3.3 30.1
2 Russell Westbrook 21 82 82 34.3 4.9 8.0 1.3 0.4 3.3 16.1
3 Jeff Green 23 82 82 37.1 6.0 1.6 1.3 0.9 1.6 15.1
4 James Harden 20 76 0 22.9 3.2 1.8 1.1 0.3 1.4 9.9
5 Nenad Krstic 26 76 76 22.9 5.0 0.7 0.4 0.6 0.8 8.4
6 Serge Ibaka 20 73 0 18.1 5.4 0.1 0.3 1.3 0.9 6.3
7 Thabo Sefolosha 25 82 82 28.6 4.7 1.8 1.2 0.6 1.1 6.0
8 Nick Collison 29 75 5 20.8 5.1 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.8 5.9
There is no question the Cavs’ front office are trying to emulate what Sam Presti has built out in OKC, but when night in and night out you watch a very winnable game slip away from the Wine and Gold it’s especially tough to remember that “patience is a virtue”. Let’s be honest, patience is a virtue because it sucks, and it’s really hard to be patient at times. I want to be good and I want to be good yesterday, but we all know it just doesn’t work like that. As Cleveland fans, we are stuck rooting for a small market, and in a small market, unfortunately you must be patient.
The 09-10 Thunder eight man rotation consisted of Durant (3rd year, 2nd pick), Green (3rd year, 5th pick), Westbrook (2nd year, 4th pick), Kristic (6th year, free agency), Harden (Rookie, 3rd pick), Ibaka (Rookie, 24th pick), Sefolosha (3rd Season, trade), Collison (6th year, 12th pick).
If we are following the OKC model, the Cavs are in year three of their rebuild. In year one they were bad enough, and lucky enough to land two top 5 picks, a position Oklahoma City also found themselves in during year one of their rebuild. They took their franchise player, Kevin Durant, with their first pick, and the Cavs also took their franchise player with their first pick, Kyrie Irving. Kyrie is without a doubt a top 20 player in the league, which is backed up by his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 21.1 which is good for 19th in the league. In Durant’s second season, his PER was 20.8 which was also 19th in the league.
The Cavaliers’ point guard is well on his way to being a star, and finding a star is the the hardest part of building a small market team. With the star in place, it’s a must to hit on other top draft picks and lay the foundation for success going forward. Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson were each selected three picks after the Thunder and Cavs drafted their respective superstars, and through two seasons their numbers are eerily similar. Green had a PER of 13.8 in his second season in the league, while Thompson is currently posting a PER of 14 in his sophomore season. Although some may be doubting how high the 21 year old Thompson’s ceiling is, there’s no denying where his game is right now. Tristan is far from polished, but has recorded 8 double-doubles in his last 11 games, and is playing with a confidence we’ve never seen before. A common way to judge a player is to think if he is good enough to have played on either of the teams in last year’s NBA Finals. Tristan passes that test. He could easily have met or exceeded the production of Nick Collison, Udonis Haslam, or Joel Anthony. Although Tristan is probably just a 7th best guy on contender right now, he is only 21, and has already shown significant growth.
It’s at the next step of the rebuild, where the jury is still out for the Cavaliers. After drafting Durant and Green, the Thunder 2 lost 121 games landing them high lottery picks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. This means Dion Waiters would need to evolve into something that resembles either of these two elite guards if we’re trying to match the Cavs to OKC. Westbrook and Harden each had PER’s over 14 during their rookie seasons, while Dion is slightly above 11. The hope for Waiters is that he’ll turn into a Harden or Wade. Someone who can be another primary ball handler, draw fouls, finish at the rim and do all of this efficiently. We’ve seen that Dion has the talent to do all of those things, except wreckless is more fitting for his game than efficient.
Since Waiters has yet to convince anyone he can be in the ballpark of a Westbrook or a Harden, the next draft has even less room for error than last year. Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert need to hit a home run, or at least freaking double this June with their first selection. The higher you pick, the higher chance you have at landing a good player. To pick high, you need to get lucky in the lottery, and the more you lose this season, the better chance you have of getting lucky in the lottery. Which brings us back to the Vareajo injury…
Although the games are less entertaining with Andy on the sidelines, the games are much more “losable”. And the more losses, the more ping pong balls. The more ping pong balls, the better chance of getting a Robin for Kyrie’s Batman or if we’re really lucky a Batman to Kyrie’s Robin. Varejao’s injury may cost the Cavs the opportunity to trade him at the deadline, but they are better off having him on the sidelines and slightly increasing their chances at the number one pick, than showcasing him, increasing the chance of winning meaningless games, and “maybe” getting something of value in return for him. There is only limited list of legitimate suitors who “might” trade for him, and a deal would most likely only land the Cavs a low first round pick in return.
The Thunder were bad enough and lucky enough to successfully turn their small market team into a contender. The Cavs have been bad enough, and had a little luck with getting Irving 3 but still need all the luck they can get. Despite the Varejao injury being tough from a fan standpoint, it increases the likelihood of losing, and losing increases the chance of getting lucky in the lotto.
Some of us around WFNY have enjoyed sarcastically using the phrase #TankStrong to describe the Cavs season so far. As the season heads into the second half and the losses pile up, #TankStrong should really hit it’s stride. There’s no doubt in my mind the Cavs will take any excuse they can get sit Varejao or Irving down the stretch.
The worse this team is, the more losses they’re likely to have.
The more losses they have, the more ping pong balls they have in the lottery.
The more ping pong balls in the lottery, the better chance of landing a superstar.
I guess it’s time to start learning names like Shabazz Muhammad, Narlens Noel, Cody Zeller, Alex Lens, and Ben McLemore.
[Related: On the Cavaliers and the Prospect of Failed Rebuilding]
The lottery is won with a winning four ball combination. For simplicity’s sake let’s use ping pong balls as the example instead of how many four ball combinations a team has.
Still in Seattle during 2007-08
The Cavs still deserve credit for choosing Irving, but with any pick, luck is a factor