2013-14 outlook: Cleveland Cavaliers
What's in store for the Cleveland Cavaliers? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and non-moves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.
1. What grade would you give the Cavaliers' offseason?
Conrad Kaczmarek, Hardwood Paroxysm: B+. The decisions to draft Anthony Bennett and sign Andrew Bynum dominated headlines, but the Cavs did a lot more. Signing Jarrett Jack gives Cleveland a legitimate three-guard rotation with Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving. Earl Clark will battle for the starting small forward spot. But the biggest move might be the return of Mike Brown, who intends for the Cavs to play defense for the first time in three years.
Andrew Lynch, Daily Dime Live: B. The Cavs took some flak for selecting Bennett No. 1 overall, but he filled a need and was the player they wanted. Bringing Brown back was a coup; signing Bynum was a medium-risk, high-reward play; and acquiring Jack and Clark bolstered the reserve unit.
Colin McGowan, Cavs: The Blog: B-. GM Chris Grant drafted Bennett in a supposedly starless draft. He signed the unreliable Bynum to an incentive-laden deal. He overpaid a little bit for Jack. Rebuilding in a city like Cleveland is difficult, and Grant continues to try to make the most of his less-than-ideal opportunities to improve the team.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: A-. The Cavs nabbed Bennett with the first overall pick, took a cheap flyer on Bynum, signed Jack and rehired Brown, who has won more playoff games for this franchise than any other coach. Not bad, Cleveland. Not bad at all.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: B. It was, by far, the most active offseason they had since 2005. I think Jarrett Jack was one of the more underrated signings of the summer and I think he's a perfect fit for that team. They got a good rotation player in Earl Clark on a friendly deal. The grade is a little in flux because we have no idea what Andrew Bynum will be. I give them this mark with low expectations -- actually no expectations -- for him. So it could go up.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Cavaliers in 2013-14?
Kaczmarek: Who will be Irving's sidekick? The Cavs have one star, but most good teams have at least two. If Bynum is healthy, Cleveland would have a devastating duo. But how likely is that? That means either Bennett (still adjusting), Waiters (needs to be consistent) or Tristan Thompson (no star skill set) needs to blossom. Who's going to step up?
Lynch: Will the important pieces be healthy? I'm not worried about Irving, as his injuries have been pretty fluky. But Anderson Varejao is a huge part of this team, and his health is continuously in doubt. The ceiling for the Cavs is also largely dependent on how much they can get out of Bynum.
McGowan: Can they stay healthy? Irving has missed significant chunks of the past two seasons. Varejao customarily plays well for two months, then gets hurt. We have no idea when Bynum is coming back or what he'll look like once he returns. This team appears to be pretty talented, but talent is useless if it's sitting on the sidelines in a suit.
Wade: Bynum's health. Knucklehead warning flags abound, but his talent has never come with a question mark. If he gets healthy, Bynum will help the team tremendously. If he's healthy and also -- finally -- finds some consistency on the court, Cleveland can become a squad that none of the conference elite will want to face in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Windhorst: What sort of player is Anthony Bennett? Most people will say Bynum here, but I just am not convinced he'll be a factor. Bennett is going to be the first No. 1 overall pick in memory who isn't going to start. Also, he's out of shape and has a long way to go on defense, which is a requisite to play at all for Mike Brown. But the Cavs badly need scoring and he's super talented in that area. He may force his way onto the floor if he's as talented as the Cavs think.
3. Who's the Cavaliers' most intriguing player?
Kaczmarek: Thompson. He shot free throws and jumpers left-handed for the first two seasons of his career -- and now he's switching. Has any player ever done this? He's already a great rebounder and solid defender, but if Thompson can suddenly develop a solid mid-range shot with his right it completely changes how teams have to defend him.
Lynch: Varejao. There's no one in the league like Andy. We've already seen his unique blend of defensive acumen and offensive rebounding prowess in the preseason. A healthy Varejao makes the Cavs better, and it makes the league a lot more fun.
McGowan: Waiters had an offseason training regimen that, to hear him tell it, involved week-long road races and offensive drills against jungle cats. Waiters has the talent to be special, so I'm eager to see what effect his gym-rat ethic has had on his inconsistent jumper and developing slash-and-kick skills.
Wade: Irving. He was a beast last season when healthy, but his frequent absence from the court left the Cavs barely ahead of the Bobcats in the standings. Now, with better teammates, he should lead a team beyond its on-paper potential. The intrigue comes not from wondering if he's great; it lies in seeing just how great he will become.
Windhorst: Irving. He's got so much talent and he's in that Year 2-to-3 window where we see so many players have breakout seasons. He was humbled a bit at the end of last season when he showed some arrogance and immaturity, but he seems to have learned from it. Health remains a question, as his skill has already spoken for itself.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Cavaliers?
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Kaczmarek: Irving and Varejao will stay healthy. Unlike Bynum's chronic knee problems, the injuries that have plagued Irving and Varejao have not been recurring. They've been pretty unlucky recently, but I think there's a pretty good chance that both can avoid any major injuries this season.
Lynch: Cleveland will vie for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. I don't think they'll lock up a top-four seed in the East, but if they're healthy -- especially Bynum -- they'll at least challenge the Knicks for the fifth spot. Were an injury to befall one of the top teams, they might just open the postseason at home.
McGowan: I think the Cavs will shake up their roster in a significant way. Rumors were that Grant tried, up until the last second, to deal the pick that eventually became Bennett. The Cavs have five former lottery selections, a bunch of draft picks, and a couple expiring contracts. They have the assets and willingness to go after an established star if the price is right
Wade: Irving will be named to the All-NBA first team. Last year, he cemented the fact that he has the shooting range to match his world-class handle and playmaking ability. Voters love a great story and Cleveland's rise this season -- along with games missed by Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook -- will be enough vault Irving to the top of the guard stratosphere.
Windhorst: They'll make a major midseason trade. They have the assets, they have the desire and they're on the hunt. The target is not yet apparent but you can expect them to be very aggressive and willing to toss in multiple picks and absorb lots of money.
5. Prediction time: How far will the Cavaliers go this season?
Kaczmarek: First round of the playoffs. The Cavs have enough to reach the postseason, but they'll likely be the seventh or eighth seed and probably face either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers. Cleveland is on the right track to finally get out of the draft lottery, but I don't expect it to win more than a game or two in the postseason.
Lynch: In all likelihood, the first round of the playoffs. It'd take quite a bit of good fortune for the Cavs to make it past any of the top teams in the East, but fans can look forward to their first trip back to the postseason since The Decision.
McGowan: Their basement and ceiling are about as far apart as any team in the league, but a reasonable expectation is that the Cavs will have an encouraging season in which they finish eighth in the East and get slaughtered in the opening round. After three consecutive seasons in the dregs of the lottery, that's progress.
Wade: First round of the playoffs. Even if Bynum seldom plays, this roster can make the postseason. Irving is that good, Varejao has pre-eminent talent, Bennett can contribute immediately, and Cleveland's sophomores (Waiters and Thompson) will improve. The future is brighter than the present, but now ain't too shabby neither.
Windhorst: They are one of a group of four or five teams going for the last three playoff spots in the East. I believe with the bottom of the league so soft, they'll have their first playoff appearance since 2009-10.
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