CARACAS, Venezuela -- What does an NBA team that wants to get to the playoffs need? Two No. 1 overall picks in three years? The rookie of the year? Two All-Stars? A new head coach? Experienced players that have played for their national teams?
The Cleveland Cavaliers' roster has every ingredient needed to fulfill owner Dan Gilbert's goal of making the postseason, at least on paper. But that's easier said than done for a team that's missed the playoffs since LeBron James bolted for Miami three seasons ago.
But from those struggles came the foundation for this current promising group. For the first time since 1983, a franchise managed to get two top-five picks in the draft. Kyrie Irving, the top overall pick in 2011, and Tristan Thompson, the fourth pick that year, were brought on board to help lift the franchise once again.
Irving has certainly proved himself, as the 21-year-old already has picked up a rookie of the year award and an All-Star bid. The only thing standing between him and superstardom appears to be injuries, which have limited him to 110 games through two seasons.
"The key will be for Kyrie to be healthy," said Thompson. "He's been working on his body the entire summer so that he can be well and that way he can assure himself of playing 82 games. He's a key to our success and I'm happy because he's healthy now."
Now Thompson hopes to be the one making a breakthrough.
The Cavs forward appears on his way after a sophomore season in which he averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds, up from 8.2 and 6.5 the season before. At the FIBA Americas tournament, Thompson has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game as Canada has pushed its way into the second round.
"We have a new group of guys: Andrew Bynum, who is an All-Star, Earl Clark or Jarrett Jack, who will be key for us," he said. "It's the same with Canada; we'll take it game by game, bettering ourselves every day to compete."
He also knows quite well what Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick this year and a fellow Canadian, is capable of.
"He's a great young talent," Thompson said. "Plays hard and is athletic. It is not easy in the NBA to have a lot of big guys, especially [good ones]. So it's great to introduce him to our rotation so that he can make us better as a team."
The addition of Bennett, a power forward like Thompson, creates a bit of a logjam in the front court moving forward. But the 22-year-old is still happy to lend a hand.
"You have to be conscious when you're in your rookie year in the NBA," he said. "You have to keep your head up because sometimes you will play good and other times you will suffer. But while you keep playing and working hard, everything works out well."