The Cleveland Cavaliers should be done tanking for draft picks
The past few seasons have been particularly rough for the Cavaliers and their fans. But I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it's time to start moving towards that light.
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Last week I wrote about how far the Cleveland Cavaliers have come since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. While I stand by everything that I wrote in that article, it mostly pertains to the front office and the assets that the organization has been able to acquire over the past 2 years. If you look at the win column, it remains fairly consistent. And this is mostly by design. I feel as though we've done a good job here at Fear The Sword promoting the idea that it's better to tank for a top-5 draft pick than to push for the 8th seed and sit in NBA purgatory.
However, I think we may have done too good of a job getting that point across to those of you that read FTS on a regular basis. What makes me say this? Because after the Cavaliers' trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, I had multiple people on Twitter asking me why we would do a trade like that, complaining that it would ruin our chances at tanking. And I don't think I've really been pushing the tanking agenda this year, but I guess it carried over from last year.
Last season, I thought tanking for the best draft pick possible was absolutely necessary. I do not think that is the case this season. Here are the differences from last year to this year that make me feel this way.
There is no Anthony Davis
I don't necessarily buy the idea that this draft crazy weak in comparison to last year's draft. But I will admit that there is no Anthony Davis. It was obvious all year long that Davis was incredibly special and had a very good chance to be a franchise changing superstar. If the Cavaliers had been able to pair him up with Kyrie Irving, it would have been glorious and to be honest, I'm getting a little sad thinking about what could have been. But seriously, that's a big part of why the Cavs needed to tank so hard. Any extra chance at winning the lottery and getting Davis was worth it. Sure, improving our chances for Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or whoever else was nice too, but it was all about Davis. The drop-off between getting Davis and anybody else was significant.
In this draft, there are a lot of players that I like a lot. I really like Nerlens Noel and I would love to draft him. But if the Cavs don't get him, there are plenty of other good options throughout the top eight or 10 prospects. There is no consensus #1 pick and I'd be happy with Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad, Alex Len, Otto Porter, and a number of other players if the Cavs missed out on Noel. That means the incentive to tank for the top pick isn't quite there. It's always nice to have the highest pick possible, but I'm not as excited about it as I was last year.
Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker are gone.
"No ****, Sherlock," is what you're saying. But it makes a difference. Last year, there would be games when these veteran players would actually win games for the Cavs. They were clearly not going to be a part of this team's longterm plan and any win that they provided was nothing more than taking us farther away from Anthony Davis.
This year, however, Chris Grant has managed to get rid of nearly all veterans that could potentially win us basketball games. Now, if the Cavs win it's because Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, or Dion Waiters won the game. Obviously, I have nothing wrong with our young talent winning games. We want them to succeed, right? That's the goal?
So given the choice between watching Waiters, Thompson, and Tyler Zeller improve a ton through the second half of the year and tanking for a chance at Cody Zeller, I'll take the former. If our 20 year olds want to go .500 for the rest of the season and have us drafting 8th in June, go for it.
To directly address the concerns that I got on Twitter, yes, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington make us better in the short term and are not necessarily involved in the long term plans. But are either of those guys going to really make that much of a difference? No, but they provide some bench support and Speights, especially, should be able to give Zeller some help in the paint. I didn't like how much Zeller was playing, so the Speights addition is welcome.
We're already pretty damn bad.
If you haven't looked at the standings recently, the Cavaliers are 13-33. That's good for the 3rd worst record in the league, just ahead of the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats. It would take a pretty crazy run to take the Cavs out of the bottom 6 or 7 teams in the league. As they stand now, the Cavs are pretty much guaranteed to be picking in the top half of the lottery. As I said before, that's probably good enough if this draft. I haven't really studied the prospects enough to see where the "drop-off" would be. But I'm not too scared about the Cavaliers missing out. Whereas top-1 and, to a lesser degree, top-3 were fairly important last season, it's not that big of a deal -- at least I don't think so right now.
There's nothing the Cavs can really do right now to improve their team so much that they get taken out of the running for one of the top prospects. Trading for Rudy Gay might have changed that, but he's been traded to the Toronto Raptors. There's not really anything else the Cavs can do to propel themselves out of the cellar. Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington certainly aren't going to do the trick. And that's fine.
I'm tired of losing.
And I'm sure that I'm not the only one who feels this way. I'm sure Byron Scott agrees with me. I'm sure Dan Gilbert agrees with me. I'm sure Kyrie Irving agrees with me.
Now, I'm not one of those people who's going to freak out about the very slim chance of Kyrie Irving turning down an enormous extension and leaving after his rookie deal is up. But I also understand that losing for a long time isn't fun for anybody. Even if it helps for draft positioning purposes, it's still losing. And I hate losing. Any competitive person hates losing. I hate losing a single game of Super Smash Bros with my friends. I hate losing card games with my grandmother. I hate losing computer games with my 8 year old cousin. I hate losing bowling to my lady friend. Losing sucks. I think I hate losing more than I like winning. And we've been losing for a long time.
I don't buy the idea that we're establishing a "losing culture" because I think that's crap. But I do think winning takes some getting used to and I think you have to learn how to win. It's pretty apparent that this Cavs team is still learning how to win. They'll play great for 35-40 minutes and then the other team (usually with more veterans) will kick it into overdrive. And the Cavs get popped in the mouth and don't know how to respond. How many leads have we seen them blow this year? How many close games have they lost in the final minutes? The sooner that these young guys can develop that killer instinct and ability to lock down a win (especially at home), the better. Might as well get some practice now.
I'm done with the idea that playing well but losing close games is what's best for this team. Because if we expect the Cavs to be competitive next year and seriously pursue the playoffs, they're going to have to start winning those close games. Start doing it now. Also: losing sucks.
So what does this mean?
It means that I'm done with tanking. We had a good run, tanking, but it's over. I kind of enjoyed the time that we spent together, we had some good memories, but it's over. I'm moving on. See that smoking hot girl over there? Her name is winning. We used to have a thing together. I think I'm gonna go see if she'll take me back. It's been a while, but if I remember correctly, she was freaking awesome.