With the regular season fast approaching, I thought it would be wise to learn more about some of the more interesting teams in the Eastern Conference. I had a chance to speak with Fear the Sword's David Zavac about the Cavs. Here's our conversation:
BF: How did you feel about the team's future at the end of the 2013-2014 season?
DZ: It was a pretty depressing time. The Cavs had fired their coach after one season. We didn't know who the next general manager would be. We had traded a future first round draft pick to the Bulls for Luol Deng, who almost certainly wasn't coming back. Kyrie Irving didn't exactly have the breakout year people expected. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson showed some promise, but more warts. We were looking at prospects like Doug McDermott in the draft. It was the first time I really wondered if we would have to completely reset the post-LeBron rebuild.
BF: Going into free agency, did you think there was a possibility LeBron would come back?
DZ: Before the Cavaliers won the lottery, no, I didn't. Once that happened though, I became open to the prospect for perhaps the first time. Although it took a couple months to sort out, winning the lottery put Kevin Love on the table for Cleveland. I said that to my girlfriend the night of the lottery, and she didn't even know who Kevin Love was at the time.
As soon as I realized it was feasible to pair Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it seemed to me like the Cavs had a fair shot at LeBron. Miami losing in The Finals helped as well.
BF: When LeBron announced his return to Cleveland, your first reaction was...
DZ: I had to double check to make sure Lee Jenkins story wasn't a high-quality scam by some hacker. Honestly that was it. I was studying for the bar exam this summer, and trying to prepare during LeBron's free agency was a nightmare. I just sat at my computer and read and re-read The Letter, enjoyed my Twitter timeline, and made a couple radio appearances in between. It's a day I won't forget.
BF: Kyrie Irving is in such a weird position. He's super talented and has played reasonably well in his three years, but a bunch of people (I would include myself in that category) have questions about his game, health, defense and whether he can actually be a superstar player. Is that fair, and if so, what does he need to do to change the perception of him among fans and writers?
All the questions are fair, because he needs to go out and prove it and last year was rough for him at times. That being said, I've remained incredibly high on him. His efficiency numbers after November last year were in line with his first two, and his turnover rate is minuscule. His three point shooting ticked down, but I think a lot of that is statistical noise. For example, he was 35.6% last season in catch and shoot opportunities. The year before? 47%.
But mostly, I just think the Cavaliers, to this point, have done everything they possibly could to make his life difficult. He genuinely put together one of the great rookie seasons of all time (his numbers were that good) and what did the Cavaliers do? Drafted a ball dominant guard in Dion Waiters. They waited another year before investing in free agency. Who was the first guy they have multiple guaranteed years to? Jarrett Jack, ball dominant guard. In the meantime, his pick and roll partner has been Tristan Thompson most of the time, and the Cavaliers haven't had anything approaching shooting on the wing. I'm kind of amazed Kyrie has been as good as he has been. Oh, and noted offensive expert Mike Brown was his head coach. The organization just didn't do him any favors.
Is his defense good? Absolutely not. It's bad. But this is going to be his age 22 season, and I actually thought I saw him improve a bit on that end last season. This is a big year for him. We will see what he does.
BF: It seems in most discussions, Dion Waiters is seen in a negative light, although that may be overstated. What does he need to do to help change the narrative surrounding him and his play?
DZ: Cavaliers fans love the guy, but I can't say I totally understand why. He's been inefficient even when at his best, and he's defended worse than even Irving. He's talented, plays with spirit and has a chip on his shoulder. He hasn't shown a willingness or ability to defer to Irving yet, so it'll be interesting to see how it goes with LeBron and Kevin Love around. He's a good spot up shooter, and he has the talent to be an excellent defender. He's strong and physical and can move his feet. He has to mentally want it, though.
BF: With Kevin Love, Kyrie, and Anderson Varejao having missed significant amounts of time due to injury, are you worried about injuries and the team's depth?
DZ: The team has three credible bigs, Love, Varejao and Thompson. That's worrisome. Irving could get hurt tomorrow in practice, but I'm not all that sure he's really injury prone. A lot of the games I think he sat out early in his career were a result of tanking. He could have played more games, but the Cavaliers had no need to rush him. If Brendan Haywood can offer anything at all, the team's depth issues probably are overstated. Until he proves that, though, the team could probably use a competent big.
BF: In the articles I've read about him on FtS, I'm really liking what David Blatt brings to the table as a head coach. With three high usage players in the starting five, how do you see Blatt utilizing them?
DZ: Blatt is really a wild card here. I honestly don't know what to think, but all the reviews seem to be positive so far. He's got a lot of people to try and keep happy. I'll say this: I've heard his offense can be a little complex, and this team has a lot of new parts trying to learn on the fly. Will he overwhelm the team?
BF: With all of the new pieces and changing roles on this team, how long do you think it'll take for all the pieces to gel?
DZ: The pieces are in place for this to be a transcendent offensive basketball team, in my opinion. It'll probably be year two before they can really get there. As for this year, you'd hope by Christmas time they can find a new gear. It's a process.
BF: What qualifies as a successful season in your eyes?
DZ: Making the NBA Finals for the second time in the history of the franchise is probably what you'd like to see this season. Any team with LeBron should want to win a title. All the new faces and question marks make that a tough goal this year, but I'd love to see them knock on the door.
BF: Moving from Cleveland and onto the larger NBA scene, what team, player, or story are you keeping an eye on this year?
DZ: I'm intrigued by a couple of teams that almost certainly are not title contenders, but could still be a lot of fun and take nice steps: the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans. Atlanta will hopefully be able to count on the health of Al Horford, one of the more underrated players in the game, and I could honestly see them shooting their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pelicans, of course, will led by Anthony Davis but I love the fit of having Asik and Ryan Anderson there form a fun three man big rotation. If Jrue Holiday can bounce back and stay healthy, they could turn some heads as well.