After three years of mediocre to just plain awful basketball, Dan Gilbert was ready to make Cleveland a playoff contender. He’s picked the right year to try and take the next step as the sixth (Atlanta), seventh (Boston) and eighth (Milwaukee) seeds from this past season, will look drastically different next season.
Boston is headed for a rebuilding year under Brad Stevens. Bucks owner Herb Kohl wants to keep the team competitive, but it’s hard to imagine the Bucks making the playoffs next season based on some of their free agent acquisitions (three years, $15 mil for Zaza Pachulia). The Hawks do have a good chance to return to postseason play next season – I’ll make a quick case for them: Al Horford, the underappreciated Kyle Korver, the underrated Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap’s UNBELIEVEABLE CONTRACT, and again Al Horford.
So there are realistically two open spots in the bottom of the Eastern Conference and three teams who haven’t sniffed the postseason in quite some time will be fighting for those spots: Washington, Detroit and Cleveland.
Gilbert was once four games away from the glory of owning a championship winning team, he’s now desperately trying to just get into the playoffs to prove to his blue-chip player that the front office is serious about making the team a contender.
So how do you attempt to go about doing that? You draft an unexpected player with the first overall pick in an odd draft (everyone remember Anthony Bennett? Okay, good.) You sign a proven third guard to a four year, $25 million contract (I’ll get to Jarrett Jack somewhere in this column) and you take a risk on potentially the second or best center in the league.
Yes the same center that ended Doug Collins career in Philadelphia. The same center who has either shared eating habits with Fab Melo (I wanted to use Boris Diaw here, but I’ve retired jokes about Diaw’s weight after his performance against LeBron in the finals) or read Raymond Felton’s cookbook from his Portland days.
Even though the contract isn’t a big risk (two years, only $6 million guaranteed, with a team option in the second year. The contract can max out around $24 million based on mostly incentives.) Gilbert is taking a risk by signing the one, the only, Andrew Bynum.
Best case scenario: The afro wonder loses the extra 15-20 pounds that he’s put on from bowling alley food and reverts back to the ’11-’12 model. In case you forgot what type of stats Bynum put up – besides the 178 he rolled a couple nights ago, while salsa dancing – let’s take a look back at his final year with the Lakers:
18.7/11.8 with just under two blocks per game.
The only players with a higher PER that season (in order besides Kyrylo Fesenko who somehow finished in second, someone alert Hollinger): LeBron, Paul, Wade, Durant, Love, Howard, Ginobili, Griffin, Rose.
Sure he was benched by his current head coach Mike Brown for taking an ill-advised three against the Warriors, but think back and remember how impressive Bynum was that season. (I know it’s hard to remember things when you’re culture’s ADD is accelerating at a rapid rate.) Now picture that version of Bynum forming a dangerous pick-and-roll combo with Kyrie Irving, while also giving the Cavs a rare interior presence in the Eastern Conference, it could easily be a home run for Gilbert.
Worst case scenario: The Bynum Show relocates to Cleveland for season two and the seven footer finds new ways to piss off a fan base including dying his afro blond for no apparent reason. He once again fails to play a game during the regular season and is released immediately after the season ends. Gilbert now has to put together another lottery party group for the fourth straight year.
On top of the Bynum debacle, Kyrie Irving begins to wonder if his future is best served in another city. Let the speculation begin!
What I think will happen: Unless Bynum wants to play Russian Roulette with his NBA career, he’ll get back into shape before training camp and play as many games as he possibly can. Now what that number will be is anyone’s guess at this point. He’s only played 82 games one time in his career (’06-’07). He’s appeared in just 392 of a possible 640 games (a scorching 61 percent).
So what is an acceptable number for the number of games played this season? 45? 50? 60? I think somewhere in between 50 and 60 would be a major success for the Cavs, but there’s no reason to feel optimistic when Bynum’s name and the word health are in the same sentence.
I actually like the signing of Jack more than the Bynum deal. It does seem like a weird fit considering Jack will play essentially the same role he played with Golden State, but the Curry-Jack-Thompson combination was deadly in crunch time scenarios. We have seen flashes of brilliance from Kyrie in that department and Dion Waiters has the potential to be one of the best two guards in the league, so the finishing trio of Irving-Jack-Waiters plus Anderson “Side-Show Bob” Varejao (Thompson or Bennett maybe and Bennett is a stretchhhhhhhh) and Bynum has the potential to be a killer closing lineup.
The Cavs peak this season is somewhere around the sixth seed, possibly even the fifth if everything falls into place correctly, but it’s going to be extremely hard for them to move onto the second round of the playoffs. I would love to see a Heat-Cavs second round matchup, but that would mean Cleveland would have to eliminate either the Bulls, Nets or Pacers and… alright I’m just going to stop right there.
The Cavs valley this season is this:
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