In continuing our offseason series, we’re going to look at how the Cavaliers did this offseason. Last season, the Cavs missed the playoffs but the fan-base was definitely excited by the arrival of Kyrie Irving and has been looking forward to a resurgence after the Decision fiasco. How will they stack up this season?
Lost: Antawn Jamison (free agency), Anthony Parker (retired), Manny Harris (free agency), Christian Eyenga (free agency), Semih Erden (free agency), Ryan Hollins (free agency), Lester Hudson (free agency)
At first, I understand that giving a B+ to a team that didn’t really do too much in the offseason seems unjustified. However, the Cavaliers lost all of their non-productive players last year to free agency this offseason. Jamison, in particular, was a player that got major minutes and produced in the negative wins range. Ironically enough, the L.A. super team took both Jamison and Christian Eyenga off of the Cavs hands, two of their worst players.
Just how bad were the players that the Cavs lost? Other than Manny Harris and Anthony Parker, they all produced in the negative wins range. Combined, they produced about -3 wins for Cleveland and their replacement was critical; almost any player would be better for the Cavs than playing Ryan Hollins or Semih Erden. The loss of Jamison cannot be overstated; he was their perceived star, but really was incredibly harmful to them in the wins-loss column.
Re-signing Alonzo Gee (which is expected) will be huge; he was surprisingly extremely productive for them last season. In fact, because of the injuries to Irving and Varejao, Gee produced the most wins for the team in 11-12!
They also drafted another shooting guard with the 6th pick (and avoided the Harrison Barnes landmine), Dion Waiters (Arturo has him at a .059 WP48 next season) and he projects to be as least as good as Gee was last season by his third or fourth year in the league. The pick of Tyler Zeller was questionable, because the Cavs had to trade three picks to get him (one of which turned into Jae Crowder), but Zeller will at least be a competent big man, which could not be said of many of the players that started in Cleveland last season. Additionally, the addition of Jon Leuer should give them another solid big man to back up Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao. Adding Azubuike and Pargo were bad moves from a statistical standpoint, but as long as they barely play (which is a safe assumption), the Cavs should be fine.
In the end, the Cavaliers didn’t really add any homerun players that will make them significantly better this season. They won’t magically become a contender but losing Jamison as well as the rest of their unproductive players will improve the Cavaliers over the long run. A core of Kyrie Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Varejao, and Gee won’t make the playoffs this season, but the Cavaliers used this offseason to rid themselves of bad players and become younger, which is a very sound strategy in the NBA. The only caveat to all of this is a potential trade of Varejao; despite his star production over the last few seasons, he is perceived as old (he’s 29) and also has a somewhat hefty contract (that he deserves). The Cavs may end up trading Varejao for pennies on the dollar, which would be a colossal mistake.
Side note: I can never really understand how people undervalue Varejao. He’s not flashy at all, but this guy can flat-out rebound. Even without looking at statistics, it’s easy to tell that Varejao can get into opponents’ heads with his propensity for drawing offensive fouls and grabbing offensive rebounds. In fact, he’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the game. There is almost nothing that Varejao does poorly; his only weakness is that he can’t really score which shouldn’t be a problem for a team that employs Kyrie Irving. It’s ridiculous to imply that the Cavaliers should trade him just because he makes 7.7 million dollars a year, right after they finished paying Antawn Jamison 12.5 million a year for two seasons. However, if a trade of Varejao happens, and he goes to a contender, that could really shake up the NBA coming into the playoffs.
Varejao aside, the bottom line is that the Cavaliers succeeded this offseason through addition by subtraction. Cleveland became slightly better and if they play the course and continue to draft well, an improving Irving, Thompson, Waiters, and Gee can lead this team back to the playoffs; maybe even by the 13-14 season.