(SportsNetwork.com) - After three straight seasons finishing in the lottery,
two of which yielded the top pick in the draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a
chance to return to a place the team hasn't been since LeBron James infamously
bolted to South Beach.
In 2010, Cleveland fired head coach Mike Brown following the season, but have
reunited with the man that took the franchise to an NBA Finals appearance in
2007. After guiding the Cavs to a franchise best 66-16 record in 2009, Brown's
bunch reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, before they were
eliminated by the Boston Celtics.
The next season, Cleveland finished with a 15-59 mark, Brown was shown the
door and the Cavs were awarded with the top pick in the 2011 Draft.
Cleveland picked a franchise-changing talent in point guard Kyrie Irving.
Over the past two seasons, the Duke product has spawned into, not just one of
the top point guards in the league, but perhaps one of the Association's top
Despite going a less-than-pedestrian 64-166 over the past three seasons, the
Cavs showed signs of improvement in the 2012-13 campaign and it all starts
with their point guard.
Over 59 games last season, Irving averaged 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and 1.5
steals per game. Most of the question marks involving Irving don't even
concern his talent, but his ability to stay healthy to make it through a
grueling 82-game NBA schedule.
Irving missed 15 games as a rookie due to a freak concussion in February 2012
before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in late-March. The 2012
Rookie of the Year also missed most of his only season at Duke with an ankle
In July of 2012, Irving suffered a broken right hand after slapping a padded
wall in frustration during a Cavaliers practice session. The budding
superstar suffered yet another setback, his fifth in 24 months, when X-rays
revealed a hairline fracture in the ninth game of the season.
This season, Irving expects to stay healthy.
"This is the best I've ever felt coming into a season," he said. "My goal is
to become the best player in the league."
Cleveland gained a bit of insurance at the point guard position with the
signing of free agent guard Jarrett Jack. Jack, who played a key role off the
bench for the Golden State Warriors last season, will provide the Cavs with a
scorer off the bench, but for the Cavaliers to reach their full potential this
season, Irving will have to remain on the floor.
Irving isn't the only injury-prone impact player on the Cavs' roster.
Cleveland inked much-maligned center Andrew Bynum.
When healthy, Bynum is undoubtedly one of the games most talented big men on
both ends of the court, but the biggest problem with the 7-footer is staying
Since coming to the NBA in 2005, Bynum has appeared in just 392-of-554 games.
In the 2011-12 season, Bynum posted career-highs with 18.7 points and 11.8
rebounds per game. It was Bynum's second full season, albeit a lockout
shortened campaign, but the big man proved that he can be the impact presence
down low teams covet in a league with a shortage of talented bigs.
Bynum was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers after his breakout season in a
blockbuster three-team deal, but infamously missed the entire season with knee
While it is unclear if Bynum will return for the start of the upcoming season,
when he does take the court, he could be the perfect compliment to Irving.
In 2012, Cleveland had a pair of lottery picks and selected shooting guard
Dion Waiters and forward Tristan Thompson, who both enjoyed encouraging rookie
campaigns. The Cavs then used their second first overall pick in three seasons
on Anthony Bennett, a 6-foot-7 forward out of UNLV.
While the selection of Bennett came as a surprise to nearly every viewer of
the draft, Cleveland is extremely excited for the potential of the Canadian-
Bennett was one of the biggest mismatches in college hoops last year,
combining an impressive inside game with a smooth jumper that defenders have
to respect. What Bennett lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his
7-foot-1 wingspan, allowing him to bang with players bigger than him.
The Cavs also signed small forward Earl Clark in offseason, who could step in
until Bennett is ready to contribute.
Cleveland is also hopeful for center Anderson Varejao to return following a
season-ending blood clot in his lung last season. Varejao is the heart and
soul of this group, and adds tremendous depth to the Cavs' front court.
While Cleveland is hopeful to return to the playoffs, one last trip to the
lottery wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. The projected draft class of
2014 is stacked with talent.
Four players with lottery talent, plus a healthy Bynum, could be enough to
lure the most-hated man on the North Coast back to the championship-starved
2012-13 Results: 24-58, 5th in Central, Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: HC Mike Brown, G Jarrett Jack, C Andrew Bynum, F Anthony Bennett, F
Earl Clark, G Carrick Felix, G/F Sergey Karasev
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kyrie Irving
SG- Dion Waiters
SF- Anthony Bennett
PF- Tristan Thompson
C - Andrew Bynum (injured)
KEY RESERVES: F/C Anderson Varejao, F Earl Clark, G Jarrett Jack, G/F C.J.
Miles, G Danny Gibson, C Cody Zeller, F Alonzo Gee
FRONTCOURT: Bynum has proved to be one of the more dominating centers in the
league, and Thompson, coming off one of an encouraging rookie campaign, are
joined by Varejao, Zeller and Bennett, creating one of the deeper frontcourts
in the NBA.
If Bennett can make an instant impact, Cleveland could be looking at a perfect
combination of size and athleticism in the frontcourt to compete with the top
teams in the Eastern Conference.
All this could be ruined, however, if Bynum never regains his health (which
could provide us with more bizarre hairstyles) and Varejao is unable to
recover from his heart issues. What looked like incredible depth, could leave
the Cavs frontcourt gasping for air.
BACKCOURT: Clearly Irving is the best player on this team, but is the
supporting cast enough to give Irving the opportunity to truly excel this
Waiters averaged 14.7 ppg for Cleveland last season, taking some of the
pressure off of Irving to provide the offense.
Jack is certainly one of the best options off the bench in the league, as he
provides instant scoring with the second unit. Jack has the ability to score
15 points and dish out six assists off the bench, a role he thrived in with
BENCH: Jack is a serious candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, and Varejao adds
an incredible motor off the bench.
Miles also provides the Cavs with scoring off the bench. Miles averaged 11.2
ppg in a backup role last season.
Zeller showed flashes in limited action last year, and Clark averaged
10.5 ppg and just over 8.0 rpg in January and February for the Lakers last
season. If Zeller and Clark can provide off the bench, the Cavs will have a
serious chance at contending for a playoff berth.
COACHING: While Brown became the scapegoat in 2009 after James and a group of
overachieving role players were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals,
it may not have been Brown's fault.
There isn't a coach in the world that could have improved the play of the
supporting cast on those teams. Phil Jackson had Jordan and Pippen, Shaq and
Kobe and Kobe and Pau. Pat Riley had Magic, Kareem and Worthy. Even Auerbach
had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.
Brown replaced Jackson with the Lakers after he was fired in Cleveland, and he
may have had a tenuous stay in Hollywood, but could be the perfect fit for an
"I am thrilled to return to Cleveland to coach the Cavaliers," said Brown
"The commitment ownership and management have shown in their efforts to
build a successful team and organization is deep and I am excited to lead
the team forward. Nothing would mean more to me and my family than to help
bring success to this very special community and to all of our committed and
OUTLOOK: Will the Cavs win the NBA Finals this season? No. But this team has
the potential to become a contender in a few years. This will be an exciting
season for a club filled with young talent.
Irving will continue to set the tone, but the success of the team rests on the
contributions on Irving's compliments.
If the supporting cast provides this young superstar with adequate support,
this team is playoff-bound.
If not? There's always LeBron...
The Sports Network