To say that LeBron James’s departure from Cleveland was catastrophic would be an understatement. LeBron leaving Cleveland was the NBA equivalent of the Allies dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. When the King took has talents to South Beach, Cleveland was a wasteland. The roster was a hodgepodge of expensive veterans, average veterans, and essentially devoid of young talent. Without LeBron, the Cavs went from an elite team to losing 63 games in 2011-2012. At one point, they lost 26 games in row, tying the 1976-1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the most consecutive losses in all of professional sports. The Cavs went from the top to the bottom when LeBron left, and for a time, it looked liked they were never going to rise from the ashes.
But on May 17th 2011, their luck changed with the bouncing of some ping-pong balls. With a 19.9% chance of getting the first pick, the basketball gods intervened on behalf of the Cavs. They got the number one pick, enabling them to draft Kyrie Irving. They also got the fourth overall pick, making them the first team since the 1982-1983 Houston Rockets to have two picks in the top five overall. They then used that fourth pick on power forward Tristan Thompson. From then on, things got better for the Cavs. They entered the Kyrie Irving, an era that looks to very good for the Cavs.
The current Cavs roster has a lot of promise. There is a lot of young talent on the roster, like the aforementioned Thompson, Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, and rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. They also have veteran presence in Anderson Varejao, who behind Irving is the Cavs best and most important player. Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, who at only 26 years old is an old man on this team, is the only other veteran that will get consistent minutes this season. This roster is incredibly young (average age 24.44) and has lots of room to grow. No important player is over the age of 30 Luke Walton, who at 32 is the only player over thirty, may not even, be on the team when the season starts. The youth will be interesting to watch, as they will have nights where they look mature beyond their years and other nights where they look lost.
Irving is the key to how good the Cavaliers will be this season and moving forward. This is his team, and at twenty years of age, he is the best player on the roster. Assuming he can stay healthy (something he has not done since high school two years ago), it’s not out of the question that Irving could be on the fringe of elite status by the end of the season. He’s a sensational passer, an improving scorer, and plays good defense. He also works hard year round, something that should rub of on teammates like Waiters that were drafted to play around him and be the core that LeBron never really had.
In 30.5 minutes per game last season, Irving averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, 1.1 steals, and 3.7 rebounds per game. He shot 46.9% from the field, 87.2% from the free throw line, and 39.9% from the free throw line. Those are great stats for any starting point guard, and the general feeling about Irving is that he’s only going to get better. In all likelihood, he’s going to be the Cavs what Derrick Rose is to the Chicago Bulls: their best player, their leader, and when it comes down it, their clutch player down the stretch. You don’t hear anything bad about Irving from other players. He wowed his fellow NBAers over the summer at the Olympic camp, and even challenged Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba himself to a game of one-on-one. Some, including myself, think that he has a good chance of being Team USA’s starting point guard at the 2016 Olympics. He’s that good, that talented, and the sky is the limit for Irving.
Irving also as a lot of potential off the court to become a star there as well. He has sponsorships deals with Nike and Pepsi on a national level and has several others nationally in the Cleveland area. He also gained notoriety this past year not only for his challenge and wager with Kobe Bryant, but also his hilarious Uncle Drew spot that is still talked about by Cleveland media. Irving is on the path to becoming a true superstar in all facets – something only James has been able to do in Cleveland in the modern era.
As bright as the future may be, the 2012-2013 Cavaliers will be an average team at best. They are young, and like all young teams, will have growing pains. The bright spots will be Irving and Varejao. Both could, and should, be All-Stars. The Cavs will come close to making the playoffs simply because those two are so good. If Waiters and Zeller make an impact right away, then they could be a six or seven seed in the playoffs. But at the worst, they finish way our of playoff contention, putting them back in the lottery. I’ll go ahead and say they finish with 33-37 wins, and finish ninth or tenth in the east. They’ll miss the playoffs, but Irving will take another step towards superstardom. Without question, it is going to be an interesting season on the shores of Lake Erie.