Since I’ve come home to Brunswick, Ohio for the summer after completing my freshman year of college, my life has become fairly simple. I go to work at a local grocery store, spend time with family and friends, etc. At night, with my phone tucked away and the lights off in my room, I turn on my Xbox and put in NBA 2K13. The Jay-Z produced game has been out for months now, but due to being busy in Athens, I hadn’t really had time to devote to playing extensively. But with my schedule opened up, I’ve become addicted.
The stock version of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the game is the roster currently in tact. Kyrie Irving is the best player (obviously) and the supporting cast still consists of Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and the like. And like the real world Wine and Gold, this team isn’t very good. If you SIM through a season of Cavaliers basketball in Association mode (where you control every aspect of your selected franchise), the Cavs finish near the bottom of the league every time – which is where they finished in real life.
That in itself says a lot about the state of the Cavaliers. Video games – especially high quality sports games like 2K13 – tend to be realistic as possible. Real world factors like the Cavaliers’ well-chronicled injury problems don’t exist in the virtual world. Injuries do happen in the game (namely Varejao missing a large portion of the season), but they weren’t as prevalent as they were on the real shores of Lake Erie.
Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but I think this provides an applicable lesson to Cavaliers fans. That lesson is this: the Cavaliers injuries last season (fingers crossed here) were a one-time, season-long horror story. Unless the basketball gods truly have it out for Cleveland, then maybe Kyrie won’t punch a wall and break his hand before the season even begins. And maybe – just maybe – we won’t see over half the team in masks before the All-Star break.
The other notable lesson to come out my 2K13 experience (other than that there is a snowball’s chance in hell that LeBron James will return to Cleveland) is that, given the proper time, the Cavaliers young talent (namely the seemingly always infuriating Waiters and Zeller) will develop and become the key pieces a lot of people thought they could be when they were selected in the draft. Cleveland fans (and understandably so) want results now. I am one of them, and I can tell you that it’s hard being told by every (and I mean EVERY) front office in the city that they are rebuilding and that contending for titles will come in a few years. It’s hard to hear that talent selected by the front office is going to take time to develop and won’t provide any immediate feedback. I get that 100 percent, and it is frustrating to listen to the same speeches over and over again. But in the grand scheme of things, it is a better way to build.
Take a look back at the James-era Cavaliers teams. In a hasty rush to win and contend for a title, the front office spent money on role players and made risky trades in order to find talent to compliment LeBron. And while they did reach the Finals, that 2007 Cavaliers team was swept by the Spurs. When LeBron left two summers later, the Cavaliers team that had been at the top of the East for years suddenly ended up at the bottom of the league.
That should tell you that taking it slow and letting young talent grow is the right way to build a team. Can a splashy free agent signing help a team? Absolutely yes. But it can’t be the whole strategy.
That brings me back to Waiters and Zeller. They just completed their rookie seasons and deserve the time to grow just like their teammate Tristan Thompson did. If one or both of those players makes the strides Thompson did this past season, then I guarantee the hate they receive now will turn into love. And for what it’s worth, both of those players developed nicely in 2K13 and became real pieces for a Cavaliers team that won the division.
And so, while it’s not real life, maybe Cavaliers fans should take a cue from the video game and take a realistic look at the big picture. If the Cavaliers can be a good team there, then maybe they can succeed in real life too.