If I were to tell you that my ideal model for rebuilding that the Cleveland Cavaliers need to follow was a Western Conference playoff team, I’m guessing that my choice wouldn’t immediately jump to the front of your list.
Let’s first take a look at the tea that I assume you would guess first: the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the Thunder, their core was built on drafting in top 10 three years in a row like the Cavaliers are about to do. That core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden took the Thunder to the Finals last season. Even with Harden gone, the Thunder are still a long-term contender out West. They have two stars and a potpourri of solid role players. Decent building model, but not the one I’m looking for.
Next up, I’m assuming you want to take 1-40 East from Oklahoma to Memphis to bring up the Memphis Grizzlies. There you’ll bring up Memphis having a strong rebounding frontcourt (which the Cavaliers have at full strength) and the ability to play as a team in a small market. They’ve also been aggressive in the free agency and trade market to acquire key role players like Tony Allen, which the Cavaliers will and should do. But once again, this isn’t the team I’m looking at. Still a good model, but not exactly what I’d model my team after.
Let’s do a quick run through of the other possible teams. Golden State? Mike Brown coaching ends that speculation. San Antonio? Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters would have to make huge leaps that aren’t realistic in a short amount of time? The Los Angles Clippers? The Clippers – that’s the team I’m talking about.
Wait, you want to build the Cavaliers after the Clippers, the same team that was eliminated the Grizzlies after being up 2-0? Yes. That same Clippers team coached by the dreadful Vinny del Negro? Yes. So those same Clippers who may lose Chris Paul this offseason? Yes, and here’s why.
It starts with the star player on each team. For the Clippers, it’s Paul, and the Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving. Few teams chose to build around their point guards (only the Cavs, Clippers and Bulls currently do it), so it’s slim pickings for a model to follow. But the Clippers stand out to me for this reason – there is real room for improvement. The Bulls, assuming Derrick Rose comes back and isn’t totally psyched out by his knee, are a largely complete team. Neither the Cavaliers or Clippers are complete quite yet. There is a lot to like, but the front offices for both teams haven’t exactly committed to a finite core croup of players. In LA, the Clippers had 11 players that played at one time or another. In Cleveland, as many as 10 Cavaliers could see action on a given night.
The Clippers, just like the Cavaliers have big decisions to make at several positions. For the Clippers, assuming they keep Paul, they will have to decide what they want to do with Eric Bledsoe. For Cleveland, decisions loom on Anderson Varejao’s future, as well as contracts for Thompson and Waiters. Something in both of these situations are going to have to give.
There’s more here to break down, but the point is this: if you want to look at a team to model the Cavaliers after, the team with the most similarities is the Clippers. For reasons good and bad, that’s the team that Cleveland fans should look to as the Cavaliers continue to rebuild themselves. No other team in the association matches up as well. So, with caution, look West Cavalier fans – the Clippers may be your future.