Whenever big news breaks in the NBA, the Right Down Euclid staff is here to discuss it in a back-and-forth conversation-like format. In this edition of “Countertop Conversation,” conversation host Zak Kolesar is joined by Kevin Stankiewicz and Chris Manning in discussing the involvement that the Cleveland Cavaliers front office has had thus far in the free agency period and how the signings of Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum change thing for the Cavaliers roster this upcoming season.
Zak Kolesar: In regards to the contract that Bynum received, I believe this is yet another wonderous move by the Wine and Gold front office. The knee-problematic center is only guaranteed $6 million – as much as Luke Walton received last season – for next season. I’m assuming that the incentives that he must reach have to do with number of games played on the court. The more we see Bynum and Kyrie Irving on the court together, the more we will see this team win. The more involved Bynum is in the Cleveland offense, the more fluid the pick-and-roll will be. His defense improves an immense amount in clutch time, as he totaled 74 net points in the last five minutes of a game and overtime with neither team leading by five or more points. This will work great with another clutch leader we already have on our team. With a more solidified bench than we had one week ago, this team will play a lot of close games this upcoming season.
Kevin Stankiewicz: I agree with Zak when it comes to Bynum’s contract. With only $6 million of it being guaranteed, I think it is safe to say that it is a victory for the front office. If he does not return to prior form, they only lose the same amount of money invested in Luke Walton last season. My favorite part of bringing in a legitimate 7’0″ center is that it will allow Anderson “The Wild Thing” Vareajo to slide back to his natural position. He no longer will have to bang around down low in the paint with guys much bigger than him. He can focus on doing what he does best, which is hustling, setting screens, drawing charges and moving without the ball. By bringing in Bynum, they automatically improve some of their returning players.
Chris Manning: Let me play the other side here. I am in line with the thinking that Bynum’s contract is a low risk, high reward type of deal that favors the Cavaliers. He’s at a crossroads in his NBA career, and a flameout in Cleveland could mean the end of teams taking a look at him as a potential piece. But consider this: Bynum joins a list of Cleveland Cavaliers that have dealt with significant injuries over the course of their careers. Three potential starters – Irving, Varejao and Bynum – all have missed significant time at one point or another. If all three go down, the Cavaliers will be stuck between in a rock and a hard place yet again. That said, there is real possibility that – assuming everything clicks – that the Cavaliers could be in the top half of the East right alongside the likes of Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn and Chicago. There are a lot of variables at play here, but if the cards fall right, we could be looking at a solid team this year and into the future.
ZK: Yep. There is no ignoring the injury problems/concerns with this situation, but it is a very good feeling for Cleveland sports fans to be able to see one of their teams making moves in the now to be better sooner rather than later. Not trying to bring the other professional Lake Erie-the dwelling teams into this conversation, but Nick Swisher, at $56 million over four years, was the biggest free agent to be brought into the Land in an extremely long time before this run that the Cavs front office just went on, so even if this move is a gamble, at least we’re not being passive like our counterparts. With that said, the potential for this team shot up tenfold after landing Bynum on Wednesday. After being subjected to miserable basketball these last three seasons, there is promise for a favorable playoff seed in 2013-14 if everything goes as planned (as Chris pointed out). What we’re going to see in a Irving-Bynum lineup is one of the faster-paced teams in the League, which leads to a higher offensive efficiency in most situations. The Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets ranked No. 1 and 2 in the league in possessions per game and ranked fifth and sixth respectively in offensive efficiency, which brings me to introducing the discussion of Cleveland’s pick-and-roll offense with Bynum in the mix: this team is going to be much more fluid in transition and won’t take very much time to give defenses looks, am I right?
KS: I think so Zak. The signing of Bynum, and even Jack, will allow the Cavs to open up their offense. Kyrie is the type of point guard who will have no problem pushing the pace after defensive stops. Players like Dion Waiters, and the athletic Alonzo Gee, will be nice compliments on the break. But one thing to look at is coach Mike Brown and his offensive philosophy. While in Cleveland and Los Angeles, his teams were not famous for their transition offense. Brown favors a more half-court offense, so it will be interesting to see if he allows more freedom for the Cavs this upcoming season.
CM: He’s going to have to allow freedom. Irving is best when on the move and when the game is flowing. Bynum’s signing is going to mean we see more half-court sets than we did last season, but not to the extent that it defines the offense. We are (hopefully) going to see a hybrid offense that incorporates half-court sets when Bynum is in but largely relies on defensive pressure and fast breaks. If you really look at the roster, only Bynum is way better suited for a traditional half-court game. Even the other bigs – even Tristan Thompson – do fairly well in the open floor. Ideally, Brown preaches the mantra that good, physical, turnover-creating defense will lead to the fast offense this team is best suited for. That’s where this team is going to have to earn their stripes. Under Brown, it’s all about defense. And that’s not a bad thing.
ZK: The point is, though, that the Cavaliers added pieces to their roster that allow for many offensive looks and very interesting defensive sets. Let’s take what Kevin said about sliding back Andy to his natural position for example. The rebounding tear that he was on last season before he went down after 25 games is not going to be there when he initially returns, but once Bynum gets to full health (hopefully that time comes), we could see a frontcourt set of Andy and Bynum that dominates the league in rebounding. Tristan and Zeller just aren’t physical specimens at this point in their careers to be able to bang in the paint to put up solid rebounding marks. Bynum and Andy, however, have very established boxing-out games, and their presence in the paint on defense will allow for many fast-break opportunities for the Cavs. Putting together a lineup of these two with Kyrie, Dion and Jack may be the most exciting possible lineup on the roster. The additions of Jack and Bynum create so much for this team, am I right?
KS: I really would love to see the Cavaliers experiement with the lineup of three guards (Jack, Kyrie and Dion) and then Bynum and Andy down low. On the offensive end, I think that would, by far, be the most exciting lineup. They may struggle on the other end of the court, but they could light up the scoreboard. Golden State played a similar lineup last year with Steph Curry, Jack and Klay Thompson, so I think it could definitely work. I love adding Jack because he is a proven scorer off the bench. He will have no layover in transition moving into the sixth man role because that was his role prior to signing here. And to reference Golden State again, Jack and Curry played together some last year too. We could see Mike Brown experiement with this as well. It would allow the reigning three-point champion to have some spot-up looks on the perimeter, something I would love to see more of.
CM: Honestly, the best part of this is that, unlike last year, the Cavaliers should be able to play different styles of basketball other than just a pick-and-roll or isolation. It’s going to be fun to see these different looks, and it should be interesting to see Irving off the ball from time to time. It’s scary to think that teams will be reacting to what the Cavaliers do instead of Cleveland having to adjust to the other teams style. Granted, there are a lot of things that will have to go right for this to work. Irving, Varejao and Bynum must be healthy. Waiters and Zeller both will need to take a step up in their sophomore campaigns. And – this is the key – buckets will need to come in transition in high percentages. If all that happens, this could be the best overall Cavaliers squad since the glory days of the late 80s.