There’s a question that keeps running through my mind: Is it time to panic? I ask that knowing full well that panic moves almost never work, that it would set the team back a couple of years, make us much less attractive to the next crop of free agents, and give Kyrie Irving a reason to leave town as soon as he is eligible. But, looking at the schedule, a 4-12 record is simply unacceptable. We have played Washington, Charlotte and Philadelphia twice each, plus Milwaukee and New Orleans. None of those teams is as talented as the Cavs, yet we are 2-6 in those games. You only play so many games each year that can be classified as “should win.” For every one of those that slips away, you have to steal one from a better team to make up for it. Judging from what happened in San Antonio the other night, that’s hard to imagine at this point.
Because of the way most contracts are set up, it is difficult to make significant moves before December 15, so we can assume the Cavs have at least a couple of weeks to decide if they should stand pat or clean house. It is important to remember that this is still a team with enough talent, draft picks and cap space to contend for a championship in the next five years. Making whatever moves are necessary to stay on that path is more important than making the playoffs this year, so it is important that they spend the next two weeks figuring out a couple of important things:
1. Can Kyrie and Dion play together? Let’s face it, if sixth man is the ceiling for Waiters, the Cavs are better off moving him for someone who fits better. C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack are already available to come off the bench and score, so if Dion can’t start, he really doesn’t have much of a role unless they trade Jack or start Miles at small forward. In order for this to work, three things need to happen: One of these guys needs to be able to defend the other team’s best scorer, Dion needs to be able to sink the three consistently enough to open the lane for Kyrie, and Kyrie needs to interrupt his dribbling frenzies long enough to realize that his teammates are open. I’m not sure if any of those things are possible, but players with similar skill sets have played together and thrived, so I would play those two together as much as possible over the next month and exhaust every possibility of this working before I give up.
2. Can they learn how to play with Andrew Bynum? Well, they have to. I play pickup games all the time with people I have never met before, and generally the most effective strategy in those games is to find the tallest guy and give him the ball. It works in the NBA too. Mike Brown says the Cavs are having difficulty running different offenses with and without Bynum on the floor. Most teams view such a circumstance as an opportunity to force the opponent to adjust to multiple schemes. A two-man game with Irving and Bynum should be the go-to offensive set that the Cavs go to when the offense is stuck in the mud.
3. Can they expect anything from Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev this year? The rotation appears to be set without either of the two first-round picks from this year at this point, but if either of the rookies develop to the point where he can handle 20 minutes a game without hurting the Cavs’ chances of winning, it would make some veterans expendable and give Chris Grant more flexibility to make trades. It would be tempting to get Karasev on the floor just to watch that jump shot.
4. Is Tristan Thompson a keeper? Mike Brown keeps calling him a double-double machine, but sometimes Thompson gets 13 points and 10 boards and I never realize he was on the floor. Is that because he is so smooth or because his stats are empty in terms of how they impact the game? It seemed during the San Antonio game like Thompson was the guy out of position when guys like Matt Bonner were draining threes all night. If the Cavs decide to acquire an elite player, Thompson is the first guy the other team will ask for, unless they think Kyrie is available. Also, the Cavs have four other bigs (not counting Anthony Bennett) who can absorb Thompson’s minutes. This is a big decision because in a couple of years you will need to pay big money to keep Thompson, and paying him will mean you won’t be able to pay someone else. If you think Tristan will be a core player on a championship contender, you move the other guys and build around him and Irving. If he hasn’t made a convincing case by the end of this, his third season, it might make sense to move on.