The Cleveland Cavaliers came into this season with high hopes. They said as much at the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery when they said that they didn’t expect to be back there next year. However, after starting the season with a disappointing 11-23 record, it looked like the Cavaliers and owner Dan Gilbert may have spoken too soon. When trade rumors began to surface regarding the Cavaliers shipping off disgruntled center Andrew Bynum, debate also began among Cavalier fans and members of the media. Should the Cavaliers try to salvage this season by acquiring a player who could help them compete for the playoffs, or should they focus on getting one higher pick in what is supposed to be a loaded draft? With the acquisition of small forward Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls for Bynum and draft picks, the Cavaliers have essentially announced their intentions of making a run at the playoffs this season. Below are some of the pros and cons of tanking that the Cavaliers may have considered before they acquired Deng late Monday night.
Pro: This is allegedly the best draft class since 2003.
We’ve been hearing since 2012 that the 2014 NBA Draft is loaded with as many as seven or eight players who could become All-Stars. ESPN draft guru Chad Ford has said that there are around seven players in this draft that he like’s more than anyone from the 2013 draft. With Anderson Varejao aging the Cavaliers had holes at center, shooting guard (if Dion Waiters continues as a spark plug off the bench) and small forward. The gaping hole at small forward had been a source of frustration in particular to Cavalier fans. This year two of the top four prospects in the draft are freshmen Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker of Duke, two small forwards who should excel in the NBA. Wiggins is an extremely talented two-way player who can also play shooting guard. Parker is a highly polished scorer who does have some questions regarding how he will defend at the next level. Also ranked in the top four is freshman center Joel Embiid of Kansas, a prototypical center who has drawn comparisons to Serge Ibaka and even Hakeem Olajuwon. Any of these three players would be a tremendous addition to the Cavaliers. However after these three, much of the rest of the lottery is occupied by power forwards and point guards, easily the Cavaliers two strongest positions. If the Cavaliers were going to get a top prospect who also fits with their team needs, they were going to have to finish in the top four of this draft.
Con: There is such thing as too much youth.
There’s an old saying that NBA stands for “No Boys Allowed”. With an average age of just over 24 years, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the youngest team in the league, second only to the Philadelphia 76ers. While one might assume that as this team ages the players will come together to make the Cavaliers a playoff contender, that is a large assumption. Most young teams that transition from the lottery to the playoffs are bolstered by the signing of veterans who contribute both on the floor and in the locker room. The Indiana Pacers’ signing of David West before the 2011-2-12 season is a perfect example of this. While he is by no means the Pacers’ best player, he has had a tremendous impact on the team’s mentality and toughness while still putting up very good numbers. Another example would be the Golden State Warriors, who went from a talented young group to a playoff team due to the additions of Andrew Bogut, Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack. While some would point to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a counter example, the Thunder are also the only recent example of a young team that became serious title contenders quickly, and even they didn’t take the next step until the addition of Kendrick Perkins (a solid big at the time of the trade, despite his current level of play). Adding veterans who can bring toughness, leadership, and professionalism to the team could arguably help the Cavaliers’ rebuild more than another high draft pick, no matter how high scouts and media are on that pick. Luol Deng undoubtedly fits the profile of the kind of veteran a team like the Cavaliers needs to take the next step in their development.
Pro: The seventh or eighth seed in the East gets you a date with the Pacers or Heat.
This is as simple of a fact as ice being cold. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are by far the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, and no one else is close (sorry Raptor fans). Whichever teams have to faces either of these two in the first round will be lucky to make the series go six games. The gap between those two teams and the rest of the Eastern Conference is simply enormous. No team wants to be the new version of the Joe Johnson Atlanta Hawks, a good but not great team that had a ceiling of making the second round of the playoffs, but simply wasn’t talented enough to go farther.
Con: Young players need to experience winning and the playoffs.
The Pacers are a good example of a team that moved up the playoff rung gradually. In 2011, Indiana was the eighth seed in the East and lost to the Chicago Bulls in five games. In 2012, they lost to the Heat the second round in six games. In 2013, the Pacers went seven games against the eventual champion Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. This season they are considered one of the few teams that are realistic title contenders. The Derrick Rose Bulls and the Durant-Westbrook Thunder are other recent examples of young teams that started out as eight seeds before becoming true title contenders. This gradual progression is far more common than jumping from the lottery into immediate title contention. The only recent example of this happening was the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics, who traded for two future Hall of Fame players in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to do so. Luol Deng does not make the Cavaliers title contenders, but he may be able to help this young team make the playoffs and start on a road that could lead to true title contention in the next few years. If that possibility becomes reality, then the trade for Luol Deng will be remembered as one of the best in not only Cleveland Cavalier history, but in the history of Cleveland sports.