Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tough Decision in Cleveland.

A year or so ago, the biggest Decision facing the Cleveland Cavaliers was out of their hands. Yet, having just landed the 1st overall and 4th overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Decisions are theres. You see, the Cavaliers are in the unique position of needing an upgrade at practically every position, which leaves them spoilt for choice, but also with a bigger margin for error if they choose incorrectly. Let's take a look at some of the different directions Cleveland might be able to go with their two top-5 picks to begin the post-Lebron rebuilding process.
  • It's a guard's league nowadays, and with an unmotivated Baron Davis paired with Anthony Parker, who has relevance only for a contending team, the back-court could really use an upgrade. If the Cavs so choose, they could pick up Kyrie Irving with the 1st overall, and reach a little or trade down for Alec Burks with the 4th. Irving gives them the playmaker at the PG position they lacked in the Lebron days, and Alec Burks has stud potential as a cold-blooded scorer. This would also give J.J. Hickson another year to prove himself as their PF for the future, and Baron Davis could mentor Kyrie Irving. Burks would almost certainly get the start immediately over second-year guards Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga, who are more raw than Burks despite a year of NBA seasoning. However, these two rookies showed promising production in limited minutes, and it might create a log-jam of young talent at the SG position whilst leaving the SF position undermanned. On that note, the benefit of this path is they'll have another year of blooding Alonzo Gee at the SF, and if he doesn't meet expectations, assuming the top eligible prospects declare next season and the Cavs have a top 10 pick, there's a good chance the Cavaliers could snag one of the quality 3s in a very deep SF class in the 2012 draft. Barnes, Jones, Miller, Gilchrist to name just a few. Yet, then you come to the problem of Ramon Sessions, who has played extremely well this season when given the opportunity, and would be a top-rate back-up for Irving. However, unless they can get rid of Baron Davis he would likely wallow on the bench as third man in the rotation. Rookie C Semih Erden who was acquired from Boston for practically nothing, but showed promise in his starts with the Celtics, would also get another year to prove himself as the eventual replacement for the 28 year-old Anderson Varejao. Taking Burks and Irving together could see Cleveland with the best back-court for the future, hands down.
  • Despite this possibility, there remains a Lebron-shaped hole at the small forward position which number one pick candidate Derrick Williams insists he could fill at the next level. Williams showed a mental toughness and his strength of character in leading Arizona to a deep NCAA tournament run, dismantling Irving's Duke team in the process, and also in coming from an unknown to a draft stud seemingly overnight. While there are concerns about his position at the next level, Williams has the outside shooting and athleticism to play the 3, and his leadership skills would be welcome on this team. Derrick would also have a suitable mentor for his predicament in Antawn Jamison, another combo-forward who crafted an All-Star career despite his lack of a "true" position. Derrick's high basketball IQ would also serve him well under Byron Scott, whose players are allowed something of a free reign if his "arms-folded-mouth-closed" coaching style is anything to go by. Furthermore, Alonzo Gee would be relegated to back-up SF position, where he would be more productive and could form a good rotation for the future. However, the gamble in taking Williams as your SF is that you're betting he's better than all the stud SFs who would be available next year and whom Cleveland would certainly have an opportunity to draft unless they pull off a highly improbably turnaround in the 2011-2012 season. Say they take this gamble, they still need a PG for the future, and next year's draft isn't exactly deep at that position, so best to invest in one with the 4th pick. To me, there's only one player worthy, and that's Brandon Knight. These two more than anyone else (barring maybe Harrison Barnes and Kemba Walker) showed the capacity to simply take over a game and hit big shots down the stretch, pairing them up would provide a great situation for the future, and Knight is such a high-character person that you could see him sticking around in Cleveland, whilst the more flashy NJ raised Irving might miss the big city sooner or later and bail. Knight could be mentored by Davis, another scoring PG who learned to create for others and be a leader. Again Sessions would be left out somewhat, but he isn't their starter for the future and a Knight-Williams tag-team would be too good to pass up. Again, this would Hickson more time to be assessed before a final decision is made on whether they carry over from the Lebron era. The beauty of this decision is that there are a surprisingly high number of SGs who would be eligible next season to fill that void at the 2 if Harris and Eyenga don't measure up, with UConn's Jeremy Lamb, Memphis' Will Barton and incoming freshman Brad Beal (dubbed the next Ray Allen) potential laden players who would give Cleveland solid, if not spectacular results at the very least at the SG spot.
  • Now, realistically, unless they reach on Enes Kanter, Williams and Irving are the two sure-fire candidates to be picked number one, yet, with the exception of Brandon Knight, there are a number of players who would be a good fit with either who should be available with the 4th overall pick. One name that comes to mind is Donatas Motiejunas, the 7-ft Lithuanian PF who Dirk Nowitzki (yeah, that same Dirk who torched the Thunder today) has praised as being further along than he was at the same age. Now, we've seen this comparison before (see: Andrea Bargnani), but unlike my Italian compatriot, Motiejunas has no qualms with banging inside, and shows a desire to be the best international player in NBA history, or at the very least be in the conversation. The only problem is that it would force a choice between Donatas and their current starting PF J.J. Hickson, who has shown flashes of brilliance and at the very least is capable of starting on a playoff team, if not a contender. It's a tough choice, as Dirk is reminding everyone how valuable gritty 7-footer who can shoot are, and Donatas would be more concerned about his legacy and getting minutes than where he plays as an international, so he would likely stick around in Cleveland for the long haul. If the Cavaliers decide Varejao isn't working out, and that Erden is a back-up at best, they could always take a chance on Jonas Valanciunas, the athletic, aggressive C from Lithuania also who is a direct contrast of Motiejunas; instead of a polished offensive game he brings defensive tenacity and potential offensively. Cleveland would be an ideal situation for Jonas, as he could grow behind Anderson Varejao and even Semih Erden initially, instead of being thrown in the deep end and being labelled a bust. Last but not least is pairing Williams with Alec Burks; this would give the Cavs an athletic lights-out shooter at the 3, and a very talented scorer at the 2. This pairing would give them their SF and SG for the future, without upsetting their other young talent in Ramon Sessions and J.J. Hickson.
It's hard to say which of these outcomes would be best overall for the Cavs, but the important thing is they can control their own destiny, and begin the healing process from the Decision. Forget laughter, the best medicine for Cleveland is the first and fourth picks in the 2011 draft.

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