***Originally Published on Buckeye State Sports***
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been atrocious thus far this season. Most NBA and Cleveland pundits predicted the Cavs to have one of the biggest turnarounds from last season, win over 40 games and make the playoffs. While the Cavs have yet to meet fan’s expectations, that last prediction could still come to fruition.
The Eastern Conference has been the weaker of the two NBA conferences for as long as I can remember, but this season sets a new precedent for awful. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are the only real contenders in the conference and there are currently only four teams with more wins than losses (The Toronto Raptors are 16-15). The 18-15 Atlanta Hawks also just lost their star, Al Horford, for the remainder of the season. The 13-18 Chicago Bulls, currently in seventh place in the East, are without Derrick Rose for the season. The 11-21 Brooklyn Nets are without Brook Lopez for the season. Basically, the Eastern Conference is a complete mess.
This bodes well for the struggling Cavaliers who are currently sitting only two games back from the eighth seed in the East at 11-21.
The Cavs are going to need some changes in order to really turn the rest of the season around though.
First, the Andrew Bynum experiment has officially ended in Cleveland and they are exploring trade options for him. I was cautiously optimistic about Bynum ever since he was signed and this is why. It still hasn’t been reported exactly why Bynum was suspended, but those who have followed his career knew this was a possibility. Still, with the structure of his contract and timing of the split, this could still be turned into a positive for the Cavs.
Chris Grant will look to trade Bynum before January 7th, which would save the team trading for him money by then waiving him. There have been rumors of Pau Gasol, Luol Deng, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce and Richard Jefferson as possible trade targets. My only hope is that Grant doesn’t make a panic trade and include a young asset or pick in order to ensure a playoff berth this season.
If the Cavs can’t find a trade they like for Bynum by January 7th, then they can either waive him and save $6.25 million or hold onto him and try to trade him by the deadline. Losing Bynum may seem like a loss, but the Cavs will actually be able to get out and run more often now and not have him occupying most of the lane. He was obviously limited on defense because of his knees and only shooting 42% from the field this season. Another positive is that it will allow our young bigs, Tyler Zeller and Anthony Bennett, to play more minutes and hopefully continue to develop.
Second, the Cavs desperately need a good small forward. There’s no doubt Grant is doing everything he can to bring in a small forward for Bynum. Alonzo Gee has basically fallen out of the rotation and my hope is that he can be bundled in a trade this season. CJ Miles has been in a shooting slump as of late, shooting 39% from the field over the last ten games. He has been known to be inconsistent and it’s tough to rely on him every game. Earl Clark is back in the starting lineup and has been shooting pretty well from three recently, but he doesn’t provide enough offensive production for the Cavs right now either.
Third, the Cavs need Kyrie Irving to return from his injury (bruised knee) soon and continue his recent all-star type play. Irving has been playing better as this season progresses and the Cavs need him to continue to be consistent and lead them every game.
Fourth, Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson need to continue to gel and grow together. When all three players play well, the Cavs win. Waiters seems to have accepted his new role off the bench and is averaging over 16 points per game over the last ten games. Thompson needs to play consistently better each game on both ends of the floor. He is averaging nearly 14 points and nine rebounds per game over his last ten games, but he needs to improve his shooting percentages. Another thing that will really help the Cavs is if he can obtain a reliable mid-range jumper. He has flashed it a few times this season, but it’s not consistent yet. Improving on that would fix a lot of offensive spacing issues for the Cavs, but it’s unlikely to see much of an improvement this season.
The Cavs have a lot of issues to work out if they want to truly salvage this season, but it is possible. A trade or two in the near future could very well help. Zeller and Bennett accruing additional minutes and providing more production would certainly be a plus. Jarrett Jack drastically improving his play wouldn’t hurt. The rest of the team playing remotely close to as hard as Matthew Dellavedova would be a welcomed change.
The good news is that the Cavs have some very winnable games coming up against the Sixers, Jazz, Kings, Lakers, Nuggets and Bucks. After a wretched losing streak, this is a very important stretch coming up for the Cavs. Hopefully Kyrie will resume playing soon and Mike Brown will get this team back on the right track on both ends of the floor. Let’s see if the Cavs can continue their winning ways in 2014.
Follow Wade Foley on Twitter @WFoley22