After ending 2013 on a rather salty note (see: Andrew Bynum), the Cleveland Cavaliers successfully unloaded Andrew Bynum, plus three draft picks, and acquired Luol Deng. Deng is presumably the offensive-minded swingman the Cavaliers had been waiting to get their hands on. The Cavaliers are 6-7 since the New Year, and are 5-5 since acquiring Deng from the Chicago Bulls.
With the addition of Deng, there was an immediate change in the young Cavs: their pace. The first game with Deng on the roster, a win over the Utah Jazz, the Cavaliers managed to put up 113 points, 17 more than their current average of 96 (23rd overall in the league). At the time, the NBA’s worst-shooting team shot 54% against the Jazz, including an unprecedented 67% in the second half. Though Deng wasn’t particularly impressive (10 points and four turnovers in 21 minutes), his presence on the court brought a dynamic complimenting to Cleveland’s young core.
But, in typical Cleveland fashion, the Cavs lost by the largest margin of any team in the league this year against the Sacramento Kings in the very next game. Kyrie Irving could only muster seven points on 3-14 shooting and the touted Cavaliers’ defense was exposed as the Kings shot 52% from the field and out rebounded the Cavaliers by 18. That has been the summation of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014: inconsistent.
A great hold-on win in LA against the Lakers (where Cleveland’s paint presence was the winning factor, not the fast break) was followed by a 12-point loss to the Trail Blazers, who look like real contenders behind standout point guard Damian Lillard and the do-it-all big man, LaMarcus Aldridge (Aldridge had 32 and 18 in that game).
The Cavs managed to bounce back with a great win against a very solid Denver Nuggets side on the road; they out rebounded Denver, the fifth-best rebounding team in the league, by eight. Back home against the Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland rallied back from a 24-point deficit, cutting it to three with less than three seconds left, but lost the ball on an 5-second call with a chance to tie. Following that disappointing loss was another one to the injury-plagued Chicago Bulls, who improved to 7-2 without Luol Deng.
Even without Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls still managed to out rebound and completely outshoot the Cavaliers, who only hit 37% of their shot attempts. An easy win against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks came in the next matchup, in which the Cavs showed a lot of positive play, especially defensively, but that was followed by a collapsing loss to the surprise team of the year, the Phoenix Suns, last night in which the Cavaliers blew an 18-point halftime lead.
With all this up-and-down play, its really a wonder if the Cleveland Cavaliers will even make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference, something Cleveland must achieve this season if they want to get back on track as a consistent playoff franchise.
Why is this season a must for Cleveland to make the playoffs?
I refuse to talk LeBron, but no matter what the case, the Cavaliers need to give Irving another prolific scorer to play alongside with. Its uncertain how much longer the Cavaliers will wait for Dion Waiters to develop and mature as the number-two option and an efficient running-mate for Irving, and it is not looking like Luol Deng will be able to be paid enough to return next year, but either way Cleveland needs to make the playoffs to attract some talent to help Kyrie out.
What the Cavaliers really need is a playoff-experienced veteran that can facilitate some kind of winning tradition in Cleveland; Jarrett Jack, the only over-30 Cavalier, is clearly not that answer.
And to get this type of player, the Cleveland Cavaliers must be a promising franchise with a bright future.
Can this move be made before the trade deadline?
Considering the dire need for a playoff run this year, a trade for a veteran would be beneficial if the Cavaliers don’t start to perform more consistently. My only problem with making a move now, is the potential loss of a deeper pool of free agents to bring in during the offseason.
So what does need to change for this young team to play more consistently?
The talent is there, no doubt. Cohesiveness is the problem. Is Mike Brown at fault? Maybe.
Is Kyrie Irving not doing enough as the leader of this team? Or is it lack of support? I don’t know.
What I do know is the Cavaliers play best when they push they pace, share the ball, and crash the boards. As long as they stay focused, they’re a really good defense team with their athleticism and youth.
Maintaining is the key, and that comes from leadership and a conscious effort to play together.