Kyrie Irving. We picked him, we got excited, then we hoped. We hoped that he could be a piece to build around. We hoped he could be something special. The season is young but the 19-year old point guard is answering these questions with every game that goes by. He's played so well that people around Cleveland, myself included, and even national folks have started to compare his early returns to that of our last number one overall pick. The answer to that debate won't be settled for years to come and it doesn't really matter right now. What matters is that we've seemingly found a new cornerstone. Kyrie Irving appears to be that piece that we can build around. What matters just as much as Kyrie and Tristan Thompson developing over the next few years is what the Cavalier's organization can do to build around them. It seems the basketball gods have given us a second chance. The next few years are incredibly important and could shape the next 5 or 6 years after that.
A week or so ago Dan Gilbert discussed the future of the franchise. He made an interesting point when asked about his thoughts on retaining Kyrie for the long term. He noted that he wasn't around for the first three years of Lebron's career, thus a disadvantage. Looking back at it, Dan Gilbert was dead on. It's important to see the errors from the previous era in those first few offseasons and learn from them moving forward. Frankly, whether you believe we need to lose for the draft or win for the culture, it feels like whatever we do Grant couldn't possibly do worse than Paxson.
A few pointers for the new era:
CLEAN THE INCUBATOR: Let's think back to 2003. The team had been horrible for years. Apathy had set in. The Gund felt and looked on TV to be a dungeon. We had brought in a coach that was a retread and spent most of his playing career doing the little things that go unnoticed and rarely saw the limelight of an NBA superstar. Hardly the ideal role model for a player coming in with more fanfare than any player in the history of the NBA. You can couple that with a few knuckleheads in the locker room like Ricky Davis, Jeff McInnis, and Darius Miles and you can say the roster was also less than ideal for a young star to come into. For comparison, when Ricky Davis was jettisoned from the Cavs that season he spent a few days bashing the team and the city. When Baron Davis was amnestied recently he took a night on twitter to profess his praise for the organization and his time here. Big difference. The culture is different now then it was in 2003. Even, with the sucker punch of the summer of 2010 the franchise has tasted success. There are positive role models like Andy, Boobie Gibson, and Antawn Jamison. Team chemistry is outstanding and we have a head coach who has a resume predicated on turning around downtrodden franchises and making stars out of young PG's.
VALUE YOUR YOUNG TALENT: How mad would you be right now if there was an expansion draft coming up and we left Alonzo Gee unprotected as opposed to Anthony Parker? Or Semih Erden as opposed to Ryan Hollins? How about next offseason hypothetically Tristan Thompson is averaging 15 and 11 and we let him out of his contract to hit the free market? I was livid then and I would be now as well. For some unknown reason we drafted Jason Kapono a young shooter to help space the floor then just let him get swooped up by Charlotte in the expansion draft. Then the more publicized gaffe in which Gund and Paxson allowed Boozer to get away. Sure Boozer had his blame in the scenario but as a professional GM you simply can NOT have something like that occur. I could say with complete certainty something like that would not have happened on Dan Gilbert's watch. In an era that we look back and define it as one that we were never able to find "Robin", we let a 22 year old big who averaged a double double out of a deal because he was underpaid. Ugh. We have to value our future pieces much more than that.
GOOD GOD UTILIZE THE DRAFT: Again this is focusing on the first few offseasons of the Lebron Era. An era where we made a grand total of three draft picks in four years between 2004-2007. We all have pretty much bought into the thought process of building this new team through the draft. Whether we have a top-5 pick or late lottery it will almost assuredly be a better result than 2004 and 2005. In these key years we should've been building a young nucleus around the young star. Instead we drafted Luke Jackson in 2004 and followed that up with zero picks in 2005. We had shipped off 2004's second rounder in a deal involving Lamond Murray in 2002. We lost 2005's 1st rounder to Phoenix in a 3-way deal in 1997 and our Second rounder in the Drew Gooden/Tony Battie deal. You can argue the only 2 solid young pieces we acquired in these first few offseasons were 2nd round picks in Anderson Varejao and Boobie Gibson. They wound up being core rotation players on some damn good teams and only serve to emphasize how important it is to at least have some at-bats in the draft. Instead we further compounded the issue by trading away our TWO 1st rounders in 2007 for Sasha Pavlovic from Charlotte and Jiri Welsh. To make it even worse the Celtics later flipped that 1st round pick in a deal to acquire a PG named Rajon Rondo. Now lets look at the present situation. We owe zero picks going forward. We have recently added not one but two young promising players. We have a potential 14 draft picks in the next four years. Who knows how many we'll actually use but we can fairly assume it'll be more than three.
FREE AGENCY AND CAP FLEXIBILITY: During the last few years of Lebron's time here we were left scrambling to put together a championship team. We never had an infusion of young talent and our best trade assets were usually the last years of horrible deals made years ago. We only had one year in all that time when we were truly buyers in the FA market and the results hurt us for years. We have to do better in FA and the draft so Grant isn't reduced to making team-changing trades at the deadline to improve the team. Here's a list of FA's the Cavs signed in these critical offseasons: Kevin Ollie, Ira Newble, Robert Traylor, Scott Williams, Lucious Harris, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Alan Henderson, and we probably overpaid on Z's 5 yr $55 Million extension in 2005 after finally getting out from under his previous 6 yr $71 mill deal from '98. The Cavs simply have to do better than these results. We know we can't live through FA. But like it or not the NBA is going to mandate us to spend anywhere from $20-30 million in FA next year to get to the salary floor. We have unbelievable cap flexibility right now which we didn't have until Lebron's 3rd year. We lucked out with the amnesty clause and having our largest contract set to expire. This offseason we have to spend and we have to spend wisely.
The recap of the comedy of errors of the Paxson era aren't meant to depress but merely to shed some optimism on the future. The Kyrie Irving era is equipped with more competent people in the front office who couldn't possibly make ALL of these same mistake. Not to say that Grant will hit on every signing or on every draft pick, but he's certainly off to a good start with a ton of cap room, a stock pile of draft picks, Kyrie and Tristan in the fold, and a coach who commands respect from his team and shows the ability to develop young players. I can't wait to see what transpires in the next few years to push the franchise back to contender status.