Post-Draft Cavalier Thoughts
July 03, 2012 By Mark Leonard
Basketball is easily the least-watched of the three major American sports by this corner---as the caliber of the observations might confirm---but the Cleveland Cavaliers nonetheless do concern from time to time, if only as yet another personnel puzzle to deliberate.
The drafting of Syracuse guard Dion Waiters reminds me of a long-ago Cav Lloyd World B. Free, a Guilford College product who was known to generate offense, even if shooting was not a particular strength. Free could shoot some, of course, as can Waiters, but scoring is what the players do best.
Both are most comfortable with the ball in their hands, both display fearless confidence and a physical build that enables them to simply overpower some matchups. Both get to the line a lot. Both can generate a scoring run that sparks or carries a squad for minutes at a time. Both ascended from troubled upbringings in challenging neighborhoods.
Whereas Free was brought in to save a floudering franchise that very well might not have survived were it not for his contributions, Waiters has been infused to elevate a rising young team by taking it to another level through the manner in which he can complement returning in-house pieces.
The suspicion is Cleveland fans will take to Waiters the way they took to Free in his day. Ambivalence may characterize their initial reaction, but devotion may soon ensue.
Though there is no intent to seem petty or insulting, pictures of fellow draftee Tyler Zeller cause this one to remark: "If ever there were a guy who looked like he deserved to be named Zeke, it has to be Zeller."
Tyler has done some growing since purchasing the suit jackets he wore on draft night and during his introductory press conference yesterday. Conversely, it looked very much as if the Cavalier organization arranged for Waiters to be expertly-fitted between the two events.
In fact, the duo provided sufficient contrast to become some enterprising entrepreneur's before and after/right look-wrong look display. "Here is a guy in an ill-fitting suit; here is a guy with an expertly-tailored fit. In which would you prefer to be seen by a national audience?"
What will really matter is whether both can play up to their draft status.
The Cavaliers have made it sufficiently clear they do not plan to be active in free agency unless and until they become one or two key players away from legitimate contention. In the meantime, after all, the rebuilding program would benefit more from continued losing campaigns that place them back into the sport's lottery system.
However, a casual examination of the team's depth chart reveals a 6-6 veteran shooting guard who could also slide down to the 3 for meaningful minutes would be a quality addition, especially if he specialized in defense and long-range shooting.
Preliminary projections indicate the team has Alonzo Gee, Kelenna Azubuike and Omri Casspi at small forward; Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuals and Luke Harangody at power forward; Anderson Varejao, Zeller and some as-yet-unannounced candidate at center; Kyrie Irving, Boobie Gibson and David Sloan at point guard and only Waiters and Manny Harris at shooting guard.
Particularly since Waiters was not a starter collegiately and that the organization would prefer to require the young man to earn his minutes---as should always be the case with any newcomer rookie---it seems logical, reasonable and realistic that the front office would like a proven two-guard as its nominal starter, particularly one able to complement the skill sets of those surrounding him in the rotation. Such a player would exhibit the qualities already referenced: the capacity to score from the perimeter while also matching-up dependably defensively.
Someone able to do as the now-retired Anthony Parker was imported to do---only more impactfully. Such an asset would considerably enhance what the Cavs, under Head Coach Byron Scott, will be putting out there on a nightly basis.
That game last year when Harandody was thrust into Antawn Jamison's scoring-forward role resulting in a stunning win over Washington had to be one of the more entertaining for those of us raised on the Joe Lunchbox model. The lowly, oft-overlooked unspectacular bench-warmer gets his chance and proves he can contribute in what is fundamentally a team sport.
It may even have won him the qualifying offer tendered Friday by the club, one that was not certain heading into the decision. At any rate, it's a victory for a hard-working grinder and that is the type of thing many of us can celebrate, relate to and reward whenever perceived.
It is with such thoughts in mind one is moved to remember an aged Paul Silas being immensely helpful to those old Celtic clubs, though he, too, played most of his minutes well below the rim. Now, that role falls to a kid out of Columbus named Jared Sullinger. Look for that competitor to do more damage than his athletic profile might suggest for a franchise that has always retained team-first as its personality.
Whatever the case, here's wishing the best for all those drafted Thursday evening. There can be few more stressful experiences for an athlete to endure than his inability to perform up to expectations. The challenge has ruined many a life and many a player. They cannot all succeed, but they don't necessarily have to bust either.