The Cavaliers have stuck to their plan of avoiding free agency and rebuilding the franchise through the draft. It has left them with a 40-108 mark over the past two seasons, the worst in the league, but millions in payroll flexibility and a future that gets a shade brighter with each passing day.
As the team kicks off the season today with media day, followed by the start of training camp Tuesday, there remains more questions than answers. Here are five burning questions entering the 2012-13 NBA season.
1. Can Kyrie Irving stay healthy?
Shortly after Irving, the reigning Rookie of the Year, fractured his hand in Las Vegas in July, executives from around the league began questioning his durability.
“Doesn’t look like he can stay healthy,” one general manager said during summer-league games. “I’d be concerned if I were them.”
The Cavs don’t seem too worried about Irving’s injury history, but it’s worth noting he has only played in 60 percent of his team’s games (62 out of 103) the past two seasons. He missed 15 games last season, mostly related to a concussion and a shoulder injury. Add that to his toe injury at Duke and the fractured wrist in July, and it’s quite an extensive medical chart for a 20-year-old kid.
Irving has already proven he is one of the best point guards in the league, and an All-Star appearance this season isn’t out of the question. Perhaps it should even be expected … if he can stay healthy.
2. Will Anderson Varejao finish the season healthy and in Cleveland?
Varejao’s name continued to surface in trade talks over the summer, but he will start the year with the Cavaliers. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll finish it here.
He remains the team’s most valuable trade chip, because he can average a double-double without having a play called for him and he’s on a very reasonable contract that runs for three more years.
But injuries have prevented him from even making it to the trade deadline in each of the past two years. He made it through Olympic play unscathed and has been back in Cleveland working out for a few weeks.
At one time, the Cavs were demanding an unprotected pick for Varejao. It’s unlikely, given his injury history the past two years, they can command that type of price now. Yet with young big men like Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller finding their way, Varejao’s services may soon be expendable.
3. What impact will the loss of veterans have in the locker room?
The front office deliberated about whether or not to replace veterans Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker with other steady-handed veterans nearing the ends of their careers, but ultimately chose against it.
The Cavs believe Daniel Gibson and Varejao, while not as vocal as Parker and Jamison, are still veteran leaders, and they didn’t want to risk the unknown. Parker and Jamison had both been here already, and there was a mutual comfort level on both sides. The team didn’t want to risk bringing in a new veteran and chance a disruption of the chemistry on this team.
One of the intangibles the front office and coaching staff really like is the fact this is a group of players relatively the same age that are learning and growing together. There aren’t distractions such as unhappy veterans or grumbling stars seeking a better contract. The front office ultimately decided not to tinker with that.
However, it’s still a risk. While players like Irving and Thompson clearly benefited from veterans like Parker and Jamison last year, Dion Waiters won’t have that same luxury now. Waiters has rough edges, and according to those who know him best, he needs a steady hand guiding him. The Cavs believe coach Byron Scott can be that figure.
4. Was Waiters the right choice?
Fans are still debating whether or not Waiters was the correct choice with the fourth pick in the draft, since the team bypassed guys like Harrison Barnes and Thomas Robinson, and his underwhelming performance in the summer league didn’t quiet any of the speculation.
Waiters has been working out in Cleveland for a while now and is in better shape than he was in July. The Cavs knew it could be a rough summer league for Waiters, who was shut down by his agent and didn’t do much in the weeks leading up to the draft.
The Cavs believe that Waiters can beat just about any defender in the league off the dribble and are anxious to see how Waiters and Irving look together.
It won’t be fair to grade the draft for at least a couple of years, but Waiters already has plenty of skeptics to convince.
5. Is this a playoff team?
The Cavs were in contention last season until Varejao was injured and Ramon Sessions was traded, thrusting them into a season-ending tailspin. They went 11-30 without Varejao and lost 20 of their final 25 games after dealing Sessions.
Now they must replace Jamison’s 17.2 points per game, which won’t be easy for a team that really struggled to score last season whenever Jamison or Irving wasn’t on the floor.
The Cavs believe that they need one more lottery and one more high pick before they’re ready to make serious noise in the East, but the shabby state of the conference could expedite that process.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.