SALT LAKE CITY: The Cavaliers began the second half of their season Saturday at 10-31, 11 games out of the final playoff spot in the East and barely fending off the Washington Wizards for the league’s worst record.
Two years ago, before Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller arrived, the Cavaliers were 8-33 at the midway point and in the midst of a historic 26-game losing streak.
Despite the infusion of high draft picks and youth over the last two years, the Cavs’ record really isn’t any better than it was during the darkest days of the post-LeBron James era.
Is that disappointing? Absolutely.
Does it mean this rebuild is a failure? Not necessarily.
The roster during the 2010-11 season was at times a turnstile. Thirteen of the 19 players who suited up entered the league either as second-round picks or undrafted free agents. The roster was a mess and so was the play on the court.
The Cavs have added three top four picks the last two drafts and are headed toward another top five pick this season. Their timing, however, is lousy. Neither of the last two drafts have been very good and most scouts believe this summer’s draft will be equally poor, although the Cavs actually think this draft could be decent.
They clearly pulled the best player out of the 2011 draft in Irving. While it’s too soon to judge, they believe only two players from last summer’s draft have the potential to be elite players: Anthony Davis and Waiters.
Whether or not they’re correct in that assessment won’t be known for another couple of years, but in their minds, they have selected two of the three players from the last two drafts who they feel can turn into true stars in this league.
For all the criticism over the selection of Tristan Thompson, look at the players who went after him and decide who is better: Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette.
Klay Thompson (11th overall) and Kenneth Faried (22nd overall) have both played well, but Tristan Thompson’s 24 double-doubles are more than anyone else 21 years old and younger.
Given his growth over the last month, combined with the struggles of Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter (selected second and third after Irving), Thompson could make a strong case for going second overall in a redraft of the 2011 class.
Waiters has been inconsistent, but has demonstrated flashes of brilliance. Damian Lillard, taken sixth overall, has outplayed him, but the Cavs couldn’t take another point guard after selecting Irving. The only other player who could make a strong case for going fourth overall is Andre Drummond, who went ninth to the Detroit Pistons.
Given all of his motor issues coming out of college, the Cavs were concerned Drummond could bust out of the league and weren’t comfortable selecting him so high.
If the Cavs took the best players available at the time they were drafting, it’s hard to be too critical of their plan. They left themselves open to criticism, however, when they refused to bring in a veteran free agent to replace the departures of Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison.
That lack of veteran leadership is more of an issue than whom the Cavs have taken each of the last two years.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised,” Byron Scott said of his team’s record at the halfway point. “I think it’s more disappointing. But it also shows how much experience does play a part in winning in this league. You take off Antawn and you take off AP, that’s big-time experience for this team last year that really helped us in so many different areas. And you add young players who are more talented, but they don’t have that experience.”
The Cavaliers knew when they assembled this roster that this was one of the risks. Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson and Luke Walton remain the veteran leaders, but none is as vocal as Jamison and none is that fatherly mentor that Parker was last season. But the Cavs didn’t want to sign a veteran just to sign one. They were committed to playing the youngsters and were concerned how a veteran new to the organization and nearing the end of his career would fit, knowing minutes weren’t going to be plentiful.
Scott isn’t regretting that decision now, only acknowledging that the voids left by Jamison and Parker haven’t been appropriately filled.
“I still think we’re doing it the right way,” he said. “We’re going to bite the bullet here a little and take our lumps, but I still think we’re doing it the right way.”
The Cavs have been tied or leading entering the fourth quarter in 18 games this season, but they’ve won only half of them, according to Elias Sports. If they won just five more of those, they would be 10th in the East and competing for the final playoff spot.
Instead, they’re still among the worst in the league.
“I’m looking at the guys we have on this team and we’re a lot more talented than that year,” Gibson said, referring to the team two years ago. “I think we’re a lot better than our record shows at this point.”
He might be right, but like Bill Parcells always said, you are what your record says you are.
That makes the Cavs not very good — but not very far from respectability, either.
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.