Monday, January 10, 2011

Construction delay

Perhaps the worst thing about watching the Cavaliers flounder so fantastically this season is the reality that the team isn’t even technically in rebuilding mode yet. By definition, the word suggests having at least a foundation in place around which you can erect a solid structure.

Fact is, at 8-29 and with a roster full of players unlikely to be in wine-and-gold when and if contention rolls around again, the 2010-2011 Cavaliers are still a house on fire – we have to wait until the flames consume everything before we can start sifting through the ashes.

I guess you could blame That Guy in Miami (TGiM) for striking the match that led to this season’s conflagration. That Guy flying south not only deprived Cleveland of his much-ballyhooed talents, but the long-winded machinations of “The Decision” also handcuffed the franchise from making other moves to improve.

However, if That Guy started the fire, owner Dan Gilbert fed it with his own misguided decision to keep the team intact even after the devastating news of July 8. A hyperbolic comic sans letter combined with the ego of a successful young entrepreneur meant Gilbert would not be content simply trading off money-heavy contracts for draft picks and some lottery luck.

In hindsight, you have to wonder if ownership had a Plan B that included life without That Guy. Frankly, I’m not sure what the front office was trying to accomplish by not immediately remaking the team. Even the dullest basketball mind must realize that guys like Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and Andy Varejao are best suited as bench players on a contending club. While I understand the difficulty of trading the cash-bloated contracts of Jamison and Williams, there didn’t seem to be much effort to move that cheese to some other franchise’s cupboards.

Most observers, including yours truly, expected Mills/Hill/Phills-era mediocrity from this season’s Cavaliers. What we have instead is a number ill-fitting parts that look completely lost without the Vitamin B shot of That Guy’s transcendent basketball skills. Lowlights from our dramatic fall from grace include a turnover-prone offense and a defense that’s practically nonexistent, particularly on the three-point shot.

Complicating matters, or improving them if you’re a fan of ping pong balls, is the rash of injuries that have struck the Cavs. Varejao is now gone for the year with a torn tendon in his right ankle, while Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker and Joey Graham are all out with various ailments. The Cavs are not exactly the ’72 Lakers at full strength; with all of the ouchies they’ve been running out raw rookies like Manny Harris (probably the most intriguing of the bunch) and former first-round draft pick Christian Eyenga.

Giving major PT to developmental league guys may not drop Cleveland to the rock bottom wretchedness of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, a squad that owns a worst-ever NBA record of 9-73, but this year’s group has a puncher’s chance of matching or “surpassing” the 15 -67 mark set by the 1970-71 expansion Cavaliers.

What’s more, finishing with the worst record this year would not only get the Cavs more of those white bouncy plastic spheres, it would also give them the dubious standing as the only team in NBA history to drop from the league’s best record to its worst in one season.

I’m hoping bizarro world bragging rights can be avoided, although I have no problem with the Cavaliers going with a youth movement if it keeps them from even flirting with some pointless playoff chase. Hopefully, the scales of quasi-contention have been removed from Gilbert’s eyes, and the real rebuilding process can start as soon as possible.