ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

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Last season: Kyrie Irving became the youngest All-Star since LeBron James, but the Cavaliers were decidedly awful throughout the year, finishing 24-58. Only the Bobcats were worse both offensively and defensively, Injuries took a major toll (more on that below), but the season never looked promising at any point, regardless.

On the bright side, Dion Waiters made the All-Rookie first team and Tyler Zeller the second team. It was the second-straight season Cleveland received such honors with Irving (first team) and Tristan Thompson (second team) doing it the year before. Plus, per recent custom, the Cavaliers made a big splash during the playoffs by winning the lottery.

Signature highlight from last season: Maybe, someday, Irving’s best game-winners won’t come against the Bobcats and Raptors. But this one would have been awesome against any team.

Key player changes: With the No. 1 pick and gobs of cap space, the Cavaliers were primed for a huge offseason, and they certainly took advantage of their position. Cleveland drafted Anthony Bennett (No. 1) and Sergey Karasev (No. 19) and signed Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark.

Rotation-types Omri Casspi, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston and Wayne Ellington left in free agency. The incoming players are better than that group, but it’s worth pointing out the Cavaliers lost at least a little talent.

The Cavaliers also hired Mike Brown, whom they fired just three years ago. This is the NBA’s coaching circle at its best.

Keys to the Cavaliers’ season:

1) Who stays healthy? Kyrie Irving missed 23 games last season, Andrew Bynum 82, Anderson Varejao 57, Dion Waiters 21 and Earl Clark 23. Even Anthony Bennett missed pre-draft workouts with a shoulder injury. If they stay completely healthy – an unreasonable standard for any team, but we’re talking in hypotheticals – the Cavaliers should easily make the playoffs. Whether they reach the postseason in reality could very well come down to just how severe of injuries their injury-plagued players suffer this season.

2) Can Mike Brown make them good defensively? The Cavaliers went from No. 7 to No. 29 in defensive rating after firing Brown. Obviously, losing LeBron James had something to do with the drop, but Cleveland is hopeful Brown can instill sound defensive principles in ways Byron Scott never could.

To review how the Cavaliers fared before, during and after Brown defensively (the Brown years in wine and other years in gold):

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It should probably give Cavaliers pause that their defense regressed in Brown’s first season compared to the year prior.

3) Just how good are Cleveland’s young players? Kyrie Irving is somewhere between a superstar and very good starter. Dion Waiters is somewhere between an above-average starter at his position and a gunner whose team would be better if he accepted a reduced role. Tristan Thompson is somewhere between the hustle starter every team needs and a player who’s overmatched unless a backup. Andrew Bynum is somewhere between the NBA’s best center and a complete zero in terms of impact. Anthony Bennett is somewhere between Larry Johnson and Michael Olowokandi.

All those players are young enough to have a wide range of future outlooks, and where they fall on the spectrum will determine not only Cleveland’s season, but its future.

Why you should watch the Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving alone is worth the price of admission, an offensive star at the position where a player can have the greatest offensive impact. If defense and rebounding is more your style, Anderson Varejao is a madman (in a good way). I’m curious to see why Anthony Bennett shot up Cleveland’s draft board, too.

Most of all, Andrew Bynum’s hair.

Prediction: 41-41. Simply because of injuries, Cleveland has one of the higher variances in preseason projections. I think most prognosticators have a firm grasp of what this team could be, but it’s nearly impossible to predict injuries. The Cavaliers seem to be competing with the Wizards, Pistons, Hawks and Raptors for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots. Cleveland certainly has the talent to make it, but how much time that talent spends on the court is a different question entirely.

Adam Silver: ‘Sounds like’ NBA All-Star draft will be televised next year

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the point of the All-Star draft wasn’t to create a new TV event, but a better All-Star game. He even pointed out Stephen Curry favored not televising the draft this year.

But All-Star after All-Star – from captain LeBron James to last pick LaMarcus Aldridge – expressed a comfort with the selections being known. Good thing, because most of the draft order leaked, anyway.

So, will the draft be televised next year?

Silver, in an interview with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

I was misinterpreted the other day, because people thought I was diming Steph by saying he didn’t want to televise it. I have no idea whether he wanted to televise it. What he said after the decision came not to televise it, he said let’s give it a chance to see if it works, and then if it works, then we’ll televise it. So, I said I agree with him. But I don’t know whether he was for or against it.

By the way, I’ll take as much responsibility. When we sat with the union and we came up with this format, we all agreed, let’s not turn something that’s 100 percent positive into a potential negative to any player. But then maybe we were overly conservative, because then we came out of there, and the players were, “We can take it. We’re All-Stars. Let’s have a draft.” So it sounds like we’re going to have a televised draft next year. But I’ve got to sit with LeBron and all the guys in the union and figure it out.

Overly cautious is right. This year was a missed opportunity. But the more important thing is getting next year right.

It sounds as if the NBA will.

Twitter reaction All-Star pre-game, Fergie’s national anthem vicious, priceless

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LOS ANGLES — In an intensely polarized nation, few things unite Americans anymore. Sunday night the NBA and its All-Star Game broadcast gave us one of those unifying forces — a pre-game run-up so bad it was universally panned.

The NBA is lucky the new format seemed to work and we had a dramatic, actual basketball game to talk about, helping us move on a pre-game show that, to put it kindly, simply did not work.

It started with a roughly 20-minute singing and dancing skit that was supposed to be about comedian Kevin Hart’s journey to being an NBA player (I think that’s what it was, anyway, it made as much sense as the movie “Wild, Wild West”). It felt forced, was not funny, and just dragged on and on. Even a Kardashian thought this was terrible television.

And that wasn’t even the worst part of the pregame, nor the part that sparked the most outrage online.

Fergie’s sexy, slow, bluesy rendition of the national anthem became the lightning rod.

Charles Barkley joked on TNT that he “needed a cigarette” after the Black Eye’d Peas’ singer’s performance. Shaquille O’Neal jumped in quickly to defend her (“Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it.”) as the broadcast quickly pivoted away from that topic.

Twitter was not so kind, and Draymond Green‘s face caught by camera’s during the anthem became a quick meme.

Twitter had a field day with Fergie’s rendition.

Now, let us never discuss this All-Star opening ever again. Please.

Three things to know from All-Star Weekend: New format worked, for now

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LOS ANGELES — Our regular feature “Three Things to Know” usually wraps up and breaks down the news of the day in the NBA, but in this case we are stepping back to take in all of All-Star Weekend. Three Things will then be off this week until Friday (there are no games until Thursday night as the league takes a little break).

1) The new “captains pick teams” format may have worked as intended. But will it last? This much we can agree on: This was the best played, most dramatic All-Star Game we have seen in a while. There was some actual defense played, guys tried and played with a little pride, they played hard, we had a close and intense ending, and (unlike last season) the night featured something that resembled basketball. There was even a game-tying and game-winning shot.

The new format — where captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry (the highest vote-getters from fans) picked the teams playground-style — got the credit for the change.

“The great thing about our commissioner, he’s absolutely okay with trying something new, to change the format, and it definitely worked out for everybody,” said LeBron, who scored 29 points including the go-ahead bucket late, and was named MVP. “It worked out not only for the players, not only for the league but for our fans, for everybody. It was a great weekend, and we capped it off the right way.”

Was it really the format that led to the change? Tune in next year, and frankly the next few years, to find out.

First off, the players were genuinely embarrassed by the lack of defense and level of play in last year’s game, they talked about it afterwards in New Orleans and it was players’ union president Chris Paul who first pushed for the format change as a way to inject some energy into the game. To a man, the players and coaches talked about “changing the narrative” around the game.

The reality is the game was close, and often in the past when the All-Star Game was close late we got real energy and something resembling defense the final six minutes or so of the game. This year’s game was close, so the genuine energy late was not wildly out of character.

If the league had stuck with East vs. West (but upped the payout to winners and kept the new charity component) would the players have come out and played with this same energy and defense from the start to change the narrative anyway? My sense is probably, again they didn’t want to embarrass themselves again. We’ll never know for sure, but the format got credit for bringing a new energy to the game that may have been coming anyway.

The NBA is going to keep this format — although expect the player draft to be televised next time around — so we will see in Charlotte next February and in Chicago in 2020 if the change was about the format or just a conscious effort by the players to make the product better.

Either way, let’s hope it continues.

2) Donovan Mitchell, welcome to the spotlight. Utah’s rookie Donovan Mitchell is averaging 19.6 points and 4.5 assists a game (and much more than that the past couple of months), has become the Jazz’s go-to scorer and shot creator late in games, and for my money is the current frontrunner for Rookie of the Year (with Ben Simmons a close second). Yet for casual fans Mitchell was flying under the radar — people don’t really tune in to see the Jazz play (they don’t get on national television much) and in a deep rookie class with big names the No. 13 pick out of Louisville was not one of the pre-draft hype guys.

People know who he is now — he took over the spotlight in Los Angeles for a while. He was featured Friday’s Rising Stars challenge, then on Saturday went out and won the Dunk Contest.

“I’ve always been a player who’s not really been talked about a lot,” Mitchell told NBC Sports heading into the weekend. “Never really hyped coming out of high school — I was ranked top 50, but I wasn’t a name that was all over Ball is Life and all those platforms. Then coming into college I wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, I wasn’t one of those guys averaging 30.

“Playing under (Rick) Pitino (in college), it’s grit and grind basketball, and that’s how I was perceived. That just adds to the chip I have on my shoulder.”

Mitchell had plenty of style and flash in Los Angeles. First, he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Then he sealed his Dunk Contest win with a tribute to Vince Carter and one of his legendary dunks.

No player did more for his national profile over the three-days in Los Angeles than Donovan Mitchell.

3) Dunk of the weekend? Give that one to Larry Nance Jr. The newly-minted Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance Jr. (he was traded from the Lakers at the deadline just more than a week before) may have come in second in the Dunk Contest to Mitchell, but he had the best dunk of the weekend. No doubt.

It was the double self-alley-oop off the backboard.

That was the dunk we’ll be talking about out of the weekend.

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.