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Cleveland Cavaliers 2013-2014 Season Preview

"Get Buckets" - Uncle Drew
In the year nineteen hundred and seventy, the skies parted and out tumbled the greatest basketball franchise ever known. Angels, later known as the Saviors of Cleveland, draped in colors of Wine and Gold riding brilliant chariots of hardwood against a backdrop of electric, no-look bounce passes and alley-oop dunks bestowed upon the world something truly unique and never seen before. In the years following, the City of Cleveland, which birthed these angelic figures of hoops elitism, has entertained one of the most awesome spectacles ever witnessed by humankind. And in 2013-2014, that spectacle reaches its ultimate pinnacle as the Cleveland Cavaliers take to the courts at Quicken Loans Arena once again.

Greetings, Youngbloods. Is the blood pumping, yet? Ready or not, it's that time of year again. It's time for Cavaliers basketball. But before we begin with any predictions or summations, there have been notable changes to the lineup up and down the court that need to be addressed. So, sit back, relax, grab your foam swords, and get ready for your Cleveland Cavaliers…

Almost as soon as the 2012-2013 campaign ended, the Cavs went to work building around the talented, core group of young players assembled through acquisitions and drafts the previous two seasons. Returning for the year are standouts Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, and Tristan Thompson. The Cavs are also set to bring back Tyler Zeller as a backup center and a healthy Anderson Varejao after yet another season sidelined by injury. Defensive anchor and energy swingman Alonzo Gee will also return.

Two notables who won't be returning to the Cavaliers bench this season are once fan-favorite backup point guard Daniel "Naga…naga…naga work here anymore" Gibson and three-year Wine and Gold head coach Byron Scott. After an abysmal 64-166 record during his tenure, Scott received the pink slip in April a mere three days after the season ended. Within a week, the Cavs made an announcement that still has some head scratching when they resigned former head coach Mike Brown. It was Brown who was passed over for Scott in an effort to appease (that guy) before the July free agent season. Though experienced and successful in his own right as a head coach (Scott led the then New Jersey Nets to two consecutive NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 respectively), the Cavaliers front office decided a .385 win percentage was a little underachieving. They chose Brown, whose last two seasons as Cavs brass nearly featured as many single-season wins per year as Scott collected during his entire tenure with the team.
Heeeeeee's baaaaaaaacck!
But Dan Gilbert and Co. didn't stop there. A stroke of luck landed the Cavaliers the No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. With the pick, the Wine and Gold selected freshman Anthony Bennett of UNLV. The 6-foot 8-inch, 250lbs. forward added immediate size depth and a big man who could move quick on his feet with an effective, and reliable, jump shot. Many likened the budding Bennett to a young Zach Randolph, with perhaps an even better shot. The downside to the pick was that Bennett was recovering from a left rotator cuff injury that required surgery. In eight preseason games, however, Bennett averaged 9.4ppg and 5.4rpg in a little over 20mpg coming off the bench. Reportedly the forward has been dealing with asthma issues throughout the preseason, but was healthy enough to emerge the third leading scorer on the team during the preseason campaign behind Thompson and Irving.

With three other picks in the Top 35, Cleveland selected Carrick Felix 33rd overall from Arizona State University, young Russian national Sergey Karasev at No. 19 and Allen Crabbe of University of California, Berkeley 31st, who was later traded to Portland. Both Karasev and Felix are young shooters that can fill either the shooting guard or small forward positions. Both will likely come off the bench in the early onset of the season, with the sharp-shooting Karasev used as a spot up man on the wing. Felix has the ability to drive and is quick in addition to having a modest jump shot. Both provide additional targets for the fast hands of Irving and Waiters to dish passes to and, as long as they stay healthy and motivated, provide sound energy and production off the pine.
Fans react at the draft night party at the Q to the selection of Bennett as the overall 1st pick.
Mixed emotions, much?
(John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer)
And, speaking of production, the Cavaliers produced one of the biggest, blockbuster free agent signing seasons in team history this past summer. Dedicated to building a contender around young core of Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Gee, and Zeller, Dan Gilbert flexed his wallet and showed its depth by signing free agents Jarrett Jack of the Golden State Warriors and Earl Clark from the Los Angeles Lakers.

And then there was Bynum…

Unless you've been living under a rock (or just casually follow the Cavs because, let's face it, it's only a game) the Cleveland Cavaliers picked up big man Andrew Bynum by way of free agency from the Philadelphia 76ers. Bynum, who played nigh a single second for the Sixers last season due to knee ailments lingering nearly a year and a half, shopped around during the initial free agency period and ultimately came to terms with Cleveland. Listed at 7-foot 285lbs., Andrew Bynum at one time represented the face of NBA big men. Already a two-time champion with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, Bynum made the all-star team in 2012 and boasted his best numbers of his career with 18.7ppg and averaging 7.8rpg. Bynum is a gamble, a major gamble, albeit with baller hair, but with no real down sides. The contract he signed has a club opt-out option after one year, which means Bynum either has to put up or ship out. He'll be reunited with his former coach, Mike Brown, who helped develop Bynum in what would prove to be final seasons for the two in L.A. I wouldn't hold my breath on Bynum just yet, though. He's already listed as inactive for the home opener, despite having the entire offseason and all of last season to rehabilitate.

Probably the most pivotal piece in the push for the playoffs this season for the Cavaliers is that of a healthy Anderson Varejao. Andy, last season, led the league in rebounding by nearly two boards per game before he went down with a ruptured quad in a game against Toronto last December. When the surgery to repair his quad resulted in a blood clot that spread to his lungs, well, it was season over for the 7-foot Brazilian. He's reportedly been taking things slow in preseason and playing fewer minutes than your average starter, but he looks like he's nearing game speed again and averaged 5.7ppg and just shy of eight rebounds (7.9) per game in 22.9mpg.
A healthy Varejao greatly changes the landscape of the Cavaliers.
The question is: can he remain healthy? (
Where the Cavaliers will live and die this season is at the small forward position. Without a true small forward, a number of Cavs bench players will be called upon to fill the role. Alonzo Gee will more than likely get the nod as starting power forward, but Gee's play historically resembles that of a run-and-gun point guard or shooting guard. At the moment, Anthony Bennett will probably play both small forward and power forward coming off the bench. Tristan Thompson will start in the 4-hole, Andy, as expected, will play starting center, and the second-highest scoring backcourt duo in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters will return at the helms. C.J. Miles will once again provide scoring relief for Waiters and Irving. Acquisitions Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark will offer defensive presence and energy with effective scoring and passing abilities off the bench and primarily sub out Gee, Kyrie, and Dion.

The Cavaliers take on Eastern Conference nemesis Brooklyn in the season opener at home at the Q October 30. Brooklyn, who made the most of their off-season in signing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics, claimed the 4th seed in the playoffs last year and look to make a push in the Eastern Conference rankings even further.

The general buzz around the Cavaliers this season is about as positive as it's been since all of our talents left for South Beach in 2010. Analysts and critics have looked favorably upon the Wine and Gold and have forecasted a potential birth as high reaching as a 6th seed but more commonly a 7th or 8th seed. Most of that depends on whether Bynum can get his shit together and actually play a few minutes of the game he's paid to play. What will be exciting to watch is the expected development and growth of both Waiters and Irving into nightly 20-point threats. We should also see Irving's passing skills improve both over the course of the season and in comparison to last season's play. The additions of Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack should be fun to watch, as well. And especially if they're anywhere near as exciting as they were to watch in L.A. and Golden State last year during the regular season and postseason.

But, enough about other teams; this year it's about one team, one goal. There's no doubt about it. The Cavaliers are young and on a mission to cast off critics and wow. With Irving, Varejao, Waiters, Thompson, and Gee, I highly doubt that will be an issue. Factor in everything else the Wine and Gold did to bolster their rosters in the offseason and a very exciting picture comes into view. Will I sit here and boldly proclaim, "This is the year!"? No, I won't do that. I'll let the play speak for itself. I'm a god damned pragmatist, that is, at least fifty-percent of the time. I do dream of a Wine and Gold banner that reads "NBA Champions", as we all probably do, but I know that day will come in time. In the meantime, there's Cavaliers basketball to enjoy.