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NBA Analysis: Cavs, Dan Gilbert Have a Plan

I have to admit, I wasn’t always so sure we would get to this point.

Dan Gilbert’s embarrassing letter to the Cavs fan base after the Decision, in which he declared that the Cavs would win a title before Miami, made it seem like he just didn’t get it. It seemed like Gilbert wasn’t willing to face the reality that had been placed in front of him – that the Cavs badly needed to tear it down and rebuild from the ground up.

Then the offseason came and went with the Cavs making zero moves of any significance and entered the season with largely the same team from last year, albeit with one glaring omission. The Cavs appeared destined for NBA purgatory, stuck in the middle, fighting for the 8th seed in the playoffs year after year.

But in the midst of one of the most trying seasons in Cavalier history, something must have clicked within the Cavs front office. Rumors of the team using their Trade Exception for a player such as Andre Iguodala or Gerald Wallace suddenly shifted to rumors of the Cavs unloading salary and acquiring draft picks. The team still sat quietly during January and early February but everything changed last Thursday at the trade deadline. The Cavaliers finally started the process of rebuilding and at last have a clear path towards becoming a championship contender again.

Thursday’s first trade that sent Mo Williams to the Clippers for Baron Davis and a first round pick will go down as the moment the Cavs finally started to turn the page from the LeBron era into a new age of Cavalier basketball. It may not seem that way, but no player on the team was more affected personally by LeBron leaving than Mo – the evidence of this is all over his Twitter account. It left him scarred, and his play not only brought himself down, it brought the team down. As long as he was around, the shadow of LeBron was around. It is no coincidence that the Cavs recent improved play has been with Mo on the bench and the surging Ramon Sessions handling the PG responsibilities. Now that he is gone, the team can really start fresh. Of course, Baron Davis is not exactly known for making other players better,and the potential for another clash between him and Byron Scott is scary, but he brought with him to Cleveland a first round pick.

Not just a first round pick , but a pick that is almost guaranteed to be a top-10 pick. What better way to rebuild than with two top-10 picks?

Naysayers will point to this being a weak draft, and while that is the case, it doesn’t make that top-10 pick any less valuable. Yes, it will be harder for the Cavs to capitalize on these picks than in other years, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The 2006 draft was no better on paper than this one, and through some draft day trades the Portland Trailblazers had acquired the 2nd and 6th pick in the draft. With those, they drafted LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, who besides Rudy Gay are by far the best players to come from that lottery. So there may not be a Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin in this draft, but there are definitely solid players to be had. And if they don’t get that future superstar this year, they will almost assuredly be back in the top 5 next year and have another chance at picking an All-Star. I don’t care how weak the draft class is perceived to be, whenever you can add a 2nd lottery pick, you do it.

Now that they have begun to acquire assets, the teams vision for the future more clear than ever. Clearing cap space for next season isn’t important, which made taking on B-Diddy’s massive contract that much easier. Instead, the team is focused on, to put it bluntly, tanking the next two seasons in order to acquire as many high draft picks as possible, using the TPE to get even more assets, and then having cap space for the summer of 2012. The only players signed past then are Anderson Varejao (a keeper) and Christian Eyenga (TBD). JJ Hickson will be a restricted free agent, Daniel Gibson’s contract won’t be totally guaranteed, and Ramon Sessions and Baron Davis will have player options, the latter of which will probably be exercised if he hasn’t been traded yet. JJ and Sessions should be considered keepers, but they aren’t integral to the teams future and won’t command high salaries. So even if Davis stays, the team will have the cap space to do work in 2012.

The free agent class of 2012 has the potential to be epic, with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams all set to be eligible for free agency, but I guarantee you that the Cavs have no illusions of signing any of these players. They will still be a rebuilding team, and drawing big free agents to Cleveland will always be an uphill battle. Instead, the Cavs hope to have drafted well enough to have already established what their core is going to be, and then that cap space can be used to surround that core with solid role players with  responsible contracts. This is a much better way of building a team than through trading for aging veterans, which is the path former GM Danny Ferry had to take.

And thats nothing to say of the team using the $14. 5 million dollar TPE, which expires on July 11. It won’t be easy to use, since so many teams have already gotten below the luxury tax line, but teams will still be looking to shed some salary before any potential lockout. The Cavs will probably look to add some draft picks for 2012 since they already have three for this year, which has the potential to be an excellent draft with top high school seniors Austin Rivers, Michael Gilchrist, and Anthony Davis poised to set the NCAA on fire next year. They still have to find the right deal for the TPE, but as long as they use it to acquire picks or prospects then they will have done alright.

It has been a long year Cavs fans, and the team is still a long ways away from respectability. But the front office is finally setting in motion a plan for the future, a proper plan to make this team a competitor again. There is still work to be done – they have to draft right, maintain cap flexibility, and find a way to use the TPE before it expires. And certainly nothing is guaranteed for this team. But after the team came into the season preparing for a futile run at a playoff birth, making the trades that they did were something I did not see coming but were a definitely a sight for sore eyes.

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