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2011 NBA Season in Review: Cleveland Cavaliers

Picking one word to describe this Cavaliers season is probably an effort in futility.

“Trying” or “awful” may do the trick for some, but they don’t adequately take into account the way the team fought almost every night down the stretched and competed in games that they really had no business winning. For 99% of NBA teams going through what the Cavs went through this year, tanking the last month of the season is really the only option. Consider the Minnesota Timberwolves – perpetual losers, they have not won a single game in April in each of the last two seasons. This Cavaliers team won three games this April plus the big victory over Miami on March 29. Where as most teams tank, this team played with pride and should be commended for this.

But that doesn’t excuse the first 3/4 of the season. A 26 game losing streak should never happen in the NBA. The first Miami game was an embarrassment. Scoring just 57 points in Los Angeles was another low point. In the end, this team will finished with the 2nd worst record in the league and it will go down as one of the worst teams in Cavalier history.

That said, there were certainly bright spots and reasons to expect a better future for this team. Lets take a look at some of bright and not so bright spots from this past year and assign some grades.

JJ Hickson: B

I’m tempted to give JJ a higher grade because of how much he has improved, but his defense is still a long ways away from where it needs to be. Also, while his jumper has improved it is still not good enough to be considered a weapon – opposing defenses were never too worried about him beating them with a midrange J. However, he had career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, FGA, FTA, rebound rate, win score, and usage rate. Oddly, he started less games this year than last year, but that is besides the point. He has drastically improved his game and more importantly, his attitude.

Ramon Sessions: B+

The most consistent player all season, Sessions finally was given the minutes that his talent suggests he deserves. Even when things for the Cavs were going their worst, Sessions never stopped trying to attack the rim. He doesn’t have much of a jump shot, and his defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he kept the offense working all season long when starters were getting hurt left and right. The biggest factor keeping him from getting a higher grade was how his play diminished when the Cavs traded for Baron Davis, making Sessions the backup. His role going forward with this team, whether Davis stays in Cleveland or the Cavs are fortunate enough to draft Kyrie Irving, is as the first guard off the bench. He could be great in this role and really be a George Hill type of player for this team, but he has to embrace this role. And maybe improve that jumper a little bit.

Antawn Jamison: C

His numbers weren’t bad, and he often was a good leader for the team, but behind those numbers lie an aging veteran that has become a black hole on offense. If you gave Jamison the ball, you could bet your bottom dollar that you weren’t getting it back. Making matters worse, his FG% was at the lowest of his career, indicating that his career is on the downswing. Defensively he is as awful as ever (noticing a trend with these players?) and still can’t stop a nose bleed. He probably wants out of Cleveland if only to play for a contender one last time, and hopefully the front office can oblige him.

Baron Davis: A

The sample size is oh so small – just 10 games – but in those games he had a PER of 21.27, which would have been the highest mark for the team if he played that way over the entire season. Fears of him clashing with coach Scott were exaggerated, as Davis was a remarkable leader on the court and played his heart out every night he was healthy enough to play. Do I still want him to be traded this offseason? Well yea, but that is mostly because of his contract and a desire to create as much playing time for Kyrie Irving as possible if we draft him. If he stays on the team though, we can only hope he brings as much effort as he did this year, because the team is a lot better with him manning the point.

The Young Guns: C

Manny Harris, Christian Eyenga, Samardo Samuels, and Luke Harangody certainly benefited from all the injuries the Cavs endured this year, as they got more playing time here in Cleveland than they would have for any other team in the NBA. Sometimes players just need an opportunity to show they can play. But out of these players, it is unlikely the Cavs got any long term pieces to the puzzle. Eyenga is the most likely guy to stick around because of his athleticism and commitment to defense, but he is still so raw that it is difficult to project how he will develop. Samuels has had some big games, but is undersized for his position. Harangody has not had some big games, but is also undersized for his position. Both lack the athleticism to make up for this size disparity. It was good for the team to learn from watching these guys play, but I don’t think the front office saw anything it needs to get too excited about.

The Front Office: Incomplete

OK, maybe this is a cop out, but until we see how the team uses their massive trade exception I can’t in good faith evaluate the job they have done. The trades Chris Grant has done I think can all be viewed as good ones, none moreso than the trade that brought in Baron Davis and the Clippers 1st round pick. It may be a down draft that is being adversely affected by star players not declaring, but two top 10 picks is nothing to frown at. It demonstrates how serious Grant is to building this team through the draft. The trade that brought in Harangody and Semih Erden from Boston was also worth doing – we traded one future 2nd for two guys who were worthy of 2nd round picks. Why not take a shot in the dark and see if you find a guy worth keeping? Just as interesting in seeing what the Cavs do with their TPE is what they do with Jamison and Davis. Trading them will be tough, but it seemed like Jamison was close to being dealt to Golden State at the deadline. Maybe this will be revisited.

Byron Scott: C+

I touched on this last week so I’ll keep it brief, but while Scott is responsible for this teams lack of any defensive ability whatsoever, he deserves credit for keeping this team playing hard all the way to the end. It may have cost the Cavs the best odds at the top pick, but what is more important for the future of this team is creating a winning mentality, and you don’t do that by tanking.

Just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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