COMMENTARY | Cleveland Cavaliers' management made it evident with the signing of Andrew Bynum last week that they are interested in doing more than just talk about the Cavaliers making the playoffs next year. After the last three years of uninspired Cavaliers basketball that saw the Cavaliers' front office dump players and avoid spending on starters via free agency, it appears the Cavaliers are ready to push their chips to the center of the table to try to bring the Cavaliers back to contention for the 2013-14 season.
But with a new head coach, a handful of new players, and a bunch of players coming off injuries, the Cavaliers' ability to contend in the Eastern Conference will hinge on how they can answer some of the team's biggest questions.
5) Who will be playing small forward?
The biggest void on the Cavs' roster last year was at small forward. Alonzo Gee has shown himself to be a temporary solution at best in the starting lineup. If the Cavaliers are truly going to be a contender next year, they are going to have to find a better solution at the position.
The Cavs have added Russian sharpshooter Sergey Karasev through the draft and picked up Earl Clark through free agency. And while both players will seemingly help improve the depth at small forward, it remains to be seen if either can prove to be a quality starter. Karasev will have to show that he can transition from playing overseas to the faster, higher quality NBA game. Clark, while able to play some small forward, seems more suited to power forward. Unless another free agent signing or trade takes place to bring in another player at the position, playing time at small forward looks to be up for grabs come next season.
4) Can Andrew Bynum's knees hold up?
The $6 million question with Bynum is whether his knees will allow him to play consistently next year. Reportedly, that is the amount of guaranteed money the Cavaliers have sunk into Bynum, who didn't play a minute for the Philadelphia 76ers after suffering different knee injuries last year. If Bynum can step onto the court and produce at the same level he did two years ago for the Los Angeles Lakers (18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds), he will give the Cavaliers a solid low-post scoring option that they haven't had in years. If not, he will be the most expensive cheerleader in the league.
3) Can Mike Brown turn the direction of the team around?
Mike Brown molded the Cavaliers into a quality defensive team in his last stint in Cleveland. During Brown's last season in 2009-10, the Cavs ranked near the top of the league in various defensive metrics including defensive efficiency, opponent's points per game, and opponent average scoring margin. The same can't be said about last year's Cavaliers team, who ranked dead last in opponent's field goal percentage. If Brown is going to prove to be a wise hire, he is going to have to instill a defensive mentality again, especially in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who appeared uncommitted on that side of the ball last season.
The offense might be even a bigger concern, though. For a team whose only consistent scorer was Kyrie Irving, establishing an offense that fits the new Cavaliers' roster will be imperative if the team hopes to make the playoffs. However, Brown's track record for offensive innovation is sketchy to say the least. Brown hired Igor Kokoskov this offseason from the Phoenix Suns to be his new offensive assistant coach. It will be up to Brown and Kokoskov to transform the ineffectual offense of past years into one that can free up looks for players other than Irving.
2) Who will be Kyrie Irving's sidekick?
It often appeared that Kyrie Irving was on an offensive island last year. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao are defensive-minded players, Alonzo Gee couldn't score with any kind of regularity, and Dion Waiters often looked like he was struggling to find his comfort zone during his rookie year in the NBA.
Next year, it will be incumbent on someone to step up to be a reliable second scorer. Although he started off the year slow, Dion Waiters did come on in the second half of the year to show why the comparisons to a poor man's Dwyane Wade might not be as crazy as they sound. Bynum, if healthy, has shown himself to be a quality scorer on the interior, but as with all centers, he has to rely on others to get him the ball to score.
But, the acquisition of No.1 pick Anthony Bennett, perhaps the best scorer in this year's draft, could be the wildcard that turns the Cavs into a threat in the Eastern Conference. If Bennett can hit the ground running in his rookie year and approach his college numbers of 16.1 points on 53 percent shooting next year, Bennett will prove himself capable of shouldering some of the offensive load.
1) Can Kyrie Irving remain healthy for the whole year?
After averaging 22.5 points on 45 percent shooting and 5.9 assists last year, the only thing left to question Irving about is his durability. Every player sustains random injuries from time to time, but Kyrie Irving's past few years have seen him absorb more punishment than a crash test dummy. Irving only played in 11 games during his college career at Duke after suffering a foot injury during the season. He followed that up by missing 31 games his rookie year because of a concussion, and later, because of a sprained right shoulder. Irving then broke his right hand last summer and later sustained a broken index finger, a broken jaw, a hyper-extended knee, and another sprained shoulder that collectively caused Irving to miss 24 games last year. Irving looks like he might be on the verge of breaking into the hierarchy of the NBA elite, and the Cavaliers are going to need him to stay healthy if they hope to turn the corner from perpetual lottery team to NBA contender.
Adam Redling is a freelance writer from Cleveland, OH. He covers the Cavaliers for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
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