All posts by Dan Armelli

Dan Armelli is currently a junior Public Relations major at Kent State. He has previously written for C-Town and Down and also currently writes for Predominantly Orange. He also thinks writing this bio in third person feels kind of weird.

J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson Can Help the Cavs Stretch the Floor

The Cavs finally struck a deal with one of the players acquired in a midseason trade. After hanging out in the free agency market after declining a $6.4 million player option, J.R. Smith agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with a player option.

This also happened…

So now we’re all on our hands and knees waiting for Tristan Thompson to re-sign with the Cavs. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of him signing his $6.7 million qualifying offer and becoming an unrestricted free agent next year or him and the Cavs agreeing on a contract extension.

One thing we do know is that Smith will be under contract for at least another year. And even though he heard crickets in free agency, he’s an important piece to the Cavs’ championship blueprint.

Teams headed by LeBron James need to have multiple shooting options available. This isn’t just a matter of whether LeBron is or isn’t good enough to shoot from deep anymore, it’s more of having guys in proper spots for LeBron to drive and score/distribute the ball. Smith was one of those guys that was able to do just that the latter half of last season.

The Cavs are top heavy and filled with role players and super role players who have their… role cut out for them. Some of those role players are required to create space with their shooting ability on offense. Almost as important for these shooters is that they don’t veer too much from what they were brought here to do.

A perfect example of the latter is Dion Waiters at the beginning of last year. Dion, as much as I thought he had the potential to be a solid part of a championship caliber team, couldn’t adjust fast enough to what the Cavs needed him to do. Instead of eliminating more shots from the mid-range and shooting more 3’s and shots at the rim, he pretty much took the shots he did the season prior.

According to Basketball-Reference:

Dion Waiters’ percentage of field goal attempts by distance
0-3 feet: ’13-’14- 28.4%

’14-‘15 (w/ Cavs)- 34.2%

16-24 feet: ’13-’14- 29.2%

’14-‘15 (w/ Cavs)- 28.7%

24+ feet (3-pointers): ’13-’14- 25.2%

’14-‘15 (w/ Cavs)- 25.1%

While technically Waiters did lessen his mid-range shots, it wasn’t of any significant proportions. He was soon shipped off for someone who eventually could fulfill the 3-point shooting duties in J.R. Smith.

Much like Waiters, Smith loves shooting from the mid-range. Before he was traded to the Cavs, J.R. was shooting a career high 34.3% of his shots from 16-24 feet away (and hitting just 43% of them). It was time for both teams to move on from their respective guards.

However, the more veteran Smith proved to be more willing to move into the role that the Cavs intended for Waiters. According to Basketball-Reference, J.R. went from a 3-Point Attempt Rate (3PAr) of 35.9% – the second lowest of his career – to a career high 66.9% – a career high.

But it’s not just that the Cavs have guys that are shooting 3’s but that they have guys that have and will continue to make them – this distinction is important.

Last year the Cavs brought in Mike Miller in hopes that he would be a knockdown shooter, more so for the playoffs than the regular season. However, that never came to fruition. Miller, a 40.9% career 3-pt career shooter at the time and coming off a blistering 45.9% from the year prior (on his most attempts in four years), shot a career low – by 10% – of 31.3% from deep. Needless to say, he didn’t get much of a chance in the playoffs, playing just 65 minutes, most of them to spell the suspension of J.R. and injury to Kyrie Irving.

hi-res-2de2e88931f57434f2ef2d5086bc61da_crop_north

This year the Cavs brought in another veteran who they hope doesn’t show the type of regression in shooting that Miller did last year. Richard Jefferson, for the most part, has been a trustworthy 3-pt shooter throughout his career with a few outlier seasons, mostly at the beginning of his career.

Something worth noting is that throughout his career, it seems the less Jefferson shoots from deep, the less efficient he is at it. After the first two years of his career, the four times he shot worse than 35% from 3, he’s had a 3PAr of less than 30% in three of the four seasons. Those three seasons came with three different teams in his age 25, 29, and 32 seasons. So it’s not just an age thing. In addition, his four best seasons shooting from 3 have all come when shooting 3’s at a rate of 46% or higher. With all the other help the Cavs have, expect RJ to shoot it early and often when he’s on the court.

Meanwhile, in terms of making shots from long range, J.R. Smith has been hit or miss from season-to-season, but mostly hit.

The role change for Smith is talked about ad nauseam, but it’s important. With the Knicks last year, he was shooting 35.6% from 3, below the 37.1% he shot for his career coming into the season. When he got to the Cavs, all J.R. had to worry about was taking 3’s; not being the second best option on the floor with Carmelo Anthony and not trying to carry the offense while Melo wasn’t playing. This change helped Smith shoot 39% with the Cavs in the regular season.

However, Smith’s good shooting comes with a caveat.

He stills shows his flaws at times. He’s a streaky shooter. When he’s on, he is on. But when he’s off, not many times does he find his stroke in the middle of the game. He also likes, as in actually enjoys, taking contested shots at times – 33% of all his shots last year came with “tight” coverage.

These flaws, however, are digestible for the Cavs if he’s able to limit them and keep his shot making at a high level.

Winning cures all, and so does a high shooting percentage for these two.

J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson. J.R. and RJ. Expect these two vets to help the Cavs space the floor for the Big 3 to operate.

 

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats unless noted otherwise.

Does J.R. Smith Start If He Re-signs With the Cavs?

Some days it looks like the Cavs will sign J.R. Smith. And some days it looks like the Cavs won’t sign J.R. Smith.

For what it’s worth, these Jamaal Crawford to Cleveland rumors are nothing new. And it just started popping up again after the Knicks reportedly expressed interest in trading for him. So while there is probably legitimately interest in Crawford coming from the Cavs, it’s also probable that they’re showing J.R. that they’re not married to the idea of re-signing him.

Even if the Cavs do re-sign the 29-year-old Smith, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be the starting two-guard the way he was when he first played in Cleveland.

You’ll recall, after the Cavs made the trade to get Smith along with Iman Shumpert, the latter was still recovering from a shoulder injury, preventing him from playing a couple weeks after the trade. Shumpert was the starter for the Knicks, leaving Smith to come off the bench.

It is thought that the Cavs’ plan was to start J.R. initially, then eventually start Shumpert when he was physically able to. However, J.R. Smith and the Cavs were doing so well, 4th in the league in offensive rating (111.6) from the time J.R. started to Shumpert’s first time playing 20 minutes in a game, the Cavs didn’t really feel like messing with the lineup.

The Cavs stuck with J.R. in the starting lineup for the rest of the regular season, sans the third last game in which the Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love rested before the playoffs started.

Smith was the starter in the first round series against the Boston Celtics but then was suspended for two games after hitting Jae Crowder in the face. This forced the Cavs to turn to Shumpert.

With Smith out for two games, and Love out for the rest of the playoffs with a dislocated shoulder, the Cavs started ramping up their defense with more Shumpert and Tristan Thompson. When Smith came back in game three of the second round versus the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs left Shumpert in the starting lineup, once again opting not to mess with the success they had in game two.

Cleveland+Cavaliers+v+Los+Angeles+Lakers+7bBL3Pr1WlvxThe Cavs went 7-1 in the next eight games prior to the Finals with this formula against the Bulls and Hawks. Now it stands to wonder if the Cavs will stick with Shumpert in the starting lineup, their presumed original plan since the trade, or revert back to starting Smith.

The Cavs have been effective with both in their lineup because, well, the Cavs are pretty good. The objective is to find the guy that would make the most sense to start out games. And while being the starter doesn’t always mean you’re the best player at that position on a certain team (see: Tristan Thompson), it’s still important. With the Big 3 (and probably Timofey Mozgov) already penned in as starters, there are players with certain skillsets that would work better with them in certain situations.

When looking at the lineups from last year, it’s hard to compare the one with the Big 3 + Mozgov and J.R. to the one with the Big 3 + Mozgov and Shumpert simply because the former was the most used Cavs lineup (480 minutes played) and the latter was played only 19 minutes out of the whole regular season. This makes sense given that Shumpert started just one game for the Cavs in the regular season (which, again, didn’t involve the Big 3).

While Shumpert wasn’t used much with the other four starters in the regular season, he was part of the most used group in the playoffs for the Cavs at 105 minutes (this lineup included Love instead of Thompson since Love couldn’t finish out the first series).

This lineup wasn’t the most successful of the ten most used in the playoffs – offensive rating of 106.8 (3rd), net rating of 8.8 (5th) – but the defensive rating of 98.7 in 105 minutes, most of which came against the Bulls, Hawks, and Warriors, is impressive. Defense, specifically on the perimeter, is what Shumpert brings to the Cavs.

A couple weeks ago I highlighted Shumpert’s overall ability, including what he brings on offense. The SparkNotes version is he gives you inconsistent, almost streaky shooting both from mid-range and from the 3-point line.

https://vine.co/v/eBOtFVajKZJ

And while that’s not exactly what the Cavs want, his ability and versatility on defense is worth the tradeoff. Even still, Shumpert is good enough on offense sometimes where it’s not even a question of whether he should start or not.

The starting lineup with J.R. Smith in it was successful on both sides of the ball, and that shouldn’t come as any surprise. The Cavs were clicking on all cylinders down the stretch, only losing five games after the All Star break and before clinching the East’s second.

One of the more impressive things about Smith was his willingness to spot up. This was something he didn’t, nor was he asked to do much of in New York. The Cavs wanted a two-guard that could help the offense stretch the floor and J.R. was able to do that for the most part.

With the Cavs, Smith shot a refreshing 41.4% from deep in catch and shoot situations. This is a big reason he was able to stick with the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. Not only was he shooting this particular shot well, but he was shooting it often. Catch and shoot 3’s made up 48.4 of J.R.’s shots, which is the primary job on offense for the Cavs’ starting two-guard.

However…

A stat that I didn’t think would have an impact on this Shumpert vs. Smith debate when researching for this article ended up being pretty relevant.

Of the top ten most used Cavs lineups, the one with the best net rating was the 112 minutes of Kyrie, Shawn Marion, LeBron, Love, and Thompson. The most shocking thing wasn’t just that a lineup with Marion was the most successful in this regard, but that it was the offensive rating, not defensive rating, of 123.5 that boosted this lineup’s number.

Of these ten lineups, this group also had the second best true shooting percentage at 59.6%. Consider: Marion shot just 26% from 3 last year and spent just his second year out of his 16-year career sporting a TS% under 50%; and Tristan Thompson, even though he finished extremely well around the rim last year (65.1% from three feet away, according to Basketball-Reference), his range hasn’t proven to be that good in numbers (which is okay). Having those two guys in the most dominant of the most used lineups says that the Cavs can score with pretty much anyone alongside LeBron, Kyrie, and Love.

With all the offense the Cavs already have at three of the starting positions, it would make sense to have the more offensive-minded of the two guards come off the bench. Even with the Mo Williams signing, the first two Cavs off the bench will most likely be Thompson and one of Shumpert and Smith. Pairing a shooter like J.R. Smith with the defensive-minded Thompson seems the most logical.

All this highlights why the Cavs could still very much use J.R. Smith. But if/when he re-signs, expect him to return to the bench.

Tristan Thompson Will Get Paid and Some People Will Hate It

The Cavs have had a pretty boring yet successful offseason to this point.

They re-signed almost all of their free agents, as they set out to. They didn’t draft anyone in the first round, therefore didn’t bring in any guaranteed contracts this way. They signed former Cav Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson. And Brendan Haywood was finally shipped off for the largest current traded player exception in the NBA.

But there are still a couple of things that haven’t been settled to this point.

For one, J.R. Smith is still an unrestricted free agent after opting out of making $6.4 million next year and becoming an UFA the following season. Smith has little leverage in this situation as teams have already done most of their spending and the market for him is slim at this point.

But the bigger question mark at the moment is what will happen with Tristan Thompson. His situation is pretty unique yet some fans think of it as business as usual. In other words, Thompson is a backup forward with no offense, and has one good skill (rebounding). So obviously he isn’t worth anywhere near the $94 million he reportedly wants from the Cavs (the maximum he can ask for).

But really, what Thompson is worth isn’t the most relevant thing when talking about what the Cavs should pay him.

At 23 years old, Thompson averaged 8.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per game in his fourth NBA season. No big man at that age, at that point in his career, playing that many minutes has touched the kind of contract that Tristan Thompson is set to get, let alone the amount he’s asking for. That’s a big reason, even if subconsciously, why a lot of people are steadfast against him getting paid so much money.

We’re just not used to seeing a player of his skill set throw his weight around and give the demands that he and his agent Rich Paul have.

We also have a tendency to take two players making a similar amount of money and going down the line comparing their talents as basketball players. The one with the worse overall skills is labeled as overpaid.

In a lot of instances, especially in this one, the team that is doing the spending needs to be taken into consideration. The Cavs aren’t aloud to do some of the same things defensively without Thompson that they’re allowed to do with him, namely switching off or even hard hedging on the pick and role.

Should the Cavs offer Thompson his five-year, $94 million deal, he’d be making similar money per year as Blake Griffin. No one will tell you that Thompson is a better basketball player than Griffin, even those who think the Cavs should pay Thompson this year’s max. But nowhere in sports are contracts slotted based on talent. If it were, Kobe Bryant wouldn’t be set to make over twice as much as Steph Curry next season.

For the most part, market interest determines how much a certain player gets paid rather than specific traits players do or don’t have.

This isn’t to say that this comparison method is completely irrelevant in all cases (I’ve done it before and probably will continue to do it), but it’s less so here and shouldn’t nor will it be the determining factor for how much Thompson will garner, whether that be this offseason from the Cavs or next offseason from other teams.

What Tristan Thompson does, the multiple things he does at a high quality, not just one, are things the Cavs need to help them be a contender. His versatility and potency on defense, his rebounding ability on offense, his finishing around the rim, and his consistent improvement in most facets of his game are what the Cavs utilize often when Thompson is out on the floor.

Tristan Thompson games two bulls ccavs playoffs

This situation is complicated, but the decision should be a simple one if you’re the Cavs. David Griffin and co. could hope Thompson takes their “significantly less” offer. But then they run the risk of Thompson declining that deal and accepting the $6.8 million qualifying offer, which would make him an unrestricted free agent next offseason. This result yields multiple problems for the Cavs, one that hurts Dan Gilbert, and one that hurts everyone in the Cavs organization.

Should Thompson reach the open market next summer, he would be poised to make more money than he could make this offseason. Whereas he can make a maximum total of $94 million over five years this year, his maximum next year would be much higher given the expected $20 million rise in cap.

This isn’t to say Thompson would get next year’s max, but it’s still likely a team would offer more money to him next year since they’re able to do so.

One reason why teams will willing to pay Thompson what seems to be an absurd amount of money (remember, there’s still a season to be played [and thus, a case for Thompson to make himself more money] between now and next offseason), is the weak-ish free agency class set to hit next offseason.

Another reason Thompson will garner a lot of interest is for the same reason the Cavs are willing to offer him a lot of money: he’s a uniquely gifted player.

Thompson does things on the defensive end that just are not common with men at his position. He has the athletic ability to guard every position effectively at certain points in the game. He’s even shown he can do this when it matters the most in the playoffs.

https://vine.co/v/eZlduUj63Wz

He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the game. He’s improved his shot and his overall game each year of his career. And at 24 years old, with his work ethic, there’s no reason to believe he’s done developing in any aspect of his game. This isn’t to say he’ll ever be a great offensive player, but I think it’s fair to expect overall improvement here.

Even if Thompson doesn’t get as much interest as projected, it will only take one team to move heaven and earth to grab Tristan Thompson away from the Cavs. If it comes down to Thompson becoming an UFA next season, either the Cavs pony up more dough than they would have this season, costing Dan Gilbert, or Thompson leaves Cleveland, hurting the Cavs’ chances at a championship.

Thompson’s unique set of talents makes him a hard player to replace, leaving the cupboard bare in ways the Cavs could play defensively.

And it may not even come to Thompson choosing between Cleveland and another team. That is, if you believe that reports about Thompson accepting the qualifying offer are more than just Rich Paul playing hardball.

There really isn’t much to decide here if you’re the Cavs front office. Sure, they could hope he takes $80 million over five years. But it’s unlikely that Thompson wouldn’t bet on himself by taking the qualifying offer and waiting for more money next year. The odds are in Thompson’s favor. He’s been trending upward each year and has played every game for the last three seasons. Health and work ethic are not a problem for him.

And even if Thompson does decide he would stick with the Cavs after a year of playing under the qualifying offer, the Cavs would most likely be signing him under a much richer contract than the $94 million he wants now.

Thompson already bet on himself when he turned down a four-year, $52 million extension in October. Now he’s aiming to get paid almost double that. What happens if the Cavs let him do that again?

Thompson could get paid his $94 million this year. He could get paid much more next year from the Cavs or some other team. Either way, Tristan Thompson will get paid and some Cavs fans will not be happy.

Cavs Expectations for Iman Shumpert

It’s hard to miss him.

With a hairstyle only the 90’s Will Smith and Nerlens Noel could appreciate, it’s easy to notice Iman Shumpert. But it’s about time he starts to be known more for his play than his appearance.

Shumpert, who turned 25 in June, has only been in the league for four years, yet it seems like it’s been longer than that.

Shumpert was a first round pick, 17th overall in the 2011, a draft that was bookended by Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas.

As a first round pick, 17th overall, to the New York Knicks in 2011, expectations were high early and grew throughout his three and a half years there. In that city, with a team headed by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, expectations were not to be tampered with.

We know now that Shumpert never lived up to the probably unfair heights that fans, media, and perhaps front office people imagined. This, grouped with his impending restricted free agency and a slight injury history, is what landed him in Cleveland.

After three and a half years of chasing lofty outside expectations and a half of a season chasing a ring, now is a great time to reset what we expect Shumpert to be. He’s coming off a season where he played with two different teams in two totally different roles. This is highlighted by the 20.1% he was used on offense by the lowly Knicks, compared to the 15.6% he contributed with the Cavs.

He’ll also be playing on a brand new deal after playing through his rookie contract. Shumpert is locked up through the 2018-2019 season after agreeing to a four-year, $40 million contract with a player option in the last year of the deal.

With Shumpert set to be on the Cavs for a while, fans should know what they’re getting into with him in Cleveland. We’ve seen him play a 38 regular season and 20 playoff games in a Cavs uniform already. But that’s still probably not enough to really get a feel of who a guy is. Heck, many Cavs fans may not even have a good grasp on what Kevin Love can and cannot do for multiple reasons.

And as is the case for Love, this is the first full offseason the Cavs were prepared to have Shumpert included in their plans. David Blatt did a pretty great job of making sure all these guys were used correctly, or at the very least not putting them in a position to fail.

It’s unlikely that he’ll ever develop a consistent shooting stroke. His long-range shot is the epitome of inconsistency. In his second year, he shot a career best 40.2% from 3 on 127 attempts. That year was sandwiched by 30.6% and 33.3% performances in his rookie and third seasons, respectively. Those three seasons combined comes out to a total 3PT% of 34.2%, exactly what he shot all of last year. So I suppose you could say he’s consistently inconsistent as a long-ball shooter.

Iman Shumpert Timofey Mozgov Dion Waiters

Shumpert started off hot from the field as a Cav, shooting 45.5% from 3 in his first 13 games. He cooled off as the season went on, but still ended up shooting a 3’s at a 50.8% rate as a Cav, higher than any other season he had as a Knick.

The Cavs could always use more shooting surrounding LeBron James, but Shumpert is streaky and unpredictable. It’d be hard-pressed to say that he’ll be shooting from 3 as much as he did last year, but it’s just going to have to be a feel thing.

And what’s pretty astounding looking at where Shumpert is successful at shooting from, it seems to change each year. In 2012-2013, when he shot 40.2%, he was at his best shooting from the left corner (43.8%, 32 attempts). Two years ago, he thrived from the right corner (41.5%, 53 attempts). This year, strictly with the Cavs, he was at his best above the break (37.5%, 64 attempts) and at his worst in the left corner (24.1%, 29 attempts).

This is what makes re-signing J.R. somewhat important, even though it’s not make-or-break for the Cavs. Shumpert can provide spacing at times, but it’d be surprising if it were ever a reliable part of his game.

Shumpert isn’t a creator either. One of the problems in New York was relying on him to create too often. The thing with the Cavs is… LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Love. Yeah.

That’s another thing inconsistent about his game. When he started out as a Cav, it seemed as if any time he tried to switch hands he would turn the ball over. In fact, of the main Cavs contributors (players who averaged 10 minutes or more), he was the second worst in turnover ratio behind Timofey Mozgov.

As the season progressed, he was making some moves in isolation, blowing by defenders or setting up for a mid-range jump shot. This is yet another thing that the Cavs can’t and won’t rely on, but it might be there in a pinch.

This is something that he wasn’t showing in his first month or so as a Cav:

https://vine.co/v/eHQ3gI1BBqY

I’ve already talked about his mid-range game, which you can read about here. Simply put, this became his most dependable shot as a Cav (he’s hasn’t been that great at finishing around the rim). When his 3’s weren’t going down, Shumpert relied on his smooth mid-range jumpers to get some quick points. He shot 47.6% from here as a Cav.

So while Shumpert isn’t great at any one area on offense, he’s not a black hole either. And he’s adjusted well to not getting the ball as much anymore, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Fortunately, offense isn’t a big part of why he was re-signed for $40 million. Shumpert, along with Tristan Thompson and LeBron James, is one of the Cavs’ top defenders, especially when talking about versatility.

You live with some of the things Shumpert can’t do on offense because of the things he can do on defense.

One of the reasons he’s had high expectations throughout his career is because of his physical profile. His quickness and length help him to survive on defense, but his intelligence and focus allow him to thrive.

Last season Shumpert was tied for 11th in the NBA in steal percentage at 2.7%. Two of the three players he was tied with were Corey Brewer and Mario Chalmers, two of the best at stealing the ball in the NBA.

Shumpert’s steals come in varieties, too. It could be just from a straight one-on-one battle or from denying an entry pass. It’s nice to know that he’s not letting his physical gifts go to waste on defense with laziness. He seems to pride himself on making timely plays by poking the ball out.

He hasn’t proven to be a consistent elite all around defender yet, but it may be coming. He’s earned enough trust of the coaching staff, being used to guard the hot hand when going up against tough guard combos, i.e. Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose.

Again, he’s only 25, which is something I think some people forget. It seems as though h’s been around for much longer. Even though he may not be as good of an offensive player that we hoped to be doesn’t mean he’s done growing as a player on either side of the ball.

The great thing going forward for Iman Shumpert is this as good of a roster fits he’s been on in his career. He can just focus on being a super role player on a tam with championship aspirations instead of helping carry a team just trying to get to the playoffs.

If he ends up turning into a consistent 3 and D player, the Cavs will be thrilled with the deal they agreed upon this summer. Even still, the defender he is right now and the improvement that he could feasibly make is worth it, especially in the name of consistency with the roster.

What Iman Shumpert was the last few months of last season was pretty darn good. What’s on the horizon may be even better.

Brendan Haywood Trade Sets Up Potential Cavs Moves

The Cavs finally made their move that will be the catalyst for moves both in the near and not so near future.

On Sunday, the Cavs traded Brendan Haywood(‘s contract), Mike Miller, and two future second round picks to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Cavs got cash in return.

But that’s not all the Cavs were able to get out of this trade. They also got tax relief and two TPE’s (traded player exceptions) worth $10.5 million and $2.94 million via Haywood and Miller, respectively.

All three things are different kinds of assets for the Cavs to use.

Cash is always a cool thing to receive in a deal, even though it’s just a throwaway term in situations like this.

The Cavs won’t get “cap relief” so much as they will get “tax relief.” This trade doesn’t bring the Cavs under the salary cap, which is okay because that wasn’t a goal at all this offseason. In fact, it was the goal of the Cavs to pretty much ignore the cap and focus more on the luxury tax, which is a secondary reason why this trade was constructed the way it was.

The more a team pays over the luxury tax line, the more said tax is. Getting rid of Haywood’s $10 million unguaranteed contract and Miller’s almost $3 million contract lowers the amount the Cavs are over the tax line.

As we saw less than 24 hours later, this trade is what could have been partially responsible for holding up deals with the Cavs’ own players.

This is probably the only deal out of the three – along with Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith – that wasn’t done up to that point solely because Haywood was still a Cav. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear no contender, or any team, was going to offer Delly something close to the Mid-Level Exception. The Cavs were seemingly waiting for the tax numbers that went along with Delly’s contract to be lowered via unloading Haywood.

And for what it’s worth the holdup with Tristan and J.R. seem to be different circumstances.

With Tristan, it looks as though it’s prolonged posturing. Thompson reportedly turned down four years worth $52 million dollars during the season. There’s little doubt he’ll be looking for more. From a Cavs standpoint, they may just be seeing how long this thing can go without having to offer him close to or actual max money.

In J.R.’s case, it’s more posturing, but the Cavs certainly have the upper hand. He turned down a player option worth $4.6 million and probably would have signed with another team already if he could have.

When it comes to re-signing with the Cavs, he may not necessarily be asking for more money, but rather for more years. J.R.’s been open about his desire is to stay in Cleveland, and I don’t think that’s B.S. He played comfortably here and has the backing of the best player of this generation in LeBron James. It makes sense for him to want to be here for an extended period.

On the other side of the coin, the Cavs would probably prefer something like a two-year deal with a club option. While Smith delivered as desired in the regular season, he showed too many instances in the playoffs of why he’s been shipped multiple times in his career.

Back to the Haywood trade…

The primary reason this trade was done was for the Cavs to get the TPE(s). The Mike Miller TPE was just the cherry on top.

Miller, who turned 35 in February, was a contributor in his lone season in a Cavs uniform. However, it was mostly in the form of being a great teammate and locker room guy. Unfortunately, he was unable to provide the level of sharpshooting ability he’s showed throughout his career, and even as late as a couple years ago in Memphis.

Then there’s the Cavs’ huge TPE. It’s so big that it’s the largest active trade exception in the NBA.

What these traded player exceptions allow the Cavs to do is to make deals without having to match up salaries with their trade partner. Normally, a team would have to be under the cap – before and after the trade – to receive more incoming salary. This is why Portland was one of two teams, the other being the Philadelphia 76ers, to take on Haywood (and Miller) without having to give up anyone. Both teams are well under the cap.

Say the Cavs wanted to trade for a player with a ~$9 million contract and just want to send picks to the other team. The Cavs are allowed to use their $10.5 million TPE to absorb this player. Whereas if they didn’t have this exception, they would have to at least closely match the outgoing and incoming salaries.

Side note: you cannot combine traded player exceptions. The Cavs cannot acquire a player making $12 million this year and use both exceptions on him. They have to be used on separate players.

It is possible the Cavs never use either TPE, but of course it’s useful to have. The other option was flat out cutting Haywood, since the Cavs couldn’t find any other available players to attain for him.

Haywood-Weapon

While it would’ve been nice to acquire a player like Wilson Chandler (before his extension) for Haywood, there is a potential financial advantage to acquiring a TPE rather than a player right now.

Again, trading Haywood straight up for another contract, the Cavs would’ve been forced to match up the salaries, enabling virtually no tax relief.

Of course trading Haywood for nothing gives the Cavs much tax relief now, but could also do so later on. With this humungous TPE, the Cavs aren’t forced to get a player worth $10.5 million. They could be forced to look for bench help and find a player they like making $5-$8 million. They couldn’t fit him into the TPE gained from Miller, but he would be allowed to fit into the Haywood TPE.

After that, the Cavs would still have the difference of the TPE and that player’s salary for this year leftover.

Who they will actually look to acquire has yet to be determined. Like all things, this picture will look clearer as we progress into the year.

Before last season, David Griffin was able to pull off multiple trades, which led to the Cavs acquiring a $5.28 million TPE for trading Keith Bogans. This allowed the Cavs to absorb the contract of Timofey Mozgov.

Preceding this move was the acquisition of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. The former’s contract was taken on using Anderson Varejao’s disabled player exception.

Sure, Varejao’s exception wasn’t a TPE, but the principle is the same. These are assets for the Cavs that are good to have just in case. And for teams over the cap, and especially over the tax line, this is a good thing to have in their back pocket.

The Cavs already brought on new players in the form of Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson. So the hope might just be that they don’t have to use either TPE. But the point is, they are there if they need them.

How Long Will Timofey Mozgov Remain a Cavalier?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are sitting pretty with their current roster. I say current because it will change at least slightly within the next week and a half *cough* BRENDAN HAYWOOD *cough*.

To what degree the roster changes within that period has to do with what the Cavs do with their own free agents, which include Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and Matthew Dellavedova. Thompson, the only restricted free agent of that group, is expected to come back, as the Cavs are the team that can pay him the most and are expected to match any offer sheet from another team.

The reigning Eastern Conference champs will head into next season with much of the same roster in tact, including all of their projected starters: Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Timofey Mozgov. It’s valuable that the Cavs were able to keep a good amount of continuity considering last season was made up mostly of guys that played elsewhere the year prior.

Furthermore, of those starters mentioned, four of the five are (virtually) locked up for at least the next three years. Kyrie signed a five-year max extension last summer with a player option in the fifth year. Love signed a similar deal (different money) this season. Shumpert signed a four-year deal with a player option in the fourth year. As for LeBron, he’ll pretty much sign 1+1 deals (two years, with a player option) until it will be a financial risk for him (which probably isn’t anytime soon).

That leaves one Timofey Mozgov. The now 29-year-old was acquired in a midseason trade with the Denver Nuggets. Mozgov signed a three-year deal with the Nuggets in the summer of 2013 with a team option. The Cavs picked up that option, worth almost $5 million, this summer.

It’s not a given that Mozgov will be kept next summer. It’s not a given that Dan Gilbert will stop the cash flow next season. In short, it’s hard to tell one year from Mozgov’s contract expiring whether or not the Cavs will retain him. We could all use another season to get a better feel for which way the Cavs are leaning. But that won’t stop us from talking about it.

To keep it general, there are two major sides the Cavs will consider when deciding to re-sign Mozgov or not. And really, this goes for all free agents in any sport. One is financial, one is play on the court/field/ice/pitch.

It’s no secret that Gilbert has been throwing around the cash in order to assemble the best possible team for Cleveland.

Luckily for Gilbert, his wallet won’t be feeling as empty these next few years as it will this year.

Next year’s cap will see a significant jump, perhaps making the Cavs more inclined to sign the big man.

I now turn the mic over to WFNY’s Jacob Rosen, one of CavsTwitter’s resident NBA cap experts. Rosen laid out what the Cavs cap will look like going forward as of July 1.

Note that in this table the Cavs are financially committed to only seven players for 2016-17, are still over the cap, and just short of $3 million away from the tax line. And since this table isn’t meant to be a true projection, it doesn’t even include some factors that will bump the Cavs’ projected ~$105.2 million. These include, Mo Williams’s $2.2 million player option, the possible multi year deals of J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova (as noted in the tweet), and of course the six or seven other roster spots that need to be filled.

And then you have Mozgov. The Cavs look like they’ll be in a similar situation next year, though not to the same degree (as in not paying a tax bill that is at least double the amount of the actual roster).

(It should be noted that since the Cavs own Mozgov’s Bird Rights, they could re-sign him even if they’re over the cap.)

But still, the Cavs will have to decide if keeping Mozgov is worth paying that much extra dough in tax dollars. Yes, Gilbert is a willing spender as he’s proven this offseason. But it doesn’t seem that he’s careless.

Starting this year, teams over the tax pay their tax bill at an incremental rate. The more the Cavs spend over the tax, the higher the rate of that tax. That could partly be why J.R. and Delly haven’t been signed yet (it also could have to do with the Cavs waiting on what to do with Brendan Haywood).

Then comes the matter of wondering just how much Mozgov is set to make next summer, which blends in with what kind of player he is on the court.

Timo will be 30-years-old when next summer comes around, with six NBA seasons under his belt. It would seem that he’s on the younger side of the 30 scale since he started his NBA career when he was 24. He’s also played in a total of 213 out of a possible 476 regular season games.

He spent the first four years of his career being an observer from the bench. It wasn’t until his last full year in Denver that he was playing 20 minutes a night. This was also the first time he played more than 50 games.

As with almost every Cav not named Kyrie, LeBron, and Love, Mozgov really found his peak niche when he was able to play a role that fit his strengths and didn’t make him do too much. This can be said with guys like Shumpert, J.R., and especially Thompson.

Though Mozgov will be a relatively fresh 30-year-old, this will probably be his last shot at big money. He certainly won’t be getting the less than $5 million he’s gotten each year of his career.

For reference, Kosta Koufas, who was another rim protector the Cavs were rumored to be targeting via trade last season, signed a four-year, $33 million contract with the Kings this offseason. This will probably end up looking like a discount for the Kings with the rising cap – which is why Mozgov will look to average more money per year. Another reason he’ll be looking for (a lot) more money is he’s just a flat out better player, which is not a knock against Koufas, who is a good player.

Here’s a profound statistic that favors the Cavs re-signing Mozgov: according to NBA.com/Stats, the Cavs outscored opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions with Mozgov on the floor. This is staggering on it’s own accord, but what makes it seem even better is when you see that number go down to 4.1 with Mozgov off the floor.

Granted, this statistic isn’t perfect. Three of the most common Cavs lineups with Mozgov in them also came with at least two of the Big 3. Even still, that Net Rating of 11 is eye-popping and Mozgov did a good amount to earn that statistic.

Something that miiiight go against the Cavs re-signing Mozgov is the arthroscopic surgery he had on his right knee about three weeks ago.

Also, paying $15-17 million a year for a guy in his 30’s who plays 25 minutes a night just sounds wrong, even with the spike in salary cap.

Cleveland Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov (20), left, shoots over Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland, Thursday, June 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Cleveland Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov (20), left, shoots over Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half of Game 4 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Cleveland, Thursday, June 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Cavs might also have reinforcements should Mozgov walk. The known one is Tristan Thompson, who is perhaps the most versatile defender on the team in terms of ability, position, and scheme and lineup adaptability.

The semi-known reinforcement could come by way of Mozgov’s homeland of Russian in the form of Sasha Kaun. The Seattle Supersonics drafted Kaun in 2008 (yes, 2008) before his rights were traded to the Cavs. Since then, he spent time playing for CSKA Moscow.

Kaun, who is 30-years-old, met with the Cavs last week and they might decide to finally bring him on. Should he show some promise, the Cavs might be more at ease with letting Mozgov go and having Thompson and Kaun man the center position.

The bottom line is there are a lot of variables at play here, some more important than others. Mozgov gives the Cavs their most legitimate relief in terms of rim protection. He’s mobile for his size and while that’s an asset, it will soon decline with the age he’s at. He also proved to be one of the better offensive rebounders in the league with an OREB% of 11, good for 20th in the NBA.

He’s a good pick-and-roll big, even if he’s not that great at catching the ball in traffic. He’s a safety valve for teammates who drive and get stalled. He also offers decent shooting range, although he might never be a great pick-and-pop player (although Anderson Varejao didn’t become a great mid-range shooter until the latter part of his peak.)

Mozgov offers some great traits for this Cavs team. But it’s almost inevitable that he’ll be able to grab a bunch of money. It’s up to Gilbert to decide if he wants to keep ponying up the dough.

At this point in time, I really don’t know if the Cavs should bring Mozgov back or not. That’s not a cop-out, it would just be irresponsible to make a hard assessment one way or the other a year before he hits the market. So much can and will probably happen between now and then that I’ll go back and forth about it. Until then, we should enjoy having one more guaranteed year with him because he is a darn good player.

Get Ready for More Kevin Love

On the first day free agents were allowed to agree to contracts, Kevin Love did so with the Cavs, re-upping with a five-year, $100 million deal.

This ended any speculation there was that Love would spurn Cleveland after a full season of verbal commitments to the team through the media.

Throughout the season Love remained steadfast in his commitment to the Cavs for the future. Even though there was a report saying he would visit the Lakers, it never happened. Love always came back to the idea of a return with the Cavs, and a poolside meeting with LeBron set that in stone.

Love’s first season with the Cavs, as cliché as it sounds, had its ups and downs.

He had a healthy-ish year, playing in 75 games in the regular season. The caveat here is he dealt with a nagging back injury for much of the year. And then, just as he was experiencing playoff basketball for the first time in his career, Kelly Olynyk dislocated Love’s shoulder in Game 3 of the first round, forcing him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.

This was his first non-All Star season in which he played at least 60 games. This is also the first time he played with two other All Stars and wasn’t the number one option on offense every single night.

His role from his days with the Timberwolves changed, that’s for certain. He was asked to shift his focus from doing almost everything on offense – especially whenever Ricky Rubio was hurt – to be asked to essentially be a decoy for much of the time.

Was this change for the better? Maybe not for Love’s statistics and All Star status. But for the Cavs, it’s hard to argue with the results.

Last season there was a narrative that Love was being misused by the Cavs. As I wrote, this wasn’t the most accurate way to put it. Certainly Love wasn’t sniffing the individual success he did in Minnesota. But the Cavs’ offense for much of the season, especially after LeBron got healthy and two key trades were made, was humming like no other team in the Association. A big part of this was due to Kevin Love’s unique ability, even if he wasn’t scoring 26 points per night anymore.

In that post from late February, the passage that sums up most how I felt about the theory of Love being misused is this:

“Even so, the Cavs have still been winning, coming out on top in 16 of their last 18 games. Which ultimately leads me to believe that, even if the Cavs aren’t using him enough, I don’t think they’re necessarily misusing him.”

Most would argue that not having Love operate at the high post is a “misuse” of his talents. But I would argue Love wasn’t misused because he is a really good shooter for his position. Keeping him outside the arc forces guys that, for the most part, are used to guarding in the post move into unfamiliar territory. But mainly, it creates more space for guys like Kyrie and LeBron to drive and give them less resistance on the way to the rim.

Part of Kyrie Irving’s jump in FG% at the rim from 53.8% in 2013-14 to 58.2% in 2014-15 was because of the decrease in help he had to face on the way to the rim.

Kevin Love point cavs

With all that said, year two is the time to get Kevin Love more involved. Using the same focal points of a successful offense the whole season in year one of an accelerated rebuild is fine. But with Love cemented as a Cav for at least four years (fifth year player option), year two should be used to throw some more wrinkles into the offense.

David Griffin talked about Kevin Love when he was down in Las Vegas for Summer League. Griff let the media know that the important members of the Cavs organization think that Kevin could be utilized more in the offense.

“I think [Love] and Coach have had a lot of conversations about that. He and Bron have had conversations about that. Kevin enables us to have somebody else carry the mail when LeBron sits down once in a while… I think we have the ability to put him at the elbow and run offense through him a lot more than we did – some of the things he did really well in Minnesota.”

Griffin also brought up another good point that will probably be even more relevant this year. When LeBron wasn’t playing, the Cavs didn’t really veer much from their typical philosophy of really stretching the floor and keeping Love outside on the wing when LeBron wasn’t playing.

This may come into play more this year considering these Cavs have a year under their belt and will feel confident giving a guy like LeBron nights off in the regular season. With James out, it would be a good idea to lean more on Love to run some offense.

As he showed in Minnesota, Kevin is really good at playing at the elbow. We know his shooting range effectively stretches all the way out to the 3-point line. A unique feature about Love is his ability to see the floor and make the proper passes to make the offense flow.

The Cavs didn’t completely ignore this idea this season. One game in particular that I go back to was Kyrie’s 55-point game against Portland, one in which LeBron did not play.

On two of the last three possessions, Love was used at the elbow so Kyrie could operate off the ball; the first play leading to a huge shot.

https://vine.co/v/ermiVP2WJ9q

On the second play, Batum is able to get over the pick, forcing Kyrie to drive. Portland also shows good help defense on the drive.

https://vine.co/v/erm5ITHjr0E

Nonetheless, Love, on the first play, was reason 1b why the Cavs were able to tie the game up in crunch time.

This is exactly what the Cavs could use whenever LeBron needs a breather, is off that night, or is just flat out having an bad game. This is also why the Cavs went after Mo Williams in free agency.

More variance in the Cavs offense makes the team that much scary.

From January 13 (the day LeBron came back from his two weeks off) to the last regular season game on April 4, the Cavs had the highest Offensive Rating in the NBA. Yeah… better than Golden State.

With more variation in how they use their All Star stretch-four, teams will be more on their heels than last year. Get ready fo(u)r more (years of) Love in Cleveland (sorry, had to).

2015 Cavs Offseason: Haywood Gives You Wings

MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOTTI

Mo Williams is back in Cleveland four years after being traded with Jamario Moon for Baron Davis and a first round pick, who just happens to be his new teammate Kyrie Irving.

This is a cool signing for the Cavs for multiple reasons. First of all, it makes sense from a basketball standpoint. As we found out in the playoffs, the Cavs needed another guy beyond LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to run the offense. Perhaps Kevin Love will do that more from the elbow next season, but another guard to help give those two a blow was helpful.

Williams is not and has never been the most talented or gifted defender. However, the Cavs showed in the finals that they can hold their own on the defensive guys. There are players in place to help on that side of the court when Mo is in the game, namely Iman Shumpert.

It’s also a great story from a fan perspective. For the most part, Mo was very well liked around Cleveland up until the time he was traded to the Clippers. He expressed his regret when LeBron left and gave him the cold shoulder when LeBron made his first trip back to The Q as a member of the Heat. And while that seems petty now, it meant a lot to the emotional fans of Cleveland.

Now all of that’s over and we can just get back to basketball. Mo is an easy guy to root for and can flat out score at times, even going off for 50 points for the Timberwolves last year.

To sign him, the Cavs used part of their taxpayer Mid Level Exception.

This means that, even though the Cavs are/will be way over the cap, they can use that $1.3 million to sign a veteran who’s willing to take that much.

The Cavs also seem poised to bring back Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith, even with the Williams signing.

Even given the Stein reports, there are no guarantees with regards to those two, even though it would be harder to replace them than people realize.

The Cavs are limited to the outside resources they can bring in, but they will and do have options.

The biggest asset the Cavs have in terms of bringing in more talent is the contract of Brendan Haywood. He signed a six-year, $55 million deal with the Mavericks in 2010, the last year of that deal being fully non-guaranteed if not trade or cut by August 1st.

Two types of teams would want this contract: any team looking to clear cap space for next summer and any team looking to use Haywood again later this month and flip him to another club.

There have been at least a few rumors involving teams that are interested in trading for Haywood to either clear space or flip his contract. Most, if not all of these teams in these rumored deals would give up a wing player, which makes sense for a couple of reasons.

First, the Cavs might have a need for another perimeter player, not much noise has been made with regards to what is going on with the Cavs and J.R., other than Stein’s report on Monday night.

Second, it seems easier for the Cavs to find a more helpful wing player via trade rather than free agency. The Cavs are extremely limited with what money they can shell out to free agents. Most perimeter free agents rumored to the Cavs are guys that are serious candidates to see Shawn Marion/Mike Miller levels of decline. Looking at you, Tayshaun Prince.

Meanwhile, the Cavs could use another big, but it probably isn’t as much of a need as a wing who can score and/or defend. While it wouldn’t be ideal to have to rely on the trio of Love/Mozgov/Thompson throughout the whole regular season, they’re more than capable.

Should the Cavs not be able to get back J.R. Smith or Delly, these are some of the players they could potentially bring on by trading Brendan Haywood’s $10 million contract.

Jamal Crawford

Crawford is a 35 year-old, 15-year veteran. He’s long been considered to have one of the best handles in the league, producing some sickening highlight videos of him crossing defenders up.

Like a lot of these players rumored to the Cavs, he’s pretty old. The Cavs were hit and (mostly) miss on their older free agents from last year. Miller (34 when he signed with the Cavs) and Marion (36) flamed out and James Jones (33) showed some admirable play when asked to play the Kevin Love role.

Crawford probably would’ve been a better acquisition a week ago when the Cavs didn’t have Mo Williams under contract. With Kyrie, LeBron, Love, and Mo as guys who can run the offense, there’s not a huge need for another player to do so. If the Cavs were to get another guard, they would preferably want one that succeeds more so off the ball, like J.R. proved he could do with the Cavs last year.

As a floor-stretcher, Crawford’s been inconsistent year-to-year. Last year he hit from deep at just a 32.7% clip. Perhaps more worrisome than his inconsistency in catch-and-shoot 3’s the last two years (35.8% in 13-14, 38.0% in 14-15) is his tendancy to pull up on the majority of his shots. Pullups made up 44.6% and 52.4% of his long-range shots the last two years. Crawford is kind of a ball stopper and that’s not exactly what the Cavs need right now.

As for the Clippers, they would be hoping to flip Haywood for another big man to help fill the void of DeAndre Jordan leaving for the Dallas Mavericks.

The only issue here is that the Clippers would have to add more salary to this deal, as Crawford’s $5.7 million is below the minimum amount the Cavs would be allowed to receive for Haywood.

J.J. Redick

Hey, look! Another Clipper.

The Clippers may be in a weird spot. On one hand, this seems like a team/organization that is pretty prideful, regardless of the embarrassing uniforms they’ve decided to put on the floor next year.

Owner Steve Ballmer and President of Basketball Ops/Head Coach Doc Rivers don’t seem like the type of guys that would essentially give up on the season, which giving up Redick for Haywood would virtually signify.

On the other hand, they’re most likely not going to do anything significant this year. Some people don’t view DeAndre Jordan the difference maker that Dallas paid him to be, but there’s no doubt he fit what the Clippers were trying to do. Losing Jordan was pretty big, even though they still have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That’s how stacked the Western Conference is.

So if the Clips are determined to shed salary this year and save up even more for Kevin Durant next summer, trading Redick for Haywood would do that.

The reason this trade would be a cap move and dealing Crawford wouldn’t is because Crawford comes off LA’s books next year anyway. They’re going to have that space whether they make the trade or not, which is why they would look to flip Haywood in that scenario.

With a potential Redick deal, he won’t become a free agent until the summer of 2017. The Clips would still have his $7.2 million on their books next summer.

The 31 year-old fulfills exactly what the Cavs need out of their wing on the offensive side of the court. He’s a career 40.0% 3-point shooter, coming off a season where he shot a career high 43.7% from deep. And, his specialty as a shooter is spotting up. Over 50% of his shots the last two years have been of the catch-and-shoot variety, hitting 42.3% from 3 in 13-14 and 45.4% in 14-15.

Defense isn’t a strength for Redick, but aside from bringing in a defensive specialist who isn’t good on offense, he’s arguably the best mix of offense and defense the Cavs can get.

Wilson Chandler

It’s questionable whether or not the Nuggets have made Chandler available. But if so, he may need to be at the top of the Cavs’ list as far as getting someone for Haywood goes.

Chandler is the youngest out of this bunch at 28 years-old. He’s also the largest at 6’8, 220 lbs., and can play both forward positions. This position versatility alone would be enticing.

What makes Chandler a fit for the Cavs is his strengths on both sides of the floor. He’s not a knockdown shooter from deep, but his athleticism helps any deficiencies he has as a shooter. Also, Chandler had his best shooting season three years ago when he was mostly a reserve and playing 25 minutes a night, which he would do in Cleveland.

He’s a very good finisher, converting 63.1% of his shots in the restricted area last year. And while he wasn’t the greatest catch-and-shoot 3-ball player the last two years (37.2%, 34.2%), he’s at least willing. Catch-and-shoot 3’s were at least 35% of Chandler’s shots each of the last two seasons.

While Chandler is a versatile defender, he’s not elite by any means, which is okay. As stated before, there are a bunch of capable defenders on this team and Chandler is well above average.

The reason I’m leaning towards feeling he isn’t available is because a deal probably would been done by now. If Chandler’s one year, $7.2 million were attainable, I’m not sure there would be much reason for the Cavs to wait for a team to get desperate as has been reported.

The Cavs Are Back Where They Belong

For the first time in eight years, the Cavs are back in the NBA Finals. And for the first time in my adult life, it really feels like a Cleveland sports team has a great shot to win a championship for this great city.

What a road to glory it’s been.

Four years ago, it didn’t seem likely that we’d be back here this “soon.”

The Decision. The 26-game losing streak. Three coach firings. Multiple GM flubs. Losing to a four-man Lakers team. All of that in a span of four years.

After the Cavs sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, Ernie Johnson asked Dan Gilbert how long it’s felt since the Cavs’ last Finals appearance. Gilbert responded, “Like a hundred years.”

This could not be truer.

It’s only been four years since the Cavs have been legitimate championship contenders. But with all of the losing and 10-day contract players, it’s felt like a century.

Of course, the Cavs could not be where they are without some fortune along the way. That all started when the Cavs traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for a first round pick that turned into none other than All Star point guard Kyrie Irving. For four years, Kyrie was the lone guiding light in a seemingly endless abyss.

Kyrie Irving Timofey Mozgov

Through those four years, the Cavs thought they were building a young core for the future. This was capped off by the drafting of Kansas guard and Canadian phenom Andrew Wiggins.

But plans change. Especially when you have a chance to acquire the best player in the sport.

LeBron James coming back to Cleveland changed everything and his second decision was the catalyst for the plethora of moves David Griffin made to make this the best damn Cavs team fans have ever seen, and perhaps the most fun, since that’s what this is really all about.

There were bumps and bruises along the way, no doubt about it. Personally, the worst feeling of the season was seeing my favorite player, the guy who helped me stay around in the darkest of times, Anderson Varejao go down with a torn Achilles, ending his season. It looked as though Andy had escaped the serious injury bug after playing 65 games the year prior, his most since 2009-10.

Expectations can also be a fickle foe. This team, headed by Irving, LeBron, and Kevin Love, was expected to be an immediate contender. The 19-20 start to the Cavs’ season could’ve been a serious deterrent for this. Instead, the Cavs recovered in a big way.

LeBron got some much-needed rest. The Cavs bonded over bowling, in a genius move by David Blatt.

Then, David Griffin turned into a savageous wizard; the Cavs essentially acquired J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov for Dion Waiters (/pours one out), Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, and a first round pick.

These three players, combined with LeBron taking a dip in the fountain of youth, led to the Cavs team we see today, albeit with a bit of a twist; no Kevin Love.

Losing Love was yet another speed bump the Cavs decided to floor over. To me, Love was the piece that held this team and their offensive philosophy together. Spacing was the name of the Cavaliers’ game.

But with LeBron and Kyrie, you always have a shot. And not to mention the huge boost by Kyrie’s draftmate Tristan Thompson, who has played his way into a big payday.

Even with Love out, this team is still a joy to watch. It isn’t always pretty, but the Cavs have shown some serious grit, led by Thompson and folk hero Matthew Dellavedova.

Timofey Mozgov Delly J.R. Smith cavs

There are so many likeable guys on this team, and that’s something I honestly worried about after Andy went down and Dion was traded. I was worried about the ability for me and other fans to latch onto guys that aren’t superstars. Give credit to David Griffin; that seems like the silliest worry in the world right now. He delivered in the fandom and talent department, a two-headed monster that Cavs fans appreciate.

There are many thanks to give out for such a great season so far, but I’d like to do away with that just to say that Cleveland fans deserve this. LeBron coming back is a great story. It’s great for his legacy. Winning multiple rings for this city may very well move him past Michael Jordan, if that’s the type of conversation you enjoy having.

But most importantly, we deserve this and shouldn’t apologize for anything coming our way. We’ve been through a lot of hurt in the sports world.

This is about us more than anyone. We didn’t nee LeBron, Kyrie, Love, even Andy to be here to still root for this team. We didn’t need 40 or 50 wins to care deeply about Cleveland basketball. So it’s nice that all those guys have come together and done it anyway.

There are still four more wins left to enjoy. And even if they don’t reach that this year, it’s been a hell of a ride. And I appreciate everyone who’s stuck with this team the last four years. The Cavs are back and all is right in Cleveland.

https://vine.co/v/ebbKBrW3P9w