To the casual NBA fan, it would be surprisingly reasonable to think the Cleveland Cavaliers are heading in the right direction and that the team is on its way to its first playoff appearance since LeBron James donned Cleveland jersey.
A playoff berth is vital if Cleveland hopes to convince All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to stay in Cleveland.
Irving is coming off a 31 point, 14 assist and five rebound All-Star game MVP performance while his teammate, shooting guard Dion Waiters, is coming off a strong showing in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge, gathering 31 points and dishing out seven assists.
The Cavs also made two of the biggest moves before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. The team traded center Andrew Bynum and a draft pick to the Chicago Bulls for the rights of small forward and former All-Star Luol Deng Jan. 6. Two weeks later, the move was followed by the Cavs trading forward Earl Clark and center Henry Sims along with two second round draft picks to the Philadelphia 76ers for center Spencer Hawes.
The hope is these two veteran players will help provide leadership for the team in its goal of reaching the playoffs, one of the few qualities Irving has yet to add to his game.
The organization also recently fired general manager Chris Grant, which was followed by a six-game win streak, the first in Irving’s three year NBA career.
All of these signs point toward immediate improvement for the organization, however Cleveland fans know to tread lightly.
A strong showing for Cleveland during the All-Star break might appear as a positive, but Cavs fans know all too well that All-Star week performances mean little to nothing. During last season’s All-Star break, Irving propelled himself to superstar status after winning the 3-point contest and crossing then-Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Knight into the history books in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge.
Unfortunately for Cavs fans, that success didn’t follow Irving when he came back to Cleveland. Instead, his stats began to drop, including his points per game which fell by 3 1/2. The team failed to reach the playoffs and earned the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Rumors have been swirling that Irving isn’t happy in Cleveland and wants out. While the rumors have continuously been denied by the organization and Irving himself, Cavs fans can’t help but cringe at the mere possibility of “The Decision 2.0.”
Add to the fact that the Cavs third leading scorer and arguably the NBA’s best sixth man, Waiters, has been noted as having problems developing positive relationships with his teammates and one starts to notice the Cavs have some obvious issues that need to be fixed soon if the team wants to make the playoffs.
Another one of these issues is the team’s health. Currently, the Cavs have three crucial players missing games because of injury. The injury bug seems to bite starting center Anderson Varejao every year and this year has been no different as he has missed six straight games because of a sore back. Starting shooting guard C.J. Miles has missed two straight games for a sprained ankle and Waiters has missed three straight after hyperextending his left knee. Coach Mike Brown said there is no timetable for the return of any these players in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
A recent bright spot for the Cavs is the progression of the 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who averaged 8 points and 5.5 rebounds in the month of February, both of these are up from his regular season averages of 4.1 and 3.2 respectively. Bennett also accumulated his first two double-doubles in his NBA career in February.
Reaching the playoffs this year would provide fans with a glimmer of hope that Irving will decide to stay in Cleveland, and recent trades show that management realizes this. Behind all the clutter that is in the way, there is still a chance the Cavs make the playoffs. Just 6 1/2 games back of the Atlanta Hawks, who currently hold the 8th seed in the sluggish Eastern Conference, the Cavs could make the playoffs if the team finds a way to come together and turn things around. With only 25 games remaining, this needs to happen sooner rather than later.