November 24, 2014

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Rick Noland: Cavs’ plan still looks like a loser

The Cavaliers have a master plan. I’m serious. When I learn more details, I’ll fill you in.

Right now, from piecing together comments I’ve heard from owner Dan Gilbert, general manager Chris Grant and coach Byron Scott, who have led the franchise to an eye-popping — and eye-watering — record of 50-139 over exactly the last 2½ seasons, that plan has something to do with “maintaining flexibility,” “acquiring assets” and building a team capable of “sustainable success.”

I’m not 100 percent positive, but in layman’s terms I believe that translates into “doing nothing,” “hoping for the best in the draft lottery” and “not trying to win” when it comes to this season.

For that matter, it’s pretty much been that way since You Know Who left for South Beach in the summer of 2010. (Please, it’s way too early to start worrying about whether You Know Who might come back in the summer of 2014.)

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Along the way, many sports fans have become so apathetic the 10-31 Cavs — that’s a 20-win pace, folks — have simply become irrelevant in their eyes.

They are irrelevant not only on a national scale, but also in their hometown, where fans would much rather talk about possible coordinators and cheerleaders for the Browns and backup outfielders and strikeout kings — as hitters, not pitchers — for the Indians.

The Cavs, meanwhile, continue to bank on their unspoken “Oklahoma City Plan” — we’ve got to call it something — as they stockpile players taken high in the draft.

So far we have Kyrie Irving (No. 1 in 2011), Tristan Thompson (No. 4 in 2011), Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2012) and, to a lesser extent, Tyler Zeller (No. 17 in 2012, from Dallas).

What we still don’t have are many wins.

But have no fear. In keeping with the “OKC Plan,” another top-five pick — possibly the No. 1 choice — will join Kyrie, Tristan, Dion and Tyler this summer, as will a mid-to-late first-round pick.

That will give the Cavs six first-round picks on their roster in three years. What it still might not give them is many wins.

That’s because the only time the Oklahoma City Plan has ever really worked has been in Oklahoma City — and even that required some huge good fortune and has yet to result in a championship.

Remember, superstar small forward Kevin Durant is with the Thunder only because the organization, then still in Seattle, did not win the 2007 draft lottery. Had it gotten the No. 1 pick, it most assuredly would have taken Ohio State center Greg Oden, just like Portland did without hesitation.

We all know how that story has turned out. What we don’t often realize is there might not have ever been an OKC Plan if Durant had gone elsewhere.

As it turned out, the Thunder added Russell Westbrook with the fourth pick in 2008 and James Harden with the third pick in 2009.

When all three players blossomed into stars — not starters by default, but legitimate stars — and some quality veterans were added, OKC reached the NBA Finals last season.

It follows, then, that the Cavaliers are on the right track because they’ve already added a No. 1 pick and a pair of No. 4 selections, right?

Wrong.

For starters, Durant is a special and unique talent. As good as Irving is — and he’ll get even better — it’s unlikely he’ll ever be as dominant.

The bigger problem is Waiters and Thompson — and probably whomever the Cavs add this summer — are much more unlikely to ever approach the caliber of Westbrook and Harden.

On top of all that, there are also the salary cap issues that could arise, as they did in OKC, which ended up trading Harden rather than give him a max contract.

The real problem, though, is that trying to build almost entirely through the draft almost never works.

I mean, if multiple high lottery picks guaranteed huge success — dare we say “sustainable” success? — franchises like Sacramento, Golden State, Washington, Charlotte, Minnesota and a number of others would be in much better shape than they are.

Even the Los Angeles Clippers, a perennial lottery participant for many years, didn’t become a legitimate title contender until acquiring veteran Chris Paul (and Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf).

In Cleveland, Grant’s big offseason acquisitions in 2012 were — drum roll, please — C.J. Miles and Jeremy Pargo.

Do not despair, though. C.G. has also given us Luke Harangody, Samardo Samuels, Donald Sloan, Manny Harris, Omri Casspi, D.J. Kennedy, Ryan Hollins, Jon Leuer, Kevin Jones and many more.

What Grant has not given us — nor has Scott, whose players continue to make the same defensive mistakes game after game, year after year — is many wins.

That has to change, and it has to start to change next season. If it doesn’t, then it’s time for big changes at the top of the organization.

It’s time the super-talented Irving put some effort into defense and improved his ball distribution.

It’s time Anderson Varejao actually stayed healthy for an entire season (though I must admit, it would now be very hard to blame the Cavs if they moved the oft-injured Brazilian in the offseason).

It’s time Waiters started to learn what a good shot is and how to play without the ball in his hands.

It’s time Thompson developed some low-post moves, and it’s high time Scott put some low-post plays into his offense so the youngster could legitimately try to develop that part of his game.

(What do the Cavs have to lose by letting Thompson try to score in the post other than more games, which they’re probably going to lose anyway?)

It’s time Zeller became a more aggressive rebounder.

It’s time to replace all the bench players who could vanish from the NBA tomorrow and never be missed with quality veterans who can not only play, but lead.

Now, I’m not suggesting the Cavs go out and overspend for an aging veteran who is going to help them sneak into the playoffs and never do anything once there. That would be foolish.

Nor am I suggesting they sign someone to a monster contract and leave themselves hamstrung when it comes to making future moves.

What I am suggesting for this offseason is that they look to add two or three decent, proven players who are still under 30. Whether they do so through trades or free agency, I don’t really care, but I expect something better than Miles and Pargo.

I am also suggesting, strongly, that they quit putting an inferior product on the floor, as they have done for three years running.

I mean, it’s time this franchise started trying to do something other than get another high draft pick.

Heck, it’s time this franchise started trying, period.

Sound like a plan?

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.