LeBron James has been gone for two years now and the franchise has gone belly-up. Back-to-back seasons of 19 and 21 wins, respectively, have left the Cavs' faithful wondering where this is heading.
They'll get another high draft pick this year. If it works out even close to their first pick in 2011 (guard Kyrie Irving), they'll be thrilled. In essence, the Cavs aren't that far from being decent. They need a high-scoring wing player, another legitimate big and some quality depth and they could be right back in the hunt.
The Cavs were right in the thick of things when center Anderson Varejao was injured. He had the ball under the basket in a Feb. 10 game against Milwaukee. Bucks forward-center Drew Gooden chopped at the ball and got all wrist. Varejao's right wrist was fractured, which ended his season. He's such an important player for the Cavs. Unfortunately, he's not been able to stay healthy. He's missed a combined 92 of 148 games in the last two years.
The final straw came about a month later. Cavs general manager Chris Grant dealt backup guard Ramon Sessions and guard-forward Christian Eyenga to the Los Angeles Lakers on March 15 for a first-round pick, forward Luke Walton and forward Jason Kapono (who was waived).
The Cavs were only 1 1/2 games out of the No. 8 playoff spot at the time of the trade. Things unraveled quickly thereafter. Grant went out and replaced Sessions with D-League star Donald Sloan, but the trend had already started.
They quickly dropped to the bottom of the Central Division standings where they stayed for the rest of the year. That makes two consecutive years in the Central basement, something that hasn't been done in more than 20 years.
The Cavs have four draft picks in the top 35 or so selections in the 2012 draft. The Lakers' pick is about No. 25 overall. They also own New Orleans' second-round pick, which could be No. 32 overall, as well as their own second-rounder. This is a talent-rich draft, so they'll have opportunities to make strides.
They also have more than $20 million in salary cap space. Grant isn't a big proponent of signing high-priced free agents. But a team can do a lot with that kind of space, such as making a trade.
The Cavs knew they had something special in G Kyrie Irving before he played a game. The favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award developed into quasi-superstar early on, and is already among the top 10 point guards in the NBA. He averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists in 51 games this season. His 26-point effort against future Hall of Fame G Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns in only his 11th NBA game proved he was the real deal.
When C Anderson Varejao fractured his right wrist, the Cavs were 10-15. They were 1 1/2 games out of the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the time. From the time of the injury, they won just 11 of the last 41 games. Once again, injuries have torn the heart out of a season.
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