It’s hard to think of an NBA team with more riding on unknowns next season than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Four players – Kyrie Irving, Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett and Anderson Varejao – are coming off of or suffered serious injuries in their college and/or professional careers. For a team that has its sights set on making the playoffs this season, that’s a risky way to build a roster. For a team to be banking on talent with shaky histories, you have to add depth behind those players – and Chris Grant has done that.
For example, if Bynum doesn’t pan out, Tyler Zeller should be able to shoulder some of the minutes at center. He’s obviously not close to being the force that Bynum is at full strength, but nonetheless, he is an NBA-caliber seven footer that can shoot.
Still, it’s important to understand what we are dealing with for the upcoming season. In order to fully gauge the ceiling and expectations for 2013 Wine & Gold, we need to know where the roster has been before this moment. For players like Bynum, it’s especially important since he could make such a huge impact on this team. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the history of the Cavaliers injuries.
Miscellaneous, non-concerning injuries
Zeller missed five games in his rookie year and also played with a mask for a few games. Thompson also played with a mask, but didn’t miss any games. C.J. Miles missed 17 games last season, but they were largely spaced out and don’t indicate long term injury concerns. The same could be said for Clark, who only played in 59 games last season. No other current Cavalier has a real history of injuries.
Dion Waiters, Shooting Guard
Waiters had ankle and knee injuries that slowed down his rookie campaign. They weren’t career threatening or even as serious as some of his teammates injuries, but they added up enough to slow down his game. He appears to be working hard this offseason and I get the feeling that last season was a bad indicator of what kind of player he can be at this level.
That being said, I hope we see a Waiters that’s in shape and ready to play come October. That alone should help him stay healthy, as he’ll be able handle the rigors of an 82 game season.
Anthony Bennett, Power Forward
Bennett is coming off shoulder surgery that kept him out of summer league. I’m not particularly worried about his shoulder, assuming his rehab has gone well. What I am concerned about, however, is his reported weight gain.
Insiders reported that Bennett had gained 20 pounds since surgery, with him saying that he had only gained 15. If that’s the kind of work ethic you see from a player, that has to raise from red flags. Even if he couldn’t play basketball or lift weights, there are other good ways to keep from gaining weight like walking or keeping to a strict diet.
We’ll see how Bennett looks when camps starts. If he appears to be in shape, then everything will be okay. If not, then he’ll need to prove that he’s physically healthy enough to compete in the NBA and be productive right away.
Anderson Varejao, Power Forward/Center
Varejao has never played a full season in the NBA. His injury woes started way back in 2004, when he had patella tendinitis in his left knee. Then, after his first solid season, he dislocated his shoulder playing for the Brazilian national team, causing him to miss 32 games at the start of the 2005 season. From 2010 on, after a brief stretch of health, he’s dealt with a large variety of injures. First he tore a tendon in his right ankle in 2010, then broke his wrist a season later. And last year, Varejao went down with one injury only to have his comeback derailed by a blood clot in his lung.
Varejao’s injuries appear to be a mix of his style of play and him playing out of position at center. Bennett’s arrival complicates this, but Varejao should see some more minutes at power forward if Bynum can stay healthy. Either way, it’s a huge question mark. If he’s on, he’s a great player who is real piece on a playoff team. If not, then it might be clear that the Cavaliers should have traded their longest tenured player when his value was at his highest.
Kyrie Irving, Point Guard
I’m far less concerned about Irving’s injuries than most. The toe ligament injury at Duke? It happened, he came back before the end of the season and it doesn’t appear to be chronic. Missing 31 games his rookie year? For a rookie coming into the league with rust and playing a condensed season, that’s not too surprising. Hitting his hand against the wall, resulting in a break? That’s just pure unluckiness and something that happened in the spur of the moment. His index finger injury was also unlucky considering it’s something that could happen to anybody. Same thing with the nose injury that resulted in Irving wearing his Batman mask. I’m no medical expert, but Irving’s injuries don’t appear chronic to me. These aren’t knee injuries or ankle issues happening time and time again. They are singular injuries that aren’t snowballing into more serious, career altering injuries.
I think Jarrett Jack’s signing could help Irving quite a bit. He won’t have to drive as much and can spend less time in the lane. So if he is brittle – which I don’t think he is – that will at least lower the wear and tear on his body.
Andrew Bynum, Center
Bynum has the ugliest injury track record of any Cavalier and that’s saying something considering the pasts of both Irving and Varejao. And think about this: the much maligned center’s last full NBA campaign came way back in the 2006-2007 season, his second in the NBA. If you can the entire season he missed last year, he’s played in a whopping 55 percent of possible games since 2006.
That number becomes even more concerning when you look at the type of injuries he’s had. They started with a knee dislocation suffered when he landed on Lamar Odom’s foot in a game against the Grizzlies. In the following season, Bynum tore his MCL and missed 12 weeks. And although he played through it, Bynum suffered a torn meniscus in the 2010 NBA playoffs. In the next two seasons, he only missed a handful of games due minor injuries, but they still happened. When he was traded to the Sixers in August of 2012, Bynum underwent Orthokine treatment and ultimately underwent arthroscopic surgery that ended his run in the city of brotherly love before it even ended.
He’s certainly high risk, but there is a large reward waiting if he can be healthy. That’s just a big if for a player that’s only 25.
As you see, a large amount of the Cavaliers key pieces have a history of injuries. If one or more goes down for an extended period of time, we could be looking at a fairly average team with a shallow front court and no star power. But if everyone is healthy? This team has potential to make noise in the East. But’s all dependent on who actually spends time playing basketball this season. If I had to rank who was most important for the Cavaliers it would look like this: 1. Irving. 2a. Varejao 3a. Bynum 4. Waiters 5. Bennett. The Cavaliers entire season can change if anyone ends up missing significant time and, considering certain players histories, it wouldn’t be all that surprising.
 Also, remember that Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller missed a combined 26 games last season. Tristan Thompson is the only key player to play all 82 games in the 2012-2013 campaign.
 A healthy, effective Bynum could mean the Cavaliers are a competitive playoff team instead of one barely making the playoffs as an eight seed.
 The closest he has come is playing 81 games twice, in 2006 and 2008.
 Interesting note: Bynum as the youngest player in the NBA for his first two years due to being drafted at age 17 out of high school.