To me, the most interesting Cavalier this season is Dion Waiters. Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao will be great if they stay healthy. It feels like Tristan Thompson will average 14/11 for the next eight years, so not much mystery there. This year’s rookies will probably not play integral roles, at least at the beginning. I believe both Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev will be part of the core when the Cavs become an elite team, but Bennett needs to lose a few pounds and Karasev needs to gain a few first. As for the free agents the Cavs have signed, I see them more as a bridge to the time when the younger players are ready to shoulder the burden.
Waiters, however, fascinates me. Of the four lottery picks the Cavs have made over the past three years, Waiters has the widest gap between his floor and his ceiling. His floor is a guy who comes off the bench and scores in bunches, but not always efficiently. Maybe a poor man’s Monta Ellis. That type of player is generally perceived as a weak link on a playoff team and ends up being the star of a lottery team. With the trajectory the Cavs are on, that would mean the low end of Waiters’ potential would have him headed out of town. The upside for Waiters, to me, is a guy like Joe Dumars. Plays tough D, gets 15-17 a night without dominating the ball and is the ball handler when Kyrie needs a break. The good Dion could be here for 10 years and be a core player on a championship caliber team.
If you were to ask which of these scenarios is most likely, I wouldn’t be able to guess. I do feel that there will be no middle ground for Waiters. I also feel that the Cavs will not be as patient with Waiters as they might be with the other players they have drafted recently. Shooting guard is probably the NBA position with the shortest learning curve, and it is reasonable to expect that whatever we see from Waiters this year is pretty much what we can expect for the next five years. Given that, if by midseason the Cavs look at Waiters and don’t see him as a core player when they reach contender status, I would expect him to be traded.
There are several reasons why this is logical. First, with Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles available, Waiters needs to show a lot of progress just to keep his starting job. Also, with Karasev waiting in the wings, the Cavs have alternatives for both the immediate and long-term future. If those options are not satisfactory, shooting guard is generally the easiest position to fill either through the draft or free agency, so the Cavs will not hang on to Waiters if they feel he is holding them back. If they don’t see him as part of their future, they would be better served including him in a package for an established player or using him to stockpile more draft picks than hanging on to him until his trade value has evaporated.
Personally, I would have drafted Harrison Barnes. Having said that, we saw enough from Waiters last year to inspire fantasies of the Cavs one day having the best backcourt in the NBA. There is no questioning the talent, and Waiters seems more than willing to do the work. All that he needs is to have all the pieces click. Will that happen in Cleveland? I believe we will know by Valentine’s Day.