There are a number of ways to approach the art of team building in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers, trying to make the most of the “LeBron James championship window”, aren’t doing things the methodical, patient way, as they try to find a recipe that will give them an edge over the Golden State Warriors.
The Cavaliers approach seems to be this: Try and add superstars around LeBron James, and switch ’em if it doesn’t work. Right now, they seem to be hard at work trying to move Kevin Love somewhere, and land Paul George. How do LeBron and George play together? That’s not something the Cavaliers seem to be thinking about. They’ve decided Love is their Achilles heel in the lineup against the Warriors, and they’re trying to do everything they can to correct that.
An even crazier rumor (which might be hinging on some truth) is the Cavaliers also trying to add Carmelo Anthony. It seems that Anthony and Phil Jackson isn’t going to work after all (surprise, surprise), and some suggest that the Knicks and the player they gave up an entire team for in 2011 are working on some sort of buyout. Anthony has a no-trade clause, but the teams that he wants to join don’t want to make a trade for him. As a free agent, who this time won’t be looking to make as much money as possible and maybe also without a wife pushing him to stay in the Big Apple, he puts himself in a better situation. Perhaps even next to good friend LeBron James in Cleveland?
See, I’m not sure that even a team with a lineup of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving and Paul George can beat the current Warriors. Golden State were probably the most talented team in the NBA even without Kevin Durant joining them. Regardless of what it makes you think of his fighting spirit, loyalty and other random “metrics”, he did what many free agents do – join the team that puts him in the best situation to win without having to give up money (or too much money) while signing the contract.
But what makes the Warriors so good isn’t just Durant. It was their ability, whether it was by excellent planning, talent development and talent spotting, to put together a group of players through the draft that smoothly transformed into the best or close to it in their respective positions. The Warriors have a number of playmakers, a number of terrific defenders, a slew of shooters. It’s not just Stephen Curry, but having Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as well as Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala coming off the bench. All players who can create for themselves and others. Aside from Curry, all can guard multiple positions. Green might be the best defensive player in the NBA, and the Warriors most important player.
The Cavaliers can’t draft three years in a row and wait for things to happen. But they can try and change their approach. Instead of surrounding James with shooters who can’t do anything besides catch-and-shoot, why not try and see how they can surround him with hybrid players, or at least add some to the team. Guys who aren’t liabilities on defense, and do more than just catch-and shoot on offense. Maybe work out some trade with the Thunder for Victor Oladipo? Rudy Gay has to be someone they’re thinking about. Whether it’s realistic or not, you’re going to hear some Chris Bosh rumors flying around as well at some point.
The Warriors seem to have created an almost unfair advantage simply by making the right decisions, over and over again since they made some changes in the front office. The Cavaliers have no choice but to count on the longevity of James to try and keep up before the inevitable end. But they seem to be chasing the wrong players, heading into free agency with the wrong approach. As limited as their options are due to cap space, approaching depth, defense and role players might be more important than adding another superstar.