STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It's playoffs or bust for the Cavaliers in 2013-14. At least that's the stated goal of the franchise after being one of the worst teams in the NBA during their post-LeBron era. In the three years since the King left for warmer climes, Cleveland has won a combined 64 games (or two fewer than they did in 2008-09 alone). There are plenty of reasons for optimism this season. They have a new coaching staff led by Mike Brown in his second coming to Cleveland. The Cavs also made some splashes in free agency (Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack), and they have a boatload of young talent captained by one of the most lethal fourth-quarter scorers in the league, Kyrie Irving.
If everything goes right, the Cavs could be a scary team in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, there are a lot of blanks that need to be filled in just the right way for everything to go right. Bynum and fellow big man Anderson Varejao have been injury prone. Irving has also missed time with a variety of maladies throughout his short career. There are also a number of young players on the roster (Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller) who will need to take a step forward in their development to help the team achieve its goals. If merely making the playoffs is the goal (and it is), then the Cavaliers should make good. Winning a playoff round may be beyond this team's ability, especially if they sneak in on the eighth seed and are forced to face the Heat in the first round.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
As noted above, health will be a major factor in determining playing time. Bynum and Varejao are coming off major injuries. Varejao was limited to 25 games in 2012-13. Bynum didn't play at all for Philadelphia. They could both be brought along slowly, which could open playing time for Thompson, Zeller, and No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who is coming off shoulder surgery of his own. The five bigs will share the 96 minutes allotted to power forward and center early on, with the veterans taking on more time should they prove healthy. Alonzo Gee started all 82 games at small forward for the Cavaliers in 2012-13, but that was more of a necessity than a choice. He is more suited for a reserve role and may back up Earl Clark who brings more size and defensive versatility.
The Cavs' backcourt situation is more clear. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack will control the majority of the minutes. Irving played 35 minutes per game in 2012-13, which may be too many with his injury history. Jack's presence should allow Irving to play fewer minutes at point. Waiters will start at shooting guard and play there exclusively. Jack will come off the bench, but he'll get plenty of minutes because of his ability to play either guard spot. C.J. Miles and rookie Sergey Karasev could provide some scoring off the bench, but minutes will be limited.
Andrew Bynum: His perpetual absence due to injury sent Philadelphia to Skunksville, but the Cavaliers are pinning their hopes on the 7-footer after signing him to a low-risk, high-reward contract. When he's healthy, Bynum is among the top centers in the game. He averaged 18.1 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2011-12 during which he played 60 of the 66 games (four of which he was suspended) in the strike-shortened season. His coach at the time was Brown, so maybe the former Lakers coach has a magical elixir to keep Bynum healthy and productive. Bynum will be 26 years old when the season starts, and he'll be one of the biggest wild cards in fantasy drafts. He could be a mid-round bust but is certainly worth a late-round flier.
Tyler Zeller: Forced into a starter's role last year by Varejao's injury, Zeller looked like a serviceable backup center. The Tar Heel alumnus averaged 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds, which were not useful in most leagues. Zeller could be more effective in reduced minutes and may be able to carve a bench role for the Cavaliers, but there is little reason to draft him in all but the deepest of leagues.
Anderson Varejao: In the first six weeks of the 2012-13 season, the Brazilian big man put up some eye-popping numbers. He averaged 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds but was felled by a knee injury on December 18, and a blood clot in his lung ended his season. Coach Brown will need to carefully monitor Varejao's minutes. He played 36 minutes in 2012-13, the team might be best served bringing Sideshow Andy off the bench. Even in reduced minutes, he could be an impact fantasy rebounder, but fantasy owners should temper their expectations.
Tristan Thompson: While starting next to Varejao last season, Thompson looked like he was going be nothing more than a slightly below average player. More doors opened for the 6-9 Canadian after Varejao was lost for the season, and Thompson produced buckets of double-doubles thereafter. He finished the season averaging 11.7 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds. If Varejao and Bynum manage to stay healthy, Thompson's numbers will likely take a large dip, but he can be drafted and stashed in deeper leagues because the odds of Bynum and Varejao staying healthy aren't great.
Anthony Bennett: There haven't been lower expectations for a No. 1 pick since Kwame Brown took a daily tongue lashing from Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards. Comparing Bennett to Brown isn't exactly fair. Before he injured his shoulder last year with UNLV, Bennett looked like a monster prospect. He had eight double-doubles in his first 17 games. The 6-8 forward was slowed by injury and a bump in competition in conference play, but he has a diverse offensive game and enough athleticism to be a good rebounder and defender. The Cavs have said that Bennett will likely only play at power forward, and while it seems unlikely, the possibility remains that he could showcase his talen well enough in the preseason to fight for the starting job. We project him to come off the bench at the start of the season, but we'll also be keeping a close on his health and development in camp.
Earl Clark: It took Clark a few years to find his role in the NBA after being a lottery pick out of Louisville in 2010. The 6-10 jumping jack provided much needed youth and vigor to the aging Lakers last season. He started 36 games and should start for coach Brown with the Cavs. His averages of 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 2012-13 may represent his ceiling, so Clark has limited fantasy appeal.
Alonzo Gee: It's hard not to admire the former undrafted free agent who bounced around the NBA in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He made appearances with the Wizards and Spurs before latching on with Cleveland. However, if Gee is a team's starting small forward and plays 31 minutes per game, that team is likely not going far. Gee should come off the bench in 2012-13 and provide perimeter defense, but he will almost assuredly not score in double digits again.
Kenny Kadji: Kadji brings an interesting skill set for a 6-11 player. He was primarily a 3-point shooter for the Miami Hurricanes over the past two seasons. He may be a long shot to make the Cavaliers roster after going undrafted, and he is an even longer shot to get significant minutes.
Kyrie Irving: Irving has proven that he's a fantasy stud when he's on the court and healthy. The problem is that he's missed 50 games through his first two seasons. Last year, he had issues with his knee, shoulder, hand and an illness that caused him to miss 23 games. The one-and-done Blue Devil has the rare ability to take over games and has posted excellent shooting percentages (career numbers of 46 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point land, and 86 percent from the line). He has much more help on the 2013-14 Cavaliers roster, which may allow him to be more effective. Irving is a borderline first-round pick in almost all fantasy leagues.
Jarrett Jack: After playing for four teams in his first seven years in the league, Jack found himself in his role with the Warriors last season. He came off the bench to support the young backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Jack should reprise that role with the Cavaliers. He'll allow Irving to play off the ball more and give the team a veteran point guard to run the show when Irving is resting. Jack may not top his 2012-13 averages of 12.9 points and 5.6 assists, but he will be a useful player who can be drafted in the mid to late rounds.
Dion Waiters: It should help Waiters' development to play just one position. After getting a trial as a combo guard as a rookie, Waiters will be limited to duty at shooting guard in his second year. The former-Syracuse player averaged 14.7 points but made just 41 percent of his field goals and 31 percent of his three-pointers. While he'll continue to start, his minutes may be limited by Jack's presence, but Waiters could contribute similar numbers if his shooting efficiency can improve.
C.J. Miles: In his first year as a Cavalier, Miles struggled to find a consistent role off the bench. He averaged 11.2 points in just 21 minutes and hit 38 percent of his three-pointers. The long-time Jazz reserve will likely not see as many minutes in 2013-14 but could provide some scoring spurts off the bench.
Sergey Karasev: The 19th pick of the 2013 draft is unlikely to see many minutes. He has good NBA size at 6-8, 200 lbs and could provide perimeter defense, but he's mainly known as a shooter. It's hard to see how he will have a major fantasy impact in 2013-14 unless major injuries hit the Cavaliers.
Carrick Felix: The second round pick out of Arizona State is an energy player who could provide a defensive spark to the Cavaliers' second unit.
Jarrett Jack: The reserve point guard is coming off an excellent season as he helped Golden State to the playoffs, where they knocked off Denver and took the Spurs to six games. Jack will provide enough points and three-pointers to be a fantasy asset. If Irving should continue to suffer injuries, Jack could be the focus of the Cavaliers offense.
Andrew Bynum: All of the noises out of Cleveland sound positive (as they often do prior to any season for any team). Here's what we know: Bynum missed last season with knee discomfort. He missed large chunks of nearly each of his seven previous seasons with the Lakers. If a fantasy player's league has an IR slot or a deep bench, then there is less risk in taking the 7-footer. In other leagues, owners would be wise to let Bynum be someone else's problem.