Legitimate optimism for the Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving smiles after being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Newark, New Jersey, June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

I have no idea how the Cavs are going to do this year in terms of wins and losses, but after watching the two exhibition games, there’s certainly cause for optimism for the long-term prospects of the franchise.

First, Kyrie Irving looks like a player. Just watching him on the court you see a player with all the tools. While he has struggled with his jump shot, he looks like a natural point guard. He handles the ball beautifully and he can finish near the basket. His teammates are still getting used to the passes he zips in there. He knows how to drive to the hoop and get to the foul line. He’s very quick and also seems to have a second gear that helps him blow past people. He’s also smart and steady. With Irving it looks like the Cavaliers have a legitimate building block for the future.

Tristan Thompson has also shown some flashes. When he first walked on the court in Detroit he looked lost. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game and he was making dumb fouls on defense. But when he came out in the second half he got a couple of dunks and then some wicked blocks, and all of a sudden he looked great out there. The kid runs the floor very well and he has a high motor.

Omri Casspi looks like a nice addition. He’s another high energy player that will fit in well on a team that will be relying on defense and fast break points. Coach Byron Scott made a revealing observation last week, calling Casspi a “pit bull” and implying that the team last year sometimes had the attitude of less aggressive canines. I think he was referring to J.J. Hickson, who clearly had talent but often seemed to disappear.

Scott wants an aggressive team this year, and it looks like they have a bunch of players who will put in the work and effort. Getting Anderson Varejao back is a big part of that. He’s looked great in the preseason games and he sets the tone for the entire team. Guys like Samardo Samuels and Alonzo Gee bring that same attitude.

This will be a high-energy group that plays like a team, so I don’t expect this team to be embarrassed like they were last year. They should be competitive and start the process of building for the future.

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Joe Smith poised to join Cavs

It’s not a secret. Everyone expects Joe Smith to sign with the Cavs after he clears waivers on Wednesday. Some have speculated that Drew Gooden would be a better option, but TD at WaitingForNextYear sawts away that dumb idea.

Smith gives the Cavs some much-needed help down low. The only downside is that J.J. Hickson will get less playing time. I think Hickson has the potential to make an impact down the stretch, but at least the Cavs now have more experience and plenty of options. By the time Ben Wallace comes back, he may find it hard to get his minutes back.

Ben Wallace has broken leg

This is a tough break for the Cavs.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Ben Wallace will miss four to six weeks after breaking his right leg in Thursday’s 93-74 loss to Houston.

Wallace said Yao Ming kicked him as the two were running down the court in the second quarter. The 6-foot-9 Wallace managed to play midway into the third quarter before leaving for good with 6:19 left.

“I thought it was like a calf bruise or something, that would probably let up eventually,” Wallace said. “But it didn’t. It was one of those freak accidents that happen in basketball.”

Wallace saw the X-rays taken at the Toyota Center that showed the broken fibula.

“I know what that little white line means,” he said.

Wallace, who guarded Yao for most of his 17 minutes, was playing his fourth game since missing Cleveland’s Feb. 18 win over Toronto with a right arm laceration that required 14 stitches.

Wallace was averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 points in 53 games this season. His loss could be devastating and continues a run of bad injury luck for Cavs, who have played without Zydrunas Ilgauskas (left ankle) and Delonte West (broken wrist) for extended periods.

“It’s a tough blow for us,” said Cleveland coach Mike Brown.

This isn’t good news, but it’s not “devastating.” It’s time for J.J. Hickson to step up.

Bill Simmons on Lebron and other Cavs players

John Paulsen from our national site, The Scores Report, dug up another great column from Bill Simmons where he discusses the “trade value” of 40 NBA players. His take on LeBron is awesome.

1. LeBron James
Last February, I wrote that he didn’t have a ceiling. This year? I figured out his ceiling. At least for right now. At age 24, he’s a cross between ABA Dr. J (unstoppable in the open court, breathtaking in traffic, has the rare ability to galvanize teammates and crowds with one “Wow” play, even handles himself as well off the court) and 1992 Scottie Pippen (the freaky athletic ability on both ends, especially when he’s cutting pass lines or flying in from the weak side for a block), with a little MJ (his overcompetitiveness and sense of The Moment), Magic (the unselfishness, which isn’t where I thought it would be back in 2003, but at least it’s in there a little) and Bo Jackson (how he can occasionally just overpower the other team in a way that doesn’t seem human) mixed in … only if all of that Molotov Superstar Cocktail was mixed together in Karl Malone’s body. This is crazy. This is insane. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And to think, LeBron doesn’t even have a reliable 20-footer or a post-up game yet. See, this is only going to get better. And it’s already historic.

As a Celtics fan, I shudder for the future. As an NBA fan, I am pinching myself.

Until next year.

Great stuff. He also has an interesting take on another Cavs player.

J.J. Hickson: My favorite under-the-radar rookie and a legitimate 2009 Playoff X Factor. If he played for the Lakers, L.A. fans would be comparing him to a young Karl Malone right now.