The reasons for Cleveland's struggles last season were many—which is usually the case with any team crummy enough to lose 58 games. More than their below-average offense and their softness on the glass, the Cavaliers suffered for their ineptitude on defense. Only three teams allowed more points per possession, as coach Byron Scott was unable to implement any defensive coherence on one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. Enter Mike Brown—fired unceremoniously in November 2012 by the Lakers after being dropped unceremoniously 30 months earlier by the Cavs. Brown's inability to take good teams over the top has drawn plenty of criticism, but he's well-suited for a long-term project like this one.
In coaching a team with lower expectations, Brown won't receive as much scrutiny for his micro-level moves. Instead, his top priority will be to build a defense from the ground up—and in that he should succeed. It took Brown just two seasons in Cleveland to turn an average D into a top five outfit, an evolution which pushed the 2007 Cavs into the NBA Finals ahead of schedule. That might be setting the bar high, but Brown can lean on the hyperactivity of a healthy Anderson Varej√£o and the versatility of the newly signed Earl Clark while he brings the younger prospects up to speed. At the least, Cleveland should be able to establish better defensive fundamentals and begin substantially improving.
COACH MIKE BROWN (6TH SEASON WITH CAVALIERS)
2012--13 RECORD 24--58 (5TH IN CENTRAL)
WHAT'S NEW Brown is back on the bench, three years after getting fired, to welcome oft-injured big man Andrew Bynum.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG KYRIE IRVING
22.5 PPG; 5.9 APG; 45.2 FG%; 39.1 3FG%
SG DION WAITERS
14.7PPG; 3.0 APG; 41.2 FG%; 31.0 3FG%
SF EARL CLARK
7.3 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 44.0 FG%; 33.7 3FG%
PF TRISTAN THOMPSON
11.7 PPG; 9.4 RPG; 48.8 FG%; 60.8 FT%
C ANDREW BYNUM*
18.7 PPG; 11.8 RPG; 1.9 BPG; 55.8 FG%
C ANDERSON VAREJ√ÉO
14.1 PPG; 14.4 RPG; 1.5 SPG; 47.8 FG%
NEW ACQUISITION *2011--12 STATS
POINTS PER 48 minutes scored by Kyrie Irving in clutch situations (a lead of five points or fewer, less than five minutes remaining), the highest average in the NBA last season.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE CAVALIERS
I saw a lot of issues last year that showed how impatient Kyrie Irving was with his teammates. He was like a quarterback who makes a good throw, but when the receiver drops the ball he lets everybody in the stadium know it was the receiver's fault. I don't know if he has the ability to raise his teammates' level. But maybe that will change as he gets stronger teammates.... Anderson Varej√£o is an improved shooter, not a great shooter, but he can move the ball. He's an unbelievable pick-and-roll defender, and he makes up for other people's mistakes because he's in the right place.... Tristan Thompson looks like he's one of those guys who puts up good numbers on a bad team. Maybe he benefits this year from playing alongside Varej√£o and Andrew Bynum, if Bynum overcomes his [right knee] injury. But if you play Thompson respectfully, I don't think he scores, other than garbage points.... Dion Waiters is a selfish player who was trying to prove he was a scorer. I never did see him being the kind of guy that teammates would want to play with.... The question is whether they're going to start Waiters or Jarrett Jack at the two. Jack was great last year in Golden State. On good teams Jack has been a good player, but on bad teams he's just O.K.... I know they want the No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett to be the big-bodied guy at small forward like the one they had before [LeBron James]. When Bennett was healthy at the beginning of the season at UNLV, a lot of people thought a lot of him. But I don't know if any other team would have drafted him No. 1.
DAVID LIAM KYLE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (BROWN)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (IRVING)