When it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s obvious that the organization has a clear plan for the future. With stud rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson recently added to a young Cavaliers roster, it appears that the future is very bright for this Cleveland franchise. Cavaliers team spokesman and Senior VP of Communications Tad Carper spent 15 minutes with The Carroll News during halftime of the Los Angeles Clippers’ game in Cleveland on Feb. 8 to discuss what led the team to drafting both Irving and Thompson, as well as the plan going forward for the Cavaliers. With a roster full of talented, youthful players and a front office that has a “crystal clear” plan for the future, Cavaliers fans should be excited for what lies ahead in the coming years. Carper, the right-hand man of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, made it clear that while the top priority for the Cavaliers is to win, they don’t plan on gambling the future for short-term success. Sustained success is what the Cavaliers franchise is after, and it’s apparent that the Cavaliers are headed on the right path to success.
The Carroll News: There was a lot of speculation as to what the Cavaliers would do with the first and fourth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. What ultimately sold the Cavaliers on drafting Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson?
Tad Carper: Well, I think to answer that, you have to understand our draft process. The draft process is something that happens literally 12 months a year. We look at player evaluation with what you hear, what you see, and you also look at the numbers part of it. You look at the person and the people and environment around them too. You add all of that up together over time, because you don’t make a snap judgment on anybody. As we went through that process, it really became clear that Kyrie and Tristan were the two guys that we really wanted to get. It’s a hard thing to pin-point in terms of exactly when a decision is made. We have a very inclusive process, there’s a lot of people involved, and we really rely upon those opinions. At the end of the day, it’s a decision that you can reach consensus on and from there, [Cavs General Manager] Chris Grant makes the final call.
CN: What was special about Kyrie and Tristan that made them stand out to you and your colleagues?
TC: I think the obvious things that you would think of are not only their athletic ability or basketball ability, but their basketball IQ and the kind of people that they are. You combine all of those things, and each of them has the potential to be a very special player. With Tristan, you talk about his motor and how it just keeps going. His relentless pursuit of the ball and protection of the rim fit in well with our culture and our defense-first approach that [Cavs head coach] Byron Scott has. With Kyrie, even with such a small number of games played in college, the workouts backed up everything that we had seen and heard. They’re tremendous people with tremendous potential and basketball IQs all around.
CN: The Cavaliers’ current roster has 10 players who are 25 years old or younger. Do you feel that the roster in place is one that could perhaps be a blue print for success in the future?
TC: We look at a roster as something that is built with the draft and with trades. Those are primarily the two ways that championship teams are built. Free agency comes in a little bit, but if you look back at the course of the last 15-20 years, it’s drafts and trades that bring championships. We try to be very opportunistic and we’re fortunate to have owner Dan Gilbert who allows us to be very aggressive. We want to take a long-term type of view, because we want to have success that can be sustained. That’s going to be our motivation in terms of every move we make. Every night that Byron and those guys go out on the floor, they’re going to try to win. They’re developing and I think we’re all seeing it. We’re excited to see guys grow and develop. Your roster is never so much of a destination as it is a journey. Even when we were winning 66 games and 61 games, we were still trying to find ways to improve the roster. You’re always asking yourself, “How can we get better?” It’s a balance, but at the end of the day, we’re in a very good position.
CN: Kyrie is having a terrific rookie season as he’s averaging 18 points and five assists per game. Can you speak about the excitement that the whole organization has about being able to build around him going into the future?
TC: This is a very key distinction. We’re not building around Kyrie, we’re building with Kyrie. In fact, we’re building with Kyrie and Tristan and Anderson [Varejao], etc. There’s a distinction between building with somebody and building around somebody. If you try to build with people as opposed to singling a guy out and building around him, we think it’s a much healthier and much more true to our culture. It’s exciting for the organization, the position that we’re in, and Kyrie has been a big part of that. But it’s not just Kyrie. It’s Byron Scott and Tristan and seeing someone like Alonzo Gee continue to develop. It’s seeing a player like Anderson [Varejao] get healthy again and start to really reach a different level of performance, which he has done this year. I think if you wrap all of those things together, it’s a real strong engagement with our fan base that we can feel. We got into the NBA Development League this year with the Canton Charge and now we have the luxury of having our own exclusive development team where we’re able to grow our culture and talent in a very consistent way. Being able to do that breeds excitement in the organization because you have such a clear sense of Dan Gilbert’s commitment to doing this the right way. You hear so much about how fans have to have confidence and hope [in their organization], and your entire organization has to have that confidence and belief and we have that. We’re fortunate because there are a bunch of teams that don’t have that. We’re going to grow with these guys, not around them.
CN: Would you say that the addition of the Canton Charge to the NBA Development League has really helped the development of your players overall?
TC: I think it has. Luke [Harangody] and Christian [Eyenga] have both been down, and we don’t like to use the word “down,” we like to use “over” because it’s hard to picture somebody going down when they’re actually getting a chance to play. We assign players [to the D-League] because they need to play. [The Canton Charge] has been better than what we imagined when we first got into it from both a business and basketball perspective. Canton has been so receptive to us and the Charge has really embraced it, which really helps because we want our guys to be in situations where it matters and the fans care because that’s a great environment. We want our guys to experience that feeling where games matter. I think that the D-League is a league that is growing and developing itself and will continue to get better and better.
CN: Do you anticipate this current Cavaliers team is one that can compete for a playoff spot at the end of the season?
TC: We try to keep a game-by-game approach. We’re not going to label a team as a “playoff team” or not and we’re not going to try to limit them. We don’t think that’s the best way to approach your team, your roster, it’s development itself. The more we start worrying about that, then the less focus we have on tonight and tomorrow night. We really do have a commitment to that game-by-game approach. It’s something that we’ve had as part of our culture, to take care of business right now. We’re going to get better every day, and we’re not going to sacrifice something in the future to make a short-term improvement. It’s a simple approach and concept, but it can be difficult to maintain it.
CN: Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao is having a career year by many standards. There’s been speculation about whether he might be dealt before the trade deadline. How do you foresee that whole situation playing out?
TC: We don’t comment on trade rumors and speculation. That’s all part of the NBA and sports landscape, which makes our sport so compelling and engaging with fans. Anderson is as highly valued in this organization as any player. He’s a big part of who we are and we think he’s a big part of our future too. He’s tremendous on the court and off the court, he’s exactly who we want to be in terms of the way he plays and he’s everything a Cavalier should be and we value that.
CN: The 2012 NBA Draft, albeit a few months away, is right around the corner. Considering how deep of a draft it is, is there a sense of excitement around the organization?
TC: We love the draft. If you’re an organization that values the draft as the top way to improve your team, then the draft is your favorite time of year. It’s an exciting, emotional, energy-charged time of year for us when it all come to a head. All of the data, information, insight and analysis that you’ve made over the prior 12 months comes to a head, and we’re excited for it every year. Here we go again. It’s a great time of year for us and we’re looking forward to it.
Even in a shortened, 66-game season, it’s clear that the Cleveland Cavaliers have made enormous strides since finishing the 2010-11 season with an overall record of 19-63, their second worst mark since the 1981-82 season.
Through 31 games this season, the Cavaliers have already won 13 games, just six less than they won throughout 82 games last season. Cleveland also has already won eight home games this season after finishing the 2010-11 season with just a 12-29 record when playing at home at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. On the other hand, the Cavaliers won a total of seven road games all of last season and despite not even being halfway through this season, they’ve already won five road games.
All the signs point to a successful future for the Cavaliers in the coming years. Considering the franchise’s game-by-game approach as well as their philosophy of building a team primarily through the annual NBA draft and trades, there’s no arguing that this is an organization that is well-run and it seems as if the waters ahead call for nothing but smooth sailing for the Cavaliers and their fans.
Both Irving and Thompson are currently reshaping the face of the Cavaliers franchise, and combined with sturdy leadership and a young roster full of capable players, there’s no telling what the future might hold for Cleveland in the coming years.