The Cavs were selected as the 8th team in the "ESPN NBA Future Rankings" yesterday. In theory, the future rankings are supposed to give an idea of what teams will be good at some indeterminate point in time beyond right now.
Really, they don't really mean anything concrete and it's unclear how they could possibly give an accurate picture of where the league or the Cavs will be at any point in the future relative to the league. But it's a fun projection and it can give an idea about how the Cavs are percieved to be doing as a front office and organization managing, coaching, player development and drafting. And it's possible that other organizations and maybe even free agent players take note that the Cavs are an organization which has positioned itself for a serious comeback.
ESPN analyst Chad Ford, who is a highly respectable writer, and John Hollinger, who is no longer with ESPN because he is working with the Memphis Grizzlies, have been doing "Future Rankings" for the league since 2009. They assign unbalanced numeric values to "Players", "Money", "Management", "Market" and "Draft", then add the numbers together and shoot out the rankings.
Back in 2009, they ranked the Cavaliers 9th, with some interesting commentary:
"And while Cleveland has never been anyone's idea of a great market, we could have ranked the franchise higher in that category, for a perverse reason — it's really the main reason for LeBron to re-sign with the Cavs. He's from Ohio, he's has deep roots, and it will be hard for him to leave home."
Of course we all know how that went and how that one guy basically crapped all over the city of Cleveland in the most public way possible, and used ESPN to help him to that end. So I guess we all read that wrong.
Looking at the last rankings, which were done in August 2012, Ford and then Hollinger as well had the Cavs 12th in the rankings, owing a rise from 18th in his previous rankings to the emergence of Kyrie Irving as a (then) future All Star, the accumulation of draft picks, and a good situation with future cap space to add additional players. Interesting that in both the Feburary 2012 and August 2012 rankings, Ford stated that he saw the long term fture of Tristan Thompson as "promising", which was certainly a minority opinion at the time.
This year has the Cavs at thier highest point in the rankings ever, 8th. Here's a breakdown of the top 10, most of which were pretty intuituve or which show that the unbalance in the rankings weighs heavily in favor of the players currently on the roster, which makes sense:
1. Miami Heat (They have the MVP. They gush about Riley here too, presenting a "barf in the mouth" moment for the reader.)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (They have good players – ESPN actually gave OKC the highest "Players" ranking.)
3. Houston Rockets (They love GM Daryl Morey and the cap space situation. This is a really young team.)
4. San Antonio Spurs (Did you know the Spurs have $20 million in cap space for next season?)
5. Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry breaks out as a superstar in the same season that GM Bob Meyers starts making ridiculously good roster moves. Plus, you know, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson.)
6. Indiana Pacers (The Pacers actually fell in the rankings, but you can see how strong and young they are in the Eastern Conference Finals.)
7. Chicago Bulls (They just upset the Nets with the superstar point guard out, plus they have the flexibility to amnesty Carlos Boozer and get out of his horrible contract.)
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
9. Denver Nuggets (Still loaded with young talent, but face uncertainty with the possible free agency of Andre Igoudala, who has a player option for next season.)
10. Utah Jazz (They've built a core of young players and still have a very favorable cap situation)
It's easy to see why they ranked the Cavaliers so highly, given the development of Thompson and Dion Waiters last season and the expiring contracts of Luke Walton and Daniel Gibson opening massive cap flexibility for the team to bring in new players. Ford, who wrote this capsule for the Cavs, actually refers to Waiters as a "lethal scorer". Obviously he must have seen the Election Night Eve game, where Waiters buried the Clippers under a brutal series of seven 3-point makes.
"The team will also be flush with cash this summer and could add a significant free agent this summer or in the future, giving it even more roster flexibility. While all of this doesn't totally make up for the loss of LeBron James, it shows the dramatic strides Cleveland has made in just three years. With the right draft picks or free-agent signings, the Cavs should start a long run of playoff appearances soon."
A long run of playoff appearences? Pretty sure we could live with that. Soon would be even better.