Cavs hope team puzzle comes together tonight

When Commissioner David Stern steps to the podium tonight to begin the 2011 NBA Draft, he is really opening the pearly gates to the NBA and allowing you back inside.

Finally, the Cavaliers are escaping purgatory.

It has been a long, painful year since it all came crashing down last summer. By the time LeBron James departed, the Cavs didn't have enough time to salvage the season. They were left with a collection of spark plugs, tires and windshield wipers, but no engine to drive the franchise.

Now with two of the first four picks in this draft, all of that is changing. Tonight, officially, the Cavaliers' rebuilding project begins.

Regardless of whom they take, the Cavs will have two good, young pieces in place to begin what will be a lengthy process. There might not be another LeBron or Kevin Durant awaiting them, but ultimately that might not be as horrific as it sounds.

When the Cavs drafted James eight years ago, a giant alarm clock was instantly wound and installed over their heads, ticking away the minutes until he would leave. The organization felt tremendous strain to win immediately and, as a result, was never able to surround James with the proper pieces to win a championship.

The pressure to win certainly hasn't lessened, but the approach has changed drastically. The Cavaliers are committed to building through the draft now, acquiring as many picks (aka assets) as possible and using them to select pieces for the future or to bundle them in trades for young players with great upside.

Kyrie Irving draws comparisons to New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul, and if he turns into a clone of Paul, terrific. But even if he is Mike Conley, the former Ohio State star who has steadily progressed during each of his four seasons as an NBA point guard, the Cavs will be in a better position tomorrow than they are today.

Next year's draft should drip with star potential, perhaps even rivaling the 2003 haul that produced James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. The Cavaliers should again be in position to add at least one top pick in that draft, combine him with tonight's two selections and produce a three-tiered foundation for future success.

All of this is the master plan of Cavs General Manager Chris Grant, who is under tremendous pressure to get tonight right. Grant did a masterful job in steering the organization to this point, acquiring the pick from the Los Angeles Clippers that turned out to be the No. 1 choice in tonight's draft, but now he must choose wisely.

That's why, to the frustration of many around the league, the Cavs have been slow to anoint Irving the choice at No. 1. With so much at stake, the organization inspected every inch of every candidate's portfolio. From game history to personality to private workouts and one-on-one interviews, all of it counts for something.

It's easy for the rest of the league to casually name Irving the top player in this draft. They don't have riding on this what Grant does in his first season as a GM.

He believes every draft has at least a handful of players who can be steady and productive. If that's true, the Cavs have no excuse not to find two of them within the first four picks.

How they truly fare tonight won't be known for at least a few years, but Grant seems to have convinced owner Dan Gilbert that slow and steady is the best way to go — and that is no easy task.

Gilbert has some of the same aggressive tendencies that made George Steinbrenner beloved by fans as owner of the New York Yankees. The same passion to win is there, as is the seemingly endless budget with which to work.

Gilbert just isn't as domineering or irascible as Steinbrenner was in his role as "The Boss." In fact, he is more hands-off in the day-to-day aspects of the Cavaliers than outsiders would ever believe. He has entrusted this organization to Grant to turn it around and get it right.

Tonight, the gates open. The Cavaliers are finally allowed to step back inside.

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