The last few years I've often joked that the Cleveland Cavaliers are incredibly good at "winning" the press conference. Whether it was persuasively convincing fans that Earl Clark or Andrew Bynum were going to be able to help the Cavs win games, or simply Mike Brown or Byron Scott being just charismatic enough after losses to make me think things were going to be okay, the team's ability to sell the future as opposed to just, you know, going out and winning was both impressive and unnerving.
Run-on sentences aside, the Cavaliers kept up their press conference winning streak this summer. This time, though, the additions of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Mike Miller, among others, sell themselves. The Cleveland Cavaliers will win basketball games this year. A lot of them, in fact. It's really cool. The excitement is palpable, the tickets are going to be tough to come by, Austin Carr won't be sad, and we won't rip each other to shreds in the comments over Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
Okay, so I thought I'd try and sneak that last part in there. I'm sure we will continue to do just that. And it's understandable, to a certain extent. The Cleveland Cavaliers collectively, have a lot to prove. Individually, there are players that have a lot to prove. Here are three big issues facing the Cavs over the next three to four years that I think will have an impact on whether or not this team wins a championship.
The Cavaliers perimeter defense last season was not very good. Arguments about who was worse between Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters aside, neither proved effective. These guys are young, the team was awful, and at various points both were more interested in trying to establish themselves offensively. They've added LeBron James, who, when dialed in can guard somewhere between 80-95% of the league capably and Shawn Marion. That should help a lot, despite the fact that James operated as a bit of a turnstile defensively last season. With Irving and Love his offensive responsibilities could shift down, and maybe he can spend more energy on defense. As he gets older, though, the issue of James' perimeter defense is likely to exacerbate. Marion is a short term fix that is at least somewhat tempered by the fact that he might spend some time at power forward. Mike Miller will not help matters on this end of the floor.
So the team will have to find perimeter defense somewhere. Irving looked engaged defensively with Team USA, though he still can't get over on screens. He has disruptive hands, though, and creating steals with players like LeBron, Dion and Tristan Thompson that can get down the floor could be huge. He is just entering his age 22 season, so there is still time for him to improve defensively. The real potential for defensive improvement comes from Waiters. He is strong, fast, and has flashed potential as a bully when guarding the ball. There is real Mario Chalmers potential both ability wise, and in terms of LeBron James yelling at him wise when it comes to his attention span defensively. If Waiters wants to be the long term piece the Cavaliers put between Irving and James, becoming a plus defender would go a long ways.
The Cavs are likely to be capped out for the foreseeable future, but there is some potential for the team to free up space. If they operate over the cap, the team will have the mid-level exception and bi-annual exceptions next summer to look for potential Marion replacements. There may be a wink-wink deal to pay Marion a bit more next year than the veteran's minimum he got this year. Either way, using the mid-level might complicate efforts to deal with my next big question mark.
What will the team get from Anderson Varejao, and who takes his place
Varejao turns 32 years old on Sunday. He isn't going to retire anytime soon. That being said, he has just one year left on his contract. He hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy. Maybe with the addition of Kevin Love, and the continued presence of Tristan Thompson the Cavs will take a bit off his plate and manage his minutes. More likely, in my opinion, he still ends up playing quite a bit of minutes, either because Thompson doesn't earn the minutes, or simply because he is one of only three proven bigs on the whole roster.
So what does this add up to? Varejao is going to be relied on, whether he starts or not. How much longer, or for how many games per year he can keep up his production I have no clue. Whether Tristan Thompson can be a long term answer next to Kevin Love, we do not know. Long term, who is going to be the guy who mans the middle? Love can play some five. Thompson can play some five. Varejao, when healthy, is an effective five. The Cavaliers are devoid of rim protection, and while Varejao doesn't fix that, he is the team's most capable interior defender. For now.
Hopefully the Cavaliers can get a solid defensive presence at center between now and next summer. Maybe Thompson is that guy. Maybe Varejao stays healthy. Maybe it's from the mid-level exception, or a trade involving Thompson or Waiters or both. We will see.
It's rare I call for any coaches to be fired. Why? I didn't play high school basketball, I don't feel that great with X's and O's. These guys that coach in the NBA are the best of the best. I don't feel all that comfortable criticizing offensive sets or schemes. I just don't know enough. So don't read this as me being critical of Blatt. I barely know anything about him! I've watched the six minute breakdowns of his plays. I love his resume. I can't wait to ask him about Russian Literature. But he's a big question mark. We haven't seen whether his personality meshes with strong willed NBA players. I'd guess he would be fine, but it's a guess all the same.
You've heard everyone talk about rim protection, and it's an issue. I don't know how the Cavs plan on managing their cap situation going forward. Kyrie Irving might be injury prone. LeBron is not signed long term. This wasn't an exhaustive list, but they are a few things I am thinking about as we get closer to the season. None of them mean the sky is falling. Far from it. What do you guys think?