There are championship expectations for the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers. Those expectations, of course, happen when you add LeBron James and Kevin Love in the same offseason. And when you add some of the best veteran role players around (Mike Miller and Shawn Marion) those expectations become more realistic.
Of course, a title isn't guaranteed. The Cavaliers are surely among the favorites to win the title and a lot of people think that the Cavs are the favorite. But with a rookie head coach, a thin frontcourt and some questions regarding young players, it's not a guarantee a title is in the cards for this team.
What ultimately happens will be up to the roster that GM David Griffin has put together. Each player doesn't need to meet the highest expectations set for them, but it will help. As result, Fear The Sword's Trevor Magnotti and Chris Manning will give the best and worst case scenario for each Cavalier for the upcoming season. Manning's responses are marked by the initials CM and Magnotti's by TM.
Best Case: The best case scenario for Dellavedova involves Ray Allen either retiring or signing with another team. In that case, Delly has a semi-defined role on the team as a pesky defender and guy who can kind of shoot threes. If Dellavedova is going to stick around and see minutes on this new-look Cavaliers team, he's going to have to shoot make 3-pointers at a high clip, ideally a little higher than the 36.8 percent he shot last year. Dellavedova will also be best served to spend very little time as the primary ball handler, meaning he better hope he plays a lot with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Dion Waiters. Basically, for Dellavedova to maximize his season, he needs to play as much two-guard as possible, defend and maximize the open looks from deep he'll get in the flow of the offense. - CM
Worse Case: I know this is unfathomable and Delly fans will kill me for this, but the potential that last year was an anomaly is definitely there, and in the worst case scenario, Delly gives us a year of his performance last February, when he shot 14.7 percent from three and posted a true shooting percentage of 41.9. The Cavs are likely going to rely on Delly as a defensive stopper and corner three shooter, and if he can't get the threes to fall, it really limits what the Cavs can do with him offensively. Defensively I think he'll be fine in a more functional overall team defense, but I have some big reservations about his offensive consistency, especially with the ball in his hands as a primary ball-handler. If he has a rough year shooting the ball, Delly basically becomes Australian Alonzo Gee, and him getting sent down to Canton or simply waived aren't out of the question if he struggles. -TM
Best Case: The obvious best case scenario for Miller is that he does everything he did in the 2012 Conference Finals and Finals for the Heat. Miller stays healthy, hits a million wing threes, and isn't a total liability on defense. Miller's effective field goal percentage was above 60 percent last season, and that was with Memphis, who didn't have a ton of offensive spacing. On Cleveland, I'm absolutely giddy to see how high that number can climb. He also has had a pretty high defensive rebounding rate throughout his career, but that dropped off a cliff in Memphis last season. If he's grabbing somewhere in the ballpark of 18 percent of available rebounds again, and you pair that with Love, Tristan, and Andy? Suddenly, his defensive shortcomings are slightly covered up, because a lineup of Kyrie/Miller/LeBron/Love/Varejao is un-box-outable. So, an eFG% over 60, 70-75 games, and a DRB% over 18 are pretty optimal and realistic goals. -TM
Worse Case: We know that Miller is going to shoot well. That's what he's done over the course of his whole career and that's what he was brought in to do. But what makes him such a valuable role player is what Trevor alluded to above: His ability as a rebounder and as a semi-decent wing defender. In the worst case scenario, Miller becomes nearly useless on defense and does little else but make 3-pointers. At that point, it becomes hard to play Miller for extended minutes, and as a result, he forces David Blatt to become way more creative than he needed to with his rotation. This scenario also makes the Cavs much more reliant on Waiters and Dellavedova as spot-up shooters, as both could be better on-ball defenders than Miller this season. - CM
Best Case: Defensively, Marion basically becomes a more athletic and talented version of Shane Battier, guarding power forwards from David West to Dirk Nowitzki, and allowing LeBron to save himself from banging down low and to guard the best perimeter scorer. He also helps on the glass, like Miller, and fill in gaps to improve the Cavs' team defense. Offensively, Marion hits corner 3-pointers consistently, makes the extra pass, and helps facilitate ball movement within the offense, averaging somewhere in the ballpark of nine points, six rebounds, and two assists per game with a 36 percent mark from deep. -TM
Worse Case: Marion, in the worst case scenario, starts to age quickly at 36. Over the course of the season, Marion loses a lot of the quickness that makes him such a good defender on the wing. In this case, Marion also struggles to defend fours for long stretches, which forces LeBron to spend more time defending down low than planned and his body takes a beating as a result. He also doesn't consistently make open shots when LeBron, Love and company find him when double teamed. This enables opposing defenses to key in on the Big Three even more. - CM
Best Case: Coming off the bench with the occasional start mixed in, Thompson's best qualities are showcased in his limited role. Playing some four and some small ball five, Thompson plays about 30 minutes a game, in which averages roughly 10 points and eight boards a game. He isn't asked to shoot much and gets a lot of his points off easy dunks and put-backs on missed shots.His true shooting percentage also jumps up to about 55 percent. He does, however, show some signs of developing a threatening mid-range game that can make him and Varejao relatively similar players next to Love offensively. Defensively, Thompson improves as a shot blocker and he overall develops as a defender in space. As a result, the Cavs reward Thompson with a multiyear extension around $9 million a year for four years. - CM
Worse Case: Thompson's development is further stifled by the additions of Love and LeBron cutting into his playing time at the four. He remains inconsistent on defense, his jumper doesn't improve, and Love and Varejao diminish his rebounding numbers. His scoring rate drops back to rookie season levels, and the Cavs let him hit restricted free agency, where a strong power forward market causes Thompson to ultimately come back for the qualifying offer. -TM
Best Case: Blatt struggles early on with the NBA rules and style of play, but he figures it out by mid-November and the Cavs start racking up the wins. By the end of the season, Blatt's reputation as a basketball genius is affirmed. In the locker room, James and company respect Blatt and, as a result, the roster does what is asked. This includes Dion Waiters. At the end of the regular season, the Cavs have between 62-65 wins, which gets them the No. 1 seed in the East. In the playoffs, Blatt outmaneuvers teams that can gives the Cavs stylistic problems (Detroit and Chicago) and pokes some holes in Tom Thibodeau's defense. In the Finals, the Cavs take on the Spurs and, in a series the Cavs win in six or seven games, Blatt holds his own against Gregg Popovich. - CM
Worse Case: Blatt struggles to adjust to the NBA level like any other first-time coach. The rotation takes forever to figure out, he can't get a strong defensive system implemented, and Blatt lets Dion be Dion with disastrous results. The Cavs eventually get rolling around February and cruise to 55 wins and the top seed, but struggle all year in close games and leave us feeling that the team underachieved. Once the playoffs roll around, the Cavs struggle against teams with veteran coaches, getting pushed to six games by Stan Van Gundy's Pistons, and then to seven by the Heat because Wade and Bosh explode against LeBron and Erik Spoelstra out-coaches Blatt. Once in the conference finals, the Cavs are swept by the Bulls because the Cavs can't defend the interior passing of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. (P.S. I think this is a perfectly acceptable outcome given rookie head coach, overall roster youth, and potential injury.) - TM
Best Case: Varejao plays 80 games for the first time since the Bush administration, and holds up well enough that the Cavs can fully rely on him at the center position. He rebounds at about the same rate as last season (11-12 per 36 minutes), and defensively anchors the team in the ways outlined here. Offensively, the elbow jumper gets flowing again, and Varejao at the elbow somehow becomes the FIFTH option if Kyrie and LeBron can't get to the rim and Waiters and Love are covered on the perimeter. Have fun with that, opposing defenses. Varejao also helps tie down chemistry for the new pieces of the team, and does nothing but frustrate opponents in the playoffs, leading to Kendrick Perkins punching him in the face and getting ejected as the Cavs clinch a title at home. I have even odds on this being Delly in this scenario as well. - TM
Worse Case: Varejao battles injuries all season long, which limits his effectiveness even when's he's on the floor. By the end of the season, Varejao only plays between 55-60 games and is injured heading into the playoffs. Varejao's injuries take away an important voice in the locker room at times, but also forces the Cavs to play small ball a lot more than anticipated. This results in some ugly losses and some difficult playoff series against teams like the Pistons and Bulls who can theoretically give the Cavs issues with size. He then gets hurt in the second round and the Cavs lose in the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago due, in part, to his absence.
And then everyone is really sad. - CM
Best Case: Dion becomes a spot-up God, getting kick-outs from LeBron instead of Jarrett Jack, and his transition dunks finally get the respect they deserve as Kevin Love teaches him the Corey Brewer fast break leak. Dion accepts his role as a supporting player, and is comfortable as a gunner and primary creator for the second unit, and has a ton of fun on a team that's finally winning. Defensively he breaks out into an above-average perimeter defender, and Dion swings the Cavs' second round playoff series by getting hot and posting a 20-point quarter, finishing with 40 points, and promptly demanding a max extension after the game.-TM
Worse Case: Waiters does not accept his role in-between Irving and James. When given the ball, he creates his own shot almost every time and passes up open looks from three. As a result, Blatt has to be move him to the bench and stagger his minutes as much as possible. Defensively, Waiters doesn't make any noticeable jump and is often lazy on that end. Blatt has to bench him at times because of that lack of effort. Trade rumors swirl leading into the deadline, but he isn't traded.
Cavs Twitter turns on one other and David fires me. As a result, he spends the last part of the season playing sparingly off the bench before being dealt in the offseason. This is the darkest timeline. - CM
Best Case: Kyrie's spot-up numbers return to normal, and it turns out that he's actually pretty okay with getting fed great open looks from that LeBron James fellow. Kyrie is able to re-focus on creating off the dribble without having to provide all the scoring, and his pick-and-pop game with Kevin Love gets GIF'd hundreds of times. Defensively he's still a below-average player, but he shows flashes of improvement, either by playing passing lanes more actively off the ball or FINALLY starting to figure out how to navigate screens. All said, a positive season for Kyrie ends in something like 46 percent shooting, 19 points, five rebounds, and seven assists per game, and a jump back to 38 or 39 percent from three with something, anything positive to say on defense. - TM
Worse Case: Irving doesn't become comfortable having to play much more off the ball. He doesn't become more efficient and His max deal starts to look questionable to the talking heads when his box scores don't look good and he misses some time due to tick-tack injuries. He also doesn't make a jump on defense and overall doesn't build on what was an excellent performance in the FIBA World Cup. In the playoffs, Irving doesn't improve and is thoroughly outplayed by Derrick Rose as the Cavs lose in seven games. Cleveland sports talk radio also firmly entrenches itself in the idea that Waiters is better than Irving and is a better point guard. - CM
Best Case: Love becomes one of the NBA's most efficient players, taking less shots but taking far more clean looks than he ever has in career. Playing next to LeBron and Irving gives Love more room down low than he's ever had and he shoots around, or slightly above, 40 percent from 3-point range with more open looks. He also forms an impossible-to-defend pick and roll combo with Irving that takes some offensive pressure off James in the fourth quarter. Love develops outlet passing chemistry that is better than what he had with Corey Brewer with Waiters and James. Varejao and Thompson take some of the rebounding pressure of Love and he also shakes the label that he's a horrid defensive player. At the end of the year, Love has a true shooting percentage right at 60 percent and averages around 22 points and 10 rebounds per game. - CM
Worse Case: Love has a productive but underwhelming season as he struggles to adjust to being a second or third option for an offense. His defense suffers as a result, and Love's efficiency dips as a result of him forcing shots a tad. He still ends up scoring a fair amount and grabbing a ton of boards, but he draws a ton of comparisons to Chris Bosh from 2011, and ends up performing poorly in the playoffs. This combined with Andrew Wiggins winning Rookie of the Year causes an explosion of "THEY SHOULD HAVE NEVER MADE THE LOVE TRADE!!!!" outbursts from your Bill Simmons types (If he's not suspended at that point, AM I RIGHT GUYS?), and we spend the summer defending Kevin Love in the manner Timberwolves bloggers had to last year. -TM
Best Case: LeBron James wins MVP and an NBA title while also putting less miles on his legs than he has in seasons past. I think that last bit is especially important. In order for James to maximize the time he has left in his career, he needs to age well. As a result, it is imperative that James' play also involves bringing the best out of Love, Irving and everyone else on the roster in order to make life easier for him. At the tail end of his time with the Heat, James was doing almost everything for that team. His supporting cast, outside of Chris Bosh, was largely useless against San Antonio. And even Bosh struggled against the Spurs. - CM
Worse Case: I literally cannot think of a plausible worst case for LeBron that doesn't involve him getting injured. However, whatever that worst case is, I'm going to guarantee Drake is involved. -TM