After four years in the NBA wilderness, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back. No really, we aren't just saying that. We aren't asking you to bet on Andrew Bynum's knees. We aren't telling you that Jarrett Jack's midrange jumpers will take the Cavs to the promised land. This isn't about adding undrafted rookies and hoping to find a diamond in the rough. This is LeBron James. This is Kevin Love. This is gold medalist Kyrie Irving. This is Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson being asked to fulfill roles in line with their skill sets. This is the Wild Thing, Anderson Varejao, in his natural habitat, as he was meant to be experienced. This is your Cleveland Cavaliers. They are going to be on national television. ESPN will set up a regional base on West 6th. LeBron James' return to Cleveland is likely to be a dominant national storyline for years to come. The goal, of course, is a championship. It's going to be an incredible ride.
Last Year's Record:
Luol Deng, Jarrett Jack, C.J. Miles, Tyler Zeller, Anthony Bennett, Spencer Hawes, Sergey Karasev,
Mike Brown, Chris Grant
LeBron James, Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, David Blatt, David Griffin
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The most significant of significant moves. Kyrie Irving signed a maximum contract extension with the team. Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev were shipped to Boston and Brooklyn, respectively. LeBron James chose the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency. Top overall draft choice Andrew Wiggins was sent with Anthony Bennett to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love.
Really, the roster was completely remade. Only five Cavaliers remain from last season's exasperating and underwhelming iteration. Where the team was undisciplined, lacking basketball IQ and shooting, it can now find it in surplus.
On paper, it's an offensive juggernaut. LeBron James and Kevin Love are elite scorers, and Kyrie Irving at age 22, has shown signs he can join them. Varejao has quietly become very productive when healthy on the offensive end, and while Dion Waiters hasn't quite put it all together yet, he certainly has a few skills that could make him a productive offensive player. Add in Mike Miller and the productive ball-mover Matthew Dellavedova and the team should score all of the basketball points, once it all comes together.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Alley hoops! We can do them now!
Three-pointers! They give you an extra point when you make these shots. Reports indicate the Cavaliers will take, and perhaps even make, some of these shots this year.
This is tongue and cheek, but it's important. The Cavaliers have added athleticism and shooting. The core of Irving, Love, and James is made up of smart players who are good to elite passers. The team should be able to score. The Cavaliers are going to rebound. With Varejao, Love, and Tristan Thompson around, you can be sure of that. The Cavaliers should be magnificent in transition. Irving, LeBron, Waiters and Thompson are all skilled in this area, and now they get Love throwing outlet passes.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Defense, probably. There are three credible bigs on the roster in Varejao, Love, and Thompson. If one or more of those guys go down, the Cavaliers are likely to be really thin inside. Even when healthy, the three of them don't have much of a history of altering shots at the rim. This becomes problematic when Irving, Waiters, and even James are your perimeter defenders. Shawn Marion will help, and if Love and Irving take on more responsibilities on offense, James can be a more effective defender.
On age alone, one would expect Waiters, Irving, Thompson and even Love to get a bit better defensively. Being on a team with James and Marion will help those guys stay focused and motivated on the defensive end. Still, it's a new coaching staff and there isn't much in the way of continuity. Waiters and Thompson being able to take steps forward would go a long ways.
There are also still a few young guys on the roster who still might need help learning to embrace a role, especially while learning new offensive and defensive systems. Irving, Thompson and Waiters all could see a learning curve, and there will be a lot of eyeballs around the nation watching.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The goal is a championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers have never won one. They have reached the NBA Finals once. Do they need to win one for the season to be a success? No, I don't think so.
But a trip to the Finals feels both attainable and important. There will be a learning curve for David Blatt as he gets used to his players and the NBA game. He has a great bench to help him.
To my mind, the goal of the team is to try and get better and more productive each day, while learning about what can and must still be done to get better. You'll get sick of me saying it, but in all likelihood, Irving, Love and LeBron aren't going anywhere. Waiters and Thompson could be playing for the right to secure their part with the franchise moving forward. It will take both improvement and the ability to fill a role. This year allows the Cavaliers to check their progress.
5. Will David Blatt be able to find the right ways to mix the talent on this roster?
Do Kyrie and LeBron have duplicative talents? Should their minutes be staggered? If you do that, where does Dion fit in? Should Thompson start at center to help manage Andy's minutes? Should Love ever leave the game? Is Marion more valuable to the Cavaliers guarding twos, threes, or fours? How do you divide up minutes between Dellavedova, Waiters, Miller, Marion, and perhaps Ray Allen while keeping everyone happy? That's getting into the minutiae a bit, but it matters.
I'll distill the question a bit further. Does Blatt want to maximize the amount of time Irving and LeBron play together, or does he want to minimize the amount of time the Cavaliers play without either? Which is the right call? I genuinely don't know, and it's but another reason why this season will be fun and fascinating.
Waiting For Next Year also participated in our preview day, and I have to say that Andrew Schnitkey's piece is predictably fantastic. I particularly enjoyed his section on Dion and Tristan. Make sure you go and give that a read.