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NBA 2016-17 Season Preview: Cavaliers look to build legacy as Cleveland’s title team

The pressure is off the Cavs, but the stakes remain high

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The assignment is a preview of the 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers. Time to formulate, pontificate, and guess. What’s the ceiling of this team? What could get in the way of success? What are the goals of the team? What players have the most to prove?

The trouble is, looking forward is difficult. The city with a reputation that inspired a website titled Waiting For Next Year now has a franchise that spent its summer doing the opposite of waiting for next year. You wanted to freeze time after LeBron’s block on Andre Iguodala. You wanted to freeze time as Kyrie Irving pulled up from 27 or so feet over Stephen Curry. You wanted to freeze time as LeBron James broke down crying on the court after a hug with Kevin Love.

Even when you realized that time can’t stand still, you wanted ways to relive the past. NBA TV knows it, and have re-broadcast Games 5, 6, and 7 of the Finals over and over again. Tristan Thompson as the second best player on the floor of a Finals elimination game? Yeah, run the Game 6 tape back. J.R. Smith overcoming serious floor burn on his shooting hand to bring the Cavs back in Game 7 just as Klay Thompson made his bid to put it away? Just one of many things to obsess over from the greatest Cleveland sporting event in a half-century.

The 2016-2017 Cavaliers are a new team that isn’t a new team. Where do you go after reaching the top of the mountain? What happens after all of the questions receive a happy answer? Is there a way to avoid a letdown? Would anyone care if there wasn’t? The DVR exists either way. iTunes will store the Finals games just fine. Was Game 7 the end of the story? Yes. But perhaps the start of something as well.

Team Name: Cleveland Cavaliers

Last Year's Record: 57-25

Key Losses: Matthew Dellavedova, Mo Williams, Timofey Mozgov

Key Additions: Mike Dunleavy

So ... a pretty boring off-season. But when you’re a title team, that’s the goal. Will LeBron James ever win a championship in Cleveland? Does Kevin Love fit in Cleveland and was the Andrew Wiggins trade worth it? Can you win a title with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love getting huge minutes, or will the defensive deficiencies be too much?

We’ve basically received answers to these questions, and they no longer hang over the team. Will they race to 60+ wins and destroy worlds? Probably not. They seem to thrive on turmoil. Even now, J.R. Smith remains unsigned. But this season could involve simply enjoying these players on a level different than that of the previous two seasons. The uncertainty hanging over the heads of individual players and coaches should be gone.

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

Hopefully, the Cavs will be able to add “retaining J.R. Smith” to the list, but for now, it’s mostly a matter of bringing in Mike Dunleavy as a versatile, if old, forward that can shoot and show up with the right mindset and work ethic to contribute to a title chase. There’s a good chance he ends up being eminently helpful. He can guard 4’s and space the floor and make the right pass and he’s from Duke so he can probably yell at Kyrie Irving and get away with it.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

I’m tempted to plagiarize from my piece a year ago. With Kyrie Irving and LeBron James running the show, and J.R. Smith and Kevin Love spacing the floor, and Tristan Thompson diving toward the rim for dunks and offensive rebounds, the Cavs can score in just about any and every way. The second unit will miss Matthew Dellavedova, and the team needs Smith’s shooting, but this roster has elite shot creation, shooting, and at times, passing. It’s amazing to look back on the 2014-15 Finals team and realize they were so banged up they ran out of shooting.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

With the decline and departure of Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs are once again short on rim protection. LeBron James and Tristan Thompson teamed up to dominate the NBA Finals, but they’ll need to prove they can sustain that. Thompson is a versatile defender, but there will be a lot more on his plate this year if he starts 82 games.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were good enough in the NBA Finals, but you can’t rule out variance and a banged up Stephen Curry. Maybe the Cavs score enough anyway, but as long as these two are put in pick and roll situations questions will exist. There’s a bunch of evidence now, though, that they can be good enough.

4. What are the goals for this team?

To repeat. The Warriors brought in Kevin Durant. They won 73 games a year ago, and their top competition in the West surrendered their best player. They still have the unanimous MVP. They might have four top-15 players. But the Cavs have LeBron James, one of the greatest players ever. And they have Kyrie Irving, who can reach scoring heights that rival some of the greats of the position.

And that may be the true question for the Cavs this year. LeBron James is the constant. Barring catastrophe, he gets you in the game. Irving is the variable. If he’s bad, you’re going to feel him. If he’s good, you’re going to feel him. And if he’s rolling? The Cavs can play with the Warriors. Again.

Make sure you head to Waiting For Next Year and read Andrew Schnitkey’s preview. He’s my favorite Cavs writer. Sorry, FTS staff.