Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview

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The Off Season Summary

Out – Mathew Dellavedova, Mo Williams*

In – Kay Felder, Mike Dunleavy

All hail the king, it’s hard to believe that the Cavaliers were able to come back from down 3-1, against a 73 win Warriors team, and claim their first title ever in the NBA. And with all due respect for the rest of the roster and Kevin Loves one great defensive play, it all came down to Lebron. The guy nearly averaged a triple double with 30 points for the series, not to mention over 2 blocks and over 2 steals every game. Lebron demonstrated emphatically why he is still, without question, the best basketball player in the world. Because unlike Steph Curry (the unanimous and deserving MVP for the regular season) Lebron dominates the floor on both sides of the ball. And yes, it took a Draymond Green suspension and numerous nagging injuries to open the window of opportunity for the Cav’s, but when that window cracked open James and his teammates ripped it out of the wall and stormed their way to Cleveland’s first pro-sports championship since 1964. James has cemented his legacy and what he has done in this league is unassailable, he has surpassed expectations and created a career for himself that’s worthy of being compared to the all-time greats (Jordan, Magic, Bird, etc). If Lebron James haters still exist, they don’t have much to say now. Lebron and the Cavaliers will actually come in as the underdog this season. That’s not generally supposed to happen to the defending champ’s and you can bet that they are going to play with a chip on their shoulder all year while every fan and media member wants to talk about the Warriors.

Remember after the Warriors won the title? They played even looser than they had to that point – and that freedom shot them straight to 73 wins and a hairs breadth away from back to back titles. Well now the Cavaliers have that freedom and the Warriors are the ones playing with expectations, which in many ways make James and the Cavaliers more dangerous than ever.

The Biggest off season moves

There isn’t too much to discuss here because the defending champs more or less stood pat. Losing Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks will hurt as the Aussie was their best option at backup point guard. When people talk about Delly, mostly they talk about how gritty he is (detractors would say “dirty) but don’t sleep on the fact that he was shooting over 40% from 3 point range, which puts him in elite company. The Cavaliers shot more 3’s than anyone but the Warriors last year and Delly was their most efficient marksman. Tyron Lue will be hoping to make up for his lost production with some combination of Channing Frye and new addition Mike Dunleavy but neither will defend their position as well as Dellavedova.

It is easy to forget because they won it all last year, but Tyron Lue himself is kind of an addition, as this will be his first full season as head coach after the midseason firing of David Blatt. Blatt will be little missed in the locker room, where he blistered at every perceived slight on his record as a head coach prior to the NBA. Lebron and Blatt clashed openly for almost his entire tenure and in all that time Lebron took his cues from Lue. And now that Lue is a champion, he will have the credibility to demand whatever he thinks is required from his players to advance the Cavaliers goals. Lue did well as a playoff coach, and worked out some effective lineups with Richard Jefferson that Blatt didn’t play.

The only notable additions are the 54th pick Kay Felder and veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy is a veteran in every sense of the word, he’s smart, he’s a solid defender, and he’s a very effective shooter with range, but he’s 36 and moves like molasses at times. Felder is a bit of an unknown out of Oakland, yes he’s talented and has been compared to Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson, but he has not proven that he can consistently perform at a high level against elite competition. So the step up in competition for him is a truly daunting one. There are few first round picks that could step into the role of being a valuable contributor on a championship team and do it effectively, and I fear that asking this of a late second round pick, might be harmful to Felder’s long term prospects.

And lastly Mo Williams, though currently listed on the roster, does not figure to be a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers going forward after ongoing disputes with the team over role and offseason surgery and his sudden about face about retiring close to the start of the season. Which means that the Cavaliers are down 2 back up point guards with no ready replacement plan.

The Lineup Potential

Tyrone Lue has his work cut out for him. While the Cavaliers expected starting 5 of James, Irving, Love, Smith, and Thompson is an offensive wrecking ball with multiple dominant rebounders and scorers – their difficulties defending remain. There has been some conversation over whether or not Shumpert will start in place of JR and I do not think that he will. Smith has played himself into the starters role and despite somewhat acrimonious contract negotiations, he is better than Shumpert in every respect. Though known mostly for his outside shooting, Smith is an incredible athlete that has become a competent defender with the Cav’s. Shumpert needs to improve a lot before there’s much chance that he starts in place of Smith.

Lue will have to figure out how best to stagger James, Irving, and Love whilst limiting their minutes over the course of a long 82 grind. Channing Frye and Mike Dunleavy will come in to supply more shooting off the bench when the Cavaliers feel like going for smaller lineups.

The Keys to the Season

Guard depth. The Cavaliers are going to be starting the season without any good option if Irving misses time, or even to fill in while he sits. The presumptive number 2 option at the 1 is 5 foot 9 Kay Felder; pick number 54 of June’s draft. Expect the Cav’s to either trade or acquire a backup point guard some time before March – they already tried experimenting with Toney Douglas but subsequently waved him. Some names that to keep in mind are former Heat members Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, or the Cav’s might scour the D League rosters. As we approach the waiver wire, the Cav’s do have a trade exception that they could use to pick up someone like an Archie Goodwin.

Iman Shumpert was the corner stone of the Knicks trade that sent JR Smith to Cavaliers. Since then it is hard to call Shumpert’s development anything but disappointing. Brought to bolster the defense of the cavaliers back court and provide some spot up shooting and athleticism at the wing, Shumpert has struggled. Shumpert has been overrated defensively just about as long as he’s been in the league and his offense fell off a cliff last year where he shot just 37.4 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from three. If the Cav’s want Shumpert to be worth of his $40 million contract he needs to make major strides this year.

Ongoing roster turbulence, the Cavaliers are openly shopping Mo Williams after strife resulting from the former opting not to retire after telling the Cav’s management that it was his intention to do so. They are willing to attach Jordan McRae in the deal, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. It’s never good to have a distraction like this bleed into the season opener and with few teams wanting to help the Cav’s out as likely trading partners, they might be stuck with Mo for a while yet.

Much like the Warriors one of the Cavaliers big question marks coming into the season will be rim protection. Timothy Mosgov is a Laker now and Tristan Thompson is going to have to shoulder new responsibilities whilst maintaining his dominant rebounding rate. Kevin Love at the 5 is cute in small doses, but he doesn’t provide rim protection in terms of shot blocking prowess, he can’t stay in front of anyone consistently, and he has yet to prove that he can consistently provide reliable help defense in the paint. The Cavaliers were a top 10 defensive outfit last year and we can perhaps expect some regression in the regular season with loss of Mosgov. But don’t sleep on a revitalized Lebron James, as he showed in the playoffs, he can get stops when it really counts.

What kind of seasons can we expect?

The Cavaliers are in a class of their own in the East and have little to play for as far as regular season win totals go. Further, there is some buzz that Lebron, after one of the most impressive individual finals performances of all time, is setting his eyes on a fifth MVP trophy this year. If you buy that Durant and Curry will siphon votes from each other (personally I do not) you might be inclined to follow this potential storyline. And increased regular season performance buoyed by the memory of last year’s finals performance might just persuade commentators to reward Lebron the trophy one more time.

But would this be good for the Cavaliers? Lebron James has been the prototypical Ironman in his NBA career to date, but the guy has already played over 42000 minutes (including international play and playoffs) which makes him top ten all time, and he is only 31 years old.

Last year the Cav’s were dealing with nagging injuries to Irving, Shumpert, and Mosgov coming into the season, this year everyone on the roster seems healthy which will allow the Cavaliers to get off to a much better start. I would say they are going to track somewhere close to 60 wins as I think this squad is improved over last year. The team has also developed a great combination of comradery, chemistry, focus, and dedication that will contribute to a potential great season for the cav’s.

But regardless of whether or not they lock up the 1 seed, I think the Cavaliers are a lock for the finals, despite the improvements of teams like the Boston Celtics. Lebron has made 6 straight finals, and this is a team that should have all the confidence in the world now that they’ve won it all before.

How will they do against the Warriors in the presumptive Finals rematch? It’s hard to predict anything other than a Warriors title the way things stand now, but like most people I bet against Lebron last year and he proved me wrong. Lebron James and the Cavaliers will be out to beat the odds once more this year and frankly I cannot wait to see them try.

 

 

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