2013-14 record: 33-49
Key Additions: LeBron James, Kevin Love, Mike Miller, James Jones, Shawn Marion
Key Departures: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles, Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Kyrie Irving SG Dion Waiters SF LeBron James PF Kevin Love C Anderson Varejao
Before you start freaking out about the fact that there are still teams higher in my rankings than the Cavs, keep in mind that these rankings are off of regular season win totals only. And I think the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers are going to need a period before they learn to play together at a maximum level. As any team with drastically new pieces does. There’s also the fact that it’s been said LeBron James won’t play all 82 games. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays 70 or less. This isn’t a team that’s trying to win 70 games in the regular season. They’re trying to win a title. Their odds of doing that don’t really changed based on whether they’re the top seed in the East.
There are offseasons and then there are offseasons. The Cavaliers had the latter, making this the best summer Dan Gilbert’s had since the one he spent playing at the old quarry with Spiff, Johnny and Bucko when he was 12. After lucking into the first pick, this team lucked into having the greatest player on the planet born in the same state, and that meant that he was ready to get back to business in Ohio. After James signed, everything else became all that much easier. People may not go on vacation to Cleveland, but all of a sudden they do go there to win NBA titles.
Not content to rest on the King and a guy who would end up being FIBA MVP, they wanted to get one more piece. That piece was brought to by the draft lottery, proving that just because you tank, doesn’t mean you’re going to come out on top. Andrew Wiggins was snatched up, and promptly because the subject of more trade rumors before playing an NBA game than anyone else. Eventually, the deal with Love was worked out, and LeBron had left his South Beach big three for an Edgewater Beach one.1
I didn’t necessarily want LeBron to try to track down another big three, mainly because of all the comparisons that are going to take place. Teams don’t need three superstars to win. They need a good team. Usually a good team consists of one or more superstars. But when you have the league’s biggest superstar, it seems useless to me to try to team up with other guys when wins can come much more naturally. Yes, LeBron’s Cavs weren’t able to get it done the first time around, but he’s a much better all-around player now than he was five years ago, and those teams were pretty bad.
That said, I think the James, Irving, Love, Waiters combination is going to be a good one, at least when it comes to offense. There’s no team with a better set of four weapons in recent memory. They are going to have absolutely no trouble putting the ball in the hoop. The problem is, of that quartet, there’s a couple of poor defenders and one mediocre one, meaning they could give up heaps of points as well. I see quite a few 120-110 games in this team’s future.
The other glaring hole is the lack of depth, which is partially what plagued the Heat teams over the last few years. There are a lot of quality role players present here, but there aren’t many dynamic players that can come off the bench. This may be the best group of four in the NBA, but I don’t think it’s in the top three 10-man rotations. The question is whether the starting lineup can be good enough as to where that doesn’t matter. Also, Irving should be able to play far more minutes than an aging Wade did, meaning there’ll be less time when LeBron is missing his Robin.
I’m really looking forward to when this team goes small during the year. Having a lineup of Irving, Waiters, Marion, James and Love gives a lot more balance than having either Thompson or Varejao on the court. Marion was a quiet pickup, but he’s one of the best all-around players of the last ten years, and he knows how to win. His contributions will be invaluable to this squad.
A guy I’m still not totally sure about is Dion Waiters. His rumored disagreements with Irving isn’t a good thing, especially when Kyrie was the franchise player. They have extremely similar skill sets, though I’d likely give Waiters a bit of a nod on defense. The big question coming into this year is whether he can still produce on limited touches. He just may have to calm his ego for that to be possible.2 He was pretty deadly on catch and shoot threes last year, knocking down nearly 42%. He should have even more space to hit those this year, so if he’s able to up that percentage a notch, that’s going to be huge for this offense.
All signs indicate toward David Blatt being a great coach, but considering I’ve watched maybe three games that he’s been at the helm of, I really can’t comment on his effectiveness. I will say that this could be LeBron in charge even more than it was in Miami, and that might not be the worst thing for the Cavs. Still, Blatt’s handled the media well so far, and he’s got an outside shot to win Coach of the Year.
King James could join up with a high school team and they’d stand a chance against about half the teams in the NBA, so anywhere he’s at automatically becomes a contender. And this Cleveland team looks really, really good. I don’t think winning one title in Cleveland is going to be a problem, but I’m not sure if 2015 is going to be the year. There’s a few other really strong teams in the league, and there’s going to be a significant adjustment period, especially when you consider the second and third best players here have never played in a playoff game. I’d say the Eastern Conference Finals are a guarantee, but I’m not certain of anything past that quite yet.
X-Factor: Tristan Thompson
Anderson Varejao is the starter here, but that doesn’t mean he’s more important to the team’s success than Thompson. Where the Cavs are weakest is in depth, especially when it comes to big men. Varejao has had some trouble staying on the court in recent years, and you really don’t want to have to have Love out there for 42 minutes a night. Not only is Thompson going to have to play major minutes, but he’s going to have to be the impact player of the second unit on both sides of the ball.
Who Has The Most To Prove: LeBron James
In any other situation there’d be plenty of guys on this roster who I’d say have something to prove, but there’s no way I can pick anyone other than LeBron for this slot. While his Sports Illustrated letter was way classier than The Decision, it still was a pretty bold move. Yes, he is a much bigger free agent than anyone else alive, but by announcing his decision in that way, he’s acknowledging that he knows his decision is way more important than any of his contemporaries, so it’s still a brash move.
There’s no way he can leave Cleveland again, not after leaving once, being hated, seeing the team collapse, and now coming back. The city seems to have welcomed him with open arms, but I know they wouldn’t be as kind if it happens again. But still, he has to win in Cleveland and win soon.
I do like that he’s no longer chasing Jordan’s ghost. Instead of wanting to win not three, not four, not five and so on, he wants to win. If you’re trying to win six years from now, you’re going to end up like the 76ers. He’s focusing on bringing a title to Cleveland, and that’s the smart decision. After all, you can’t win two with the Cavs before you’ve won one.
What he needs to prove now is that he can be the guy in locker room. While he was undoubtedly the leader of the Heat, he was joining a franchise with plenty of veteran leadership. Pat Riley had won. Same with Wade. There were plenty of veteran free agents to help lead the younger guys along through the media circus that a super team inevitably is. Now that responsibility becomes James’.
I expect his scoring numbers to go down, and that should be a good thing for this team. While there is plenty of talent present, they’re still very raw. They need someone to show them how to play under pressure. How to play in a system that involves defense. How to play beyond that fateful 82nd game. They don’t need someone to score 30 or 35 a night. They need someone to help this team score more points than they give up every night.
You know, just like any kid from Akron can.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
I know I’m the one asking questions here, but what kind of stupid question is this. If you aren’t excited to watch the NBA’s new super team, you either missed the entire offseason or you like subjecting yourself to slow, painful basketball for a season. If that’s the case, may I recommend the Nets?
Best Case: LeBron rests an extreme amount during the season, but only after finding the proper balance with Love and Irving. I’d rather he plays less and they win less in the regular season, so as to be healthy and rested for a deep playoff run.
Worst Case: An injury knocks them down, Waiters leads the team in shots, Blatt isn’t the coach he’s hyped up to be, and LeBron realizes that his one-year opt-out option was a good call.
Projected Record: 55-27
Wouldn’t that have sounded great in a TV special? “I’m taking my talents to the sunny shores of Lake Eerie.” ↩
I do love the fact that things got too quiet this summer, so he felt that he just had to stir something up. While he won’t be the Chalmers of this team, it could actually be really valuable if the media wants to focus on his shenanigans, as long as they remain harmless. ↩