Last season: 53-29, 1st, Central Division (2nd, Eastern Conference), Lost 4-2 to GSW in NBA Finals
Notable Acquisitions: G Mo Williams (free agent, CHA), G/F Richard Jefferson (free agent, DAL), C Sasha Kaun (CSKA Moscow), G Jared Cunningham (free agent)
Notable Losses: F Mike Miller (DEN), C Kendrick Perkins (NOP), C Brendan Haywood
Top DOGs: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love
Star UnderDOG: Tristan Thompson
Salty DOGs: Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson, James Jones
Burning Question: What’s standing in the way of Cleveland’s first NBA championship?
Simple: health and inexperience.
Last season, the Cavs were on the brink of a title without two All-Stars (Kyrie Iriving & Kevin Love) in the lineup. Not only does it say a great deal about LeBron’s other-wordly talents, Cleveland’s supporting cast is more capable than previously thought.
But while the role players got a taste of Finals action a year ago, Love and Irving (only played Game 1) are unproven on the grandest stage. It’s not a damning reality but Cleveland is still working to develop its cohesiveness.
Let’s get it out of the way…LeBron James’s 2015 Finals was one of the most gripping performances of any player in league history. He finished the series averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds & 8.8 assists, the first person to lead his team in all three categories.
His incredible will to win almost propelled a severely undermanned Cavs squad to the highest peak. And with a (potentially) healthy roster heading into next year’s postseason, there is no reason why Cleveland should lose before getting a shot to redeem themselves and get over the hump.
Cleveland’s depth will be the story all year long. Adding Mo Williams (veteran shot creator) and Richard Jefferson (veteran wing) to an already stacked roster should keep everyone fresh for a playoff run. The trick for Coach David Blatt is to rest LeBron, Kyrie and Love throughout the season while remaining competitive and building chemistry.
Kyrie and Kevin had a nice groove going prior to Love’s season-ending shoulder surgery in the Quarterfinals. Kyrie is one of the most dazzling floor generals around and had a lot of success with both Love and LeBron in the P&R. With so much attention geared toward stopping Cleveland’s stars, UnderDOGS J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Mo Williams (among others), have plenty of chances to convert open jumpers.
J.R. and Shump struggled with that responsibility during the Finals but added a nice punch on the wing during the second half of the season. Mo Williams, LeBron’s teammate from 2008-2011, has plenty of ammo left and is the perfect backup to Kyrie. Williams’s signing was yet another excellent move by GM David Griffin, who has been on a roll lately.
Tristan Thompson, who just signed an insane $82 million dollar extension, Timofey Mozgov, and Andy Varejao round out a devastating front line for Coach Blatt. Though LeBron gives Cleveland the luxury of going small without much consequence, Blatt can insert towering lineups to combat the likes of Chicago and Miami in the East.
Though Kyrie is on the shelf til January, the Cavs are in the best shape the franchise has ever been. The pieces seem to fit and LeBron is more locked in than ever to win it all.
Projected Starting 5:
Depth Chart (when healthy):
-Finals “hero” Matthew Dellavedova won’t be out of the rotation when Irving returns; he could see a nice chunk of minutes playing alongside Kyrie or Williams in the backcourt
-Andy V. is healthy to start the season and will be counted on for energy and offensive rebounding off the bench
-Kyrie-Smith-James-Love-Thompson is a real possibility to close games; if J.R. proves too mercurial, Mo could get the nod
Cleveland’s Best Case Scenario: The Cavs steamroll through the East and defeat their Western Conference foe, in a vigorous slobber-knocker, on the way to championship number 1.
Cleveland’s Worst Case Scenario: D. Wade’s Heat, D. Rose’s Bulls, or J. Wall’s Wizards are too much too overcome as Cleveland bows out in the Conference Finals.
We are picking the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the 2016 NBA Championship. If healthy, Cleveland clearly has enough talent to return to the Finals and defeat whoever stands in their way.
LeBron James, the prime representative of a starved city hoping for glory, finally gets it done.
1st, Central Division (1st, Eastern Conference), 2016 NBA CHAMPIONS
“I just bring the determination to win.” LeBron James