Cleveland Cavaliers: Prediction: 2nd in the Eastern Conference
2014 Record: 33-49
Coach: David Blatt
Significant Additions: F LeBron James (free agent), F Kevin Love (trade), F Shawn Marion (free agent), F Mike Miller (free agent), F James Jones (free agent), C Brendan Haywood (trade), F Louis Amundson (free agent)... G Ray Allen (probably)
Significant Subtractions: F Luol Deng (free agent), C Spencer Hawes (free agent), G Jarrett Jack (trade), F Anthony Bennett (trade), C Tyler Zeller (trade), F Alonzo Gee (trade), G C.J. Miles (free agent), G Sergey Karasev (trade)
Projected Starters: C Anderson Varejao, F Kevin Love, F LeBron James, G Dion Waiters, G Kyrie Irving (9.5/10):
I'm not a professional scout, but in my estimation the Cavs have appreciably upgraded their starting forwards from the season prior (Luol Deng and Tristan Thompson). James' talents are without peer, obviously. The only questions about him are how he will mesh with Irving since he's never been in a situation before where he wasn't the dominant ball-handler. Occasionally he'll make the sharp cut and play off the ball, but it's not really his thing. Irving, meanwhile, hasn't had much success as a catch-and-shoot guy either, though to be fair his percentages taking jumpers of any sort aren't all that hot. I'm also curious how this skinnier, sleeker James will work in the low post. Does he still intend to make it a part of his game or was the weight loss his signal to the new coaching staff that he finds the paint too physically demanding and that he just wants to be a perimeter guy again? Having less mass should help James defensively, where he lagged at times last season in Miami, but it offers another clue that he wants no part of guarding opposing fours, which he balked at doing with the Heat. Love will have all the open pick-and-pop jumpers he wants in this offense and his efficiency numbers should go through the roof, but it remains to be seen how much he'll enjoy being a third option. Actually, more of a fourth option if Waiters has his way. Offensively getting Waiters in line to accept the new order of things may be coach David Blatt's biggest challenge. It really wouldn't surprise me to see him moved at some point for shot blocking help. Blatt will likely try to keep Waiters in the fold by telling him he can shine in bench-heavy units the way Dwyane Wade did for the Heat. Defensively they're going to be an atrocious mess, but in the East it won't matter against most teams.
Projected Reserves (5.5/10):
The Cavs will need Waiters to carry that second string because, similar to the situation James just left, there isn't much in reserve. Shawn Marion still provides good size and can help defensively in some match-ups, but at his age he's no longer a force in transition or on the boards and his shooting is just as shaky as Shane Battier's was by the end. Mike Miller (a dead ringer for SBN's resident genius Jon Bois) can destroy a team almost singlehandedly once every few weeks, but I'm dubious he can stay healthy two seasons in a row and he doesn't offer much besides shooting. James Jones was signed because it would've been too gauche for LeBron to just have Maverick Carter on the bench. Tristan Thompson is a very good rebounder and far more durable than Varejao, but he is clueless in his own end and offers surprisingly no resistance at the rim. Brendan Haywood is old, injury prone and just a big body. Matthew Dellavedova had a fairly successful rookie season and should thrive with all the open jumpers he gets. Defensively though, it's still gonna be difficult for him, even when he's not getting screened by his own guys. It's an open secret that if Ray Allen signs anywhere, it'll be with the Cavs, perhaps later in the season when he feels the bug. He's strictly a specialist at this point.
Coach/Front Office (4/10):
Blatt has been one of the most acclaimed coaches in Europe for many years and there's no doubt that he was fully deserving of this opportunity. However, he was hired to coach a young, rebuilding team, not an immediate title contender with two of the best ten players in the world on the roster. He'll have to prove his chops to the veterans on hand and unlike what Erik Spoelstra faced in Miami, Blatt doesn't have the endorsement of someone like Pat Riley or years of experience as an assistant. What Blatt has going for him is that his offensive system will complement the talents of James and Love very well but you have to think that at some point his lack of familiarity with the league will hurt the Cavs and those growing pains will lose him points with his stars, so he'll have to learn on the fly quick and show that he can bring more to the table than he takes off of it. General manager David Griffin has been with the Cavs since 2010 but was promoted to his current post midway through last season when predecessor Chris Grant was fired. It's hard to know how much credit or blame to give him for any of their recent roster moves because everyone thinks James is the de facto GM anyway. But credit Griffin for his impressive job of making the moves necessary to clear the cap space to acquire James.
Team Rating: 72 (2.5 Starters Rating + 1.5 Reserves Rating + Coach Rating) x 2 = 72
Did You Know:
Though many folks assume that James made the decision to rejoin the Cavs a couple days prior to his exclusive announcement to Sports Illustrated on July 11th, perhaps he actually decided to leave the Heat three months later, about 58 seconds into this basketball game:
Afterward, James denied momentarily forgetting that he doesn't play for Miami any more, explaining that he was merely "showing" on the pick-and-roll, hedging on a screen that Deng didn't actually set at all. He termed those who didn't understand this as "non-basketball people" and said that the accusation was "stupid."
Granted, I'm not a "basketball person" per se, but I have yet to notice people showing on pick-and-rolls by keeping their arms stiffly at their sides and not even looking at the player with the ball. Perhaps the problem is that James is just very bad at defense -- perhaps he'll improve with practice.
Anyway, good for him for going back home. I hope he can find the time to just walk the streets and re-acclimate himself back with the city of Cleveland. You never know who you'll bump into downtown.