Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cliff's Edge 10.27.15: Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview #Cavs

By @CLG2282

It is that time of year again folks.  Time to play some basketball.  And if you're a Cavaliers fan, you most likely have some fairly lofty goals.

The end of the 2014-2015 NBA season left most of the Cleveland supporters with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.  Bitter, of course, because the Cavaliers did not win the finals and bring a trophy to Cleveland for the first time in decades.  Sweet, because LeBron is back and Cleveland is a legitimate title contender.  The Cavs at the end of last season were even preseason favorites to win the championship.

Now that we have seen how that ended up, let's take a look at what has changed between now and June.

As the playoffs wrapped up, the Cavs were looking at a roster that, from top to bottom, was absolutely riddled with injuries.  Not just a sprained ankle or a sore wrist, the Cavs faced injuries that could be season-ending, no matter what point they occurred in the season.  So it was clear that from the moment the Finals were over, that the Cavs needed to add depth and rehabilitate.

We did not seem to do much in (regarding the immediate future) the direction of adding to our depth in the draft.  A rather underwhelming draft saw the Cavs select Duke guard Tyus Jones late in the 1st round and Sir'Dominic Pointer from St. John's at the end of the 2nd round.  They would end up trading Jones to the Timberwolves for their 2nd round pick, Rakeem Christmas.

What was the sum of these movements in the draft? It resulted in none of the three players being on the Cavs roster heading into the season opener.  In fact, the Cavs only have 4 new players on the roster this year.  That is almost a complete one-eighty from last season that had more than half of the Cavs roster coming in from different teams.

Two of the new additions were once part of the Cavaliers organization. Mo Williams, who played for the Cavs from 2008-2011 and Sasha Kaun, whose draft rights were traded to the Cavs, but never actually played a game.

Though head coach David Blatt was reluctant to play his older veterans when we needed extra bodies the most, the Cavs picked up long time veteran Richard Jefferson. Most recently a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Jefferson averages just under 6 points per game and will hopefully add needed depth to the small forward position.

With the exception of Mo Williams, the organization's offseason moves have been interesting to say the least. It seems like there was much more talent out there that would have been a lot more helpful.

There were also a few contract discussions that you may have heard about.  After laboring back and forth all summer long, the Cavs and Tristan Thompson finally came to an agreement on a 5-year, $82 million contract.

They definitely used as much time as they could getting that deal done. Thompson missed the entire preseason, as well as the camps and workouts before hand. The result being what most think of as Thompson being over paid. From the looks of things however, if the Cavs did not feel like they needed him, they would not have signed him.

Tristan was key in the Finals for the Cavs filling in for an injured Kevin Love. He was able to rebound and defend well enough to help keep a short handed Cleveland team in the series. Now with Love back to live action basketball activities, the quest for a trophy is well under way.

Despite the returns of Thompson and Love, there was a slight set back to getting the team back to full strength. Kyrie Irving's kneecap injury is going to take a while longer than originally thought.  The new timetable is looking like a mid-January return for the Cavaliers all-star point guard.

Cleveland will also be missing it's best perimeter defender in Iman Shumpert to start the season. Shumpert had surgery on his right wrist which is also his shooting hand. Tagged with an 8-12 week time table, Shumpert will likely be out past Thanksgiving as well.

LeBron James, as of a week and a half ago, also joined the injury squad. He has reportedly been dealing with some back issues and received anti-inflammatory shots. However, there is no long-term time table for LeBron to sit out as he will be ready for the opener. I suspect it's just a routine precaution and body maintenance thing, similar to his two week hiatus around Christmas last season.

So with all the injuries and weird moves and contract disputes, we're here.  It's opening day of the 2015-16 NBA season.  The expectations are now higher than ever.

After losing to Golden State in the Finals with a very shorthanded team, many are eager to get this journey rolling. Those are most likely the people that feel like the Cavs would have won the series if they were at full strength.

What we have to look forward to:

The Cavs have added needed depth to the point guard position behind Kyrie. Mathew Dellavedova did a decent job replacing Kyrie, but simply wasn't enough to help get the team over the hump. With the addition of Mo Williams and the young Jared Cunningham filling the final roster spot in the preseason, there is a lot of offensive and defensive depth at the guard position.

This biggest improvement going into this season will be the fact that our big time players will not be new to the big stage. Last year only James, J.R. Smith, James Jones and Timofey Mozgov had previous playoff experience.  James and Jones were the only two to play in the finals, or see significant playoff minutes for that matter.

Kyrie, Tristan and Love now have played serious, meaningful late season basketball games. We have seen players get caught up in the atmosphere of the playoffs and under perform. So it is promising to know that those first time jitters should now be behind the Cavs.

The roster for Cleveland is now two deep at every position. The only position that does not have a solid back up is the small forward. But luckily for Cleveland, that is the position occupied by LeBron James, who does not miss many games.  Having a viable replacement at each position gives depth and allocated minutes that will allow players to rest and be fresh.

For what it's worth, there should not be too much competition to win the Eastern conference. There are a couple good teams and that is absolutely where the conversation stops. No team in the East has the talent that Cleveland has with maybe the exception of the Chicago Bulls. The Atlanta Hawks, whom the Cavs destroyed in last season's playoffs, will be competitive but won't go very far in the playoffs.

The Celtics are a good, young team, but are still building and likely are another season away from being real title contenders. A healthy Miami team could make some noise. With veterans Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh leading the way and Hassan Whiteside's rising stock, they could make a run deep into the playoffs.

Overall, the Cavs should be able to get thru the East and make another finals appearance. That would be where the road gets really tough. Possibly facing a rematch with the Golden State Warriors is not out of the picture. They are still a good team and cleared some cap space to make moves down the road, all while keeping their core guys together. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are still very young and improving.

Another challenge, and my personal pick to win the West, is the San Antonio Spurs. The system under coach Greg Popovich that has stood the test of time is always dangerous. Couple that with one of the league's rising stars in Kawhi Leonard and the offseason acquisition of star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs jump to the very top of the title contenders list. Not to mention the normal gladiator gauntlet that is the Western conference.

Overall, the Cavs looked primed and ready for another title run. They have their same nucleus of talent, shooters, defenders and are one more year matured into coach David Blatt's scheme. Getting all of the "first time jitters" out of the way should allow the team to settle into the season and get down to business. They now know what it is like as a team to be at the big stage. Though Irving and Love didn't play in the Finals, they now know what it's like to be in that atmosphere. For the most part, they should also know what is expected of them.

I'm sure there are a lot of Cavs fans circling the Christmas day game with the Warriors on their calendars. However, it's just another regular season game. What we want to watch for is the further advancement of chemistry and comfort with each other as teammates. We want to see how the players take their first year and build off of the experience and learn from mistakes. Those are the kinds of things you want to see from a team being constructed to win a title.

If last year's work is anything to go off of, it appears that this team is ahead of schedule. We all expected a playoff run but not necessarily a trip to the finals. So heading into the 2015-16 season, the Cavs have all of their major pieces back. If everything goes well medically,  you can expect the Cavaliers to be back in the finals. With a lot more experience and maturity.

We can expect the Cavs to play well at home as usual. I would expect a record of 31-10 at home, a place where they obviously feel very comfortable and feed off of the crowd. Considering the rest of the East and the strong West, I think the Cavaliers finish above .500 at 24-17 on the road. Giving them a 55 win season. Of course, the possibility that they finish better is likely but I want to account for games that may be lost due to guys getting rest or injury. 55-27 sounds like a plausible record for Cleveland in the quest to a championship.

Let the games begin!

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