The Cleveland Cavaliers have been untouchable in the East since the return of LeBron James in 2014. However, it has been a tumultuous offseason in which they lost All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics. The preseason offered little reassurance for Cavs fans as their team went 1-4 and looked lost throughout.
Here are three areas of concern for the Cavaliers moving into the 2017/18 season.
Starting lineup upheaval
When the entire roster is healthy, the Cavs will only have one player starting in the same position as last season. Isaiah Thomas will start at point guard whilst Dwyane Wade will replace JR Smith in the starting line up as the two guard. LeBron will retain his spot at small forward with new addition Jae Crowder sliding in at the four, an unfamiliar position for a player used to playing the three. Kevin Love will start at center in place of Tristan Thompson and it remains to be seen if he can cope physically.
This upheaval was felt in the preseason as the Cavs struggled to find any cohesiveness and were defeated by teams such as the Bulls, Pacers and Hawks - sides which Cleveland would expect to beat comfortably.
The return of Thomas will provide some answers for coach Ty Lue but the starting lineup looks murky before the season starts.
Cleveland's most effective lineups since James returned have surrounded him with four shooters that splash in three-pointers aplenty. Think back to the 2016 NBA Championship run when lineups including Irving, Smith, Love and Channing Frye broke all kinds of records for three-pointers made.
Cavs hit 25 three pointers vs Atlanta Hawks
The current starting lineup lacks the spacing that LeBron thrives amongst. A backcourt duo of Derrick Rose and Wade both shoot the three at around 30% and whilst Crowder is a decent shooter he is not in the same class as Smith or Irving. Love provides the only reliable three-point threat and even his effectiveness may be hampered by playing the five.
Injury problems have plagued the Cavs this preseason. Thomas' absence has been well publicized but the more worrying issue for Cavs fans will have been James' absence.
James suited up for just a single preseason game and is expected to miss the first season opener of his career. LeBron has already played 1278 games and well over 40,000 minutes in his career to date. The King has a reputation for being one of the NBA's toughest players and he has never missed significant time through injury. But at age 32 his body will be starting to feel all those minutes.
Perhaps it is foolish to bet against LeBron but something definitely feels different in Cleveland this year. This roster may well be the worst James has had since his return and teams like Boston, Washington and even Milwaukee will be looking out for any signs of weakness.
James will still be great this season but it will be a question of whether his new supporting cast can provide him with enough help to get Cleveland back to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
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