2016 Off-Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers
Record (57-25) On the night of June 10th, The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered a home loss to the Golden State Warriors to give them a commanding 3-1 series advantage. Cleveland was counted out as they always have, which in this scenario was deserving of such, as they faced historically impossible odds. The opposing team was the one with the first ever unanimous MVP, the best regular season record of all time, the momentum but most importantly, the 3-1 series lead that was believed to be insurmountable since no team has overcome that deficit in the Championship round. Just a year ago, this Cleveland team was plagued with injuries to two of their three best players and took this Warriors team to a six game series. They believed they could’ve defeated this team had Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving been able to play, so they spent the course of this season trying to insure more continuity and health by the time the playoffs rolled around. This year they got off to a better start in terms of wins, but that masked a myriad of bad habits the Cavaliers were creating on a nightly basis. Talent could cover these issues against lesser competition, but as they slowly festered, they would finally rear their ugly heads on a regular season stage that Cleveland had had circled on their calendars for months. January 18th, on national television, at home against Golden State, Cleveland suffered an outcome (similar to June 10th’s Game 4) that left Cavalier fans, and NBA fans at large, feeling as if even with a healthier roster this time around, Cleveland didn’t have the answers to this monster led by ‘The Baby-Faced Assassin’. After this midseason beat down, the Cavaliers knew a change needed to be made and they would end up cutting ties with David Blatt; who was only in his second season coaching in the NBA. This is when they promoted Tyronn Lue from highest paid assistant coach in the league, to the Head Coach of a Cleveland team with championship aspirations. He would now have to implement his own system and try to rally his players around the notion that he could lead them to their ultimate goal. Although it was nowhere near a smooth transition, Cleveland losing games against teams they should be dominating was troublesome while their body language was even scarier. The change at the helm was necessary for Cleveland to turn things around. For the rest of the regular season, the spotlight was even brighter. They would trade away long time Cavalier Anderson Varejao and end up bringing in veteran Channing Frye as another stretch four and veteran presence in the locker room. As the regular season came to a close, the Cavaliers were still looking for an identity while Golden State was adding new chapters to the history books. When the playoffs started in April, Cleveland would catch momentum and fire from the three point line as they broke records from beyond the arc. They would walk through the Eastern Conference, while the Warriors would suffer injuries to Stephen Curry and stumble. Sooner or later, you knew these two teams would be waiting for each other in the final round and what a roller coaster of a series it was. The first half of the series was dominated by the Warriors ball movement, defensive intensity and constant switching that left Cleveland confused and seemingly unable to communicate properly on the defensive end of the floor and the scoreboard would show it. Fast forward back to the waning minutes of Game 4. The Warriors had taken full control of the game with less than three minutes left and they were looking to put the finishing touches on the game. That was until momentum may have shifted Cleveland’s way, not for the game, but for the series. Draymond Green and LeBron James would get into a skirmish and Draymond would respond in a fashion this year’s playoffs had grown accustomed to him doing. With his lower-extremity targeting mindset, Draymond would swing at LeBron for stepping over him while he was on the ground and would hit him in a place where the sun doesn’t shine. The NBA would look over the play in the following days, and since he had other incidents like this in the earlier rounds, they would suspend Green for Game 5. Still, Cleveland was down 3-1 and in need of heroic performances. They would get such from Kyrie and Lebron and by the time Sunday, June 19th rolled around, the series was tied for a final seventh game and Cleveland’s chance at history (to be the first team to win the Finals after being down 3-1). Game 7 was by far the most competitive and interesting game of the series and it would come down to the stars to make the plays to determine the champion. Late in the fourth, the game was tied at 89 a piece for a four minute stretch when finally the Warriors would rebound a missed shot and run out on the fast break. Curry led the two on one break with Andre Iguodala and dished it off to him with Iggy only having to finish at the rim. Then, the man who wanted to win for Cleveland more than anybody would make one of the biggest defensive plays in Finals history. LeBron came sprinting from the backcourt and skied high to record yet another one of his patented chase down blocks.
Moments later, his star teammate, Kyrie Irving would hit a step back three pointer over the man who has broken the regular season three point record three years in a row. That along with another defensive stop sealed the win for the Cavaliers and the city’s first title in over 52 years. With LeBron as the leader, the Cavaliers finally won, but with emerging talent could look to find themselves in this situation for the next few years to come. They will however, need to make moves to improve their roster. They are one of the teams without a draft pick and although adding youth to the roster could help, an incoming rookie may be too inexperienced for their liking. Cleveland will have a few areas they need to address: perimeter shooting (J.R. Smith has elected to become a free agent), shooting bigs, and a solid backup small forward for LeBron since Richard Jefferson has announced he has retired (although other reports say he may return). J.R. Smith should be a priority to bring back because even though he brings a shooting prowess, it was his play on the defensive end against Klay Thompson that made him super valuable. If they cannot manage to bring him back, guys like OJ Mayo, Courtney Lee, and Arron Afflalo could all fill this role well and likely won’t demand too much money. They may need to look at more stretch fours if they do decide to move on from Kevin Love. A player like Ryan Anderson would command the ball much less than Kevin Love and would thrive with Kyrie and LeBron creating open looks for him. Finally, adding a backup for James can never be easy but a player of Nicolas Batum’s skill set could work masterfully in this system. A wing player with the ability to guard multiple positions, score, and create for his teammates, would give Cleveland another playmaker and give LeBron a chance to play less minutes during the season in an attempt to be ready for another post season run. The offseason is off and running and they will need to make moves, but for now enjoy this one Cleveland, it’s well deserved.
NBA Off-Season Previews
Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics – Brooklyn Nets – New York Knicks – Philadelphia 76ers – Toronto Raptors Central Division: Chicago Bulls – Cleveland Cavaliers – Detroit Pistons – Indiana Pacers – Milwaukee Bucks Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks – Charlotte Hornets – Miami Heat – Orlando Magic – Washington Wizards Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks – Houston Rockets – Memphis Grizzlies – New Orleans Pelicans – San Antonio Spurs Northwest Division: Denver Nuggets – Minnesota Timberwolves – Oklahoma City Thunder – Portland Trail Blazers – Utah Jazz Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors – Los Angeles Clippers – Los Angeles Lakers – Phoenix Suns – Sacramento Kings