Over the last few years, NBA fans from any location you can name rolled their eyes and scoffed at the notion that LeBron James would ever return to Cleveland. Cavaliers fans were made fun of and called delusional for holding out hope for such a thing to transpire.
It's safe to say Cavs fans are enjoying the last laugh these days. Not only did LeBron come home this summer, they've been fortunate enough to acquire Kevin Love alongside King James and Kyrie Irving, and it's on like Donkey Kong.
Get your popcorn ready, this is going to be fun to watch.
After four years in the NBA wilderness, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back. No really, we aren't just saying that. We aren't asking you to bet on Andrew Bynum's knees. We aren't telling you that Jarrett Jack's midrange jumpers will take the Cavs to the promised land. This isn't about adding undrafted rookies and hoping to find a diamond in the rough. This is LeBron James. This is Kevin Love. This is gold medalist Kyrie Irving. This is Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson being asked to fulfill roles in line with their skill sets. This is the Wild Thing, Anderson Varejao, in his natural habitat, as he was meant to be experienced. This is your Cleveland Cavaliers. They are going to be on national television. ESPN will set up a regional base on West 6th. LeBron James' return to Cleveland is likely to be a dominant national storyline for years to come. The goal, of course, is a championship. It's going to be an incredible ride.
The first time LeBron was in Cleveland, that felt like a team that fought for everything they earned. Had they won a title, nobody could have said it was given. But with the way this team was put together, it really feels more given than earned. For now.
Which brings me to my point. For the Cavaliers to win a Championship, they’re going to have to face adversity and earn it. I think this season will be a roller coaster with so many highs and lows. But there will be some lows. Probably a decent amount of them. There will be times where everything will be questioned and doubt and uncertainty will creep in. Overcoming these issues is how the Cavaliers will fight to earn their goals. I fear there’s a creeping sense among many Cavs fans that this season will be nothing but fun and good times. And heck, after the last four years we’ve been through, this is all gravy. But I just hope everyone maintains some perspective when adversity hits. The tough times are just as much a part of the journey as the good times.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
3rd in Central Division - 10th in Eastern Conference
The offseason additions that the Cavaliers brought in prior to the 2013-14 season were promising in theory, but did not quite pan out the way they had originally hoped.
Perhaps most notably, Cleveland selected Anthony Bennett with the number one overall pick in the draft, which they owned for the second time in three years. Unfortunately, Bennett failed to live up to expectations as he put together a miserably disappointing rookie year in the NBA. After a shoulder injury kept Bennett out of action to begin the season, the rookie forward came in overweight and would appear in just 52 games all season. In under 13 minutes per appearance, Bennett failed to make the most of his opportunities as he shot 35.6% from the field and put up just four points and three rebounds per game. He also sporadically displayed a visible lack of desire on the court, with unacceptable moments like this.
The Cavaliers added combo-guard Jarrett Jack via free agency, as well, signing him to a four-year, $25 million contract after an outstanding season with Golden State. However, Jack was unable to establish a rhythm and performed inconsistently all year long as he failed to play at the same level we had become accustomed to seeing from him.
In an attempt to establish a low-post presence, the Cavs also swung for the fences on Andrew Bynum by signing him to a lucritive two-year deal, which turned out to be another swing and a miss. While Bynum was productive at times, putting up just under nine points and six rebounds in 20 minutes per game, he shot just 42% from the field and failed to work himself back into respectable playing shape.
With a postseason berth still statistically possible in a weakened Eastern Conference, the Cavs completed a shocking blockbuster deal that brought Luol Deng to Cleveland in early January. Deng's contract was set to expire at season's end, but the club was invested in the risk and sent the Bulls a package consisting of Andrew Bynum, a future first round draft pick (via Sacramento), two future second round picks and the right for Chicago to swap first round picks with Cleveland in 2015. By February's trading deadline, Cleveland had also dealt Earl Clark, Henry Sims and a pair of second round picks for Spencer Hawes, hoping to shore up their front line for one last postseason push.
The goal to reach the playoffs was never met, as the team slightly improved after the trade but still went 22-26 since the time of the deal that brought Deng to Cleveland. Individually, Deng's performance as a Cavalier was underwhelming, to say the least, as he failed to play at the All-Star level he did in Chicago. Through 40 games in the wine and gold, Deng put up 14.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest on just 41.7% shooting from the field.
Cleveland finished the season 33-49, good for tenth in the Eastern Conference, and fell five games behind Atlanta for the eighth seed.
Just one year after signing a five-year, $20 million contract to rejoin the team last April, head coach Mike Brown was fired by the Cavaliers for the second time in four years. The word is that his troops weren't fully buying into his methods, he was losing his players at increasing levels as the season progressed and was unable to successfully manage a disgruntled locker room. Brown's career coaching record with Cleveland stands at 305-187 (.711) through six seasons.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - LeBron James, Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, David Blatt
Key Losses - Luol Deng, Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Jack, Spencer Hawes, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller
What a remarkable summer for the Cavaliers.
First off, they entered May 21sts 2014 NBA Draft Lottery with a miniscule 1.7% chance of landing the top pick in the draft, but defied the odds by miraculously winning their third lottery in a four-year span. Conspiracy theorists had a field day, and this went on to change everything about their future. The prize would turn out to be Andrew Wiggins, who the majority felt is equipped with the most long-term potential of anyone in the class.
Three weeks later, the NBA's feel-good story of the year took place as LeBron James decided to take his talents back home and rejoin the Cavaliers on a two-year, $42 million deal, where he is likely to opt out of the second year and sign long term in 2015. A large portion of Cleveland fans have been extra salty since "The Decision," but this was the best thing LeBron could have possibly done to reconcile. Not only does this help heal a wound, it restores an entire franchise and injects life back into a loyal fanbase. There aren't many negative side effects to signing the undisputed best player in basketball. Enjoy it, Cleveland fans.
Wiggins showed off flashes of his talent with Cleveland in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he scored 15.5 points through four games, but he didn't have enough time to get comfortable in the wine and gold. Two months after being drafted, Wiggins became the first number one overall pick to be traded before the start of his rookie season since Chris Webber in 1993. In late August, Cleveland, Minnesota and Philadelphia completed a blockbuster three-team deal that shipped Wiggins and 2013 top pick Anthony Bennett to Minnesota, along with a future first round pick, in return for Kevin Love. King James is the best player in the world but Love has been an MVP-caliber producer in his own right, averaging over 23 points and 13 rebounds throughout the last four years, and he is only 25 years old.
Also, as you would expect, the Cavs locked up Kyrie Irving on a five-year, $90 million extension in July, as the 21-year-old two-time All-Star guard will combine with LeBron and Love to form arguably the most devastating "big three" in basketball. LeBron even took some old friends with him, as Cleveland strengthened their perimeter rotation by signing sharpshooters Mike Miller and James Jones. The Cavs were even fortunate enough to reel in Shawn Marion, as the savvy 15-year vet was successfully sold on another championship opportunity.
Cleveland's busy summer didn't stop at revamping the roster, either. After firing Mike Brown, the club decided to bring in international coaching sensation David Blatt as his replacement. Blatt has no previous NBA coaching experience, but the Massachussetts native has coached professionally overseas since 1993 and has been widely regarded as one of the most affluent basketball minds abroad. He'll have his work cut out for him, being thrown right into the fire with championship expectations during his transition year to the NBA.
From a basketball standpoint, this offseason is a dream come true for Cavaliers fans, even the ones that set those #23 jerseys on fire back in 2010. Cleveland basketball has now returned to prominence, and they’ve got three superstar players in or entering their prime that complement one another perfectly. Chris Bosh is outstanding but Love may very well turn out to be the best big man LeBron has ever played with, and Kyrie Irving surely has a lot more left in the tank than the 32-year-old Dwyane Wade. Love is arguably the best rebounder in the entire NBA, an incredible jump shooting big and a guy that can play off of anything LeBron or Irving want to do on the floor. Cleveland’s spacing and offensive prowess is going to be an absolute nightmare for all 29 opponents, especially after bringing in Mike Miller along with the plan to court Ray Allen. Cleveland is going to devastate opposing defenses with their drive-and-kick game, deadly pick n’ roll/pop play along with three guys that can individually break you down if all else fails. Hell, maybe four if Dion Waiters can accept a smaller role and bring it consistently.
Of course, there is always a risk involved when you’re giving up the top pick in the draft and a talent like Wiggins, even when the return is an All-Star in his prime, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that Cleveland’s upcoming postseason success will erase any doubts one may have.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Anderson Varejao / Brendan Haywood / Louis Amundson
PF - Kevin Love / Tristan Thompson
SF - LeBron James / Shawn Marion / James Jones
SG - Dion Waiters / Mike Miller / Joe Harris
PG - Kyrie Irving / Matt Dellavedova / A.J. Price
X-FACTOR - Team Defense
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Cleveland will have one of the most lethal arsenals of offensive weaponry this season. With three bona fide stars like LeBron, Love and Irving, they'll have no problem scoring the ball. The question in everyone's mind regarding their ability to win a title is "Can they come together as a unit and play quality team defense?"
While the Cavs have a lot to prove on the defensive end of the floor, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better defensive quarterbacks than LeBron James. Anderson Varejao will remind everyone about what he brings to the table, as well, but David Blatt's entire rotation will need to be in sync in order for Cleveland to win their first championship in franchise history.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
I have never paid much attention to Las Vegas odds but if I were a betting man, I would put my chips on Cleveland winning the Eastern Conference this season. Teams like Chicago, Miami and Washington may have a chance to give them a run for their money, but the Cavaliers are the universal preseason favorite to represent the east in June. There is no such thing as a "sure thing" in professional sports but worst case scenario, the Cavs are at least going to make their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2009.
1st - Central Division
1st - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Minnesota Timberwolves team preview, coming later today.