POSTED: Oct 14, 2015 12:27 AM ET
Cavaliers Season Preview: Coaches Corner
Mike D'Antoni breaks down the keys to trying to stop the Cavaliers.
The smart set last season said Cleveland would be there at the end -- and then ran out of patience way too early, nitpicking at 19-20 a group that went 34-9 the rest of the way before its run to The Finals. The Cavaliers are calling 2014-15 a "foundation year," much as 2010-11 was for LeBron James' Miami crew before it won consecutive championships.
No one expected Kyrie Irving (knee surgery) or Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) to be ready by the starting of training camp, but the ruptured wrist tendon suffered by Iman Shumpert in the days before camp was an unexpected blow. He's likely out three months. ... After mostly staying out of the contract stalemate between backup big man Tristan Thompson and Cavs management -- he and Thompson share an agent, Rich Paul -- LeBron James labeled the situation "a distraction" when the deadline passed for Thompson to either sign his one-year qualifying offer or accept Cleveland's best multi-year deal (five years/$80 million). That's one thing a Finals-targeting team doesn't need, even in October. ... Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson have stepped into the seasoned NBA vet roles previously held by Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.
1. Kevin Love figures to have a smoother season this time than he did in 2014-15 -- and make a greater impact, too. Love had the biggest adjustments of the Cavaliers' Big Three, with LeBron James as the team's dominant offensive player and Kyrie Irving having the ball in his hands plenty as point guard. It was a bumpy ride for Love, too often relegated to basic "stretch four" duty. But once his repaired shoulder allows it, he can expect a bigger offensive role, with James nudging him that way in hopes of reducing his own load a bit.
2. There was no denying Timofey Mozgov's value once he arrived in the January trade with Denver. The Cavs won 76 percent of the games Mozgov started for them and he had a net rating of 10.9, boosting the offense and tightening the defense by about five points each. But as the NBA gets "smaller" -- more teams eschewing traditional centers, much the way Golden State did by the end of The Finals -- the challenge will be keeping Mozgov on the floor when he has to defend more perimeter-oriented bigs. That's where Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and even LeBron James might come in as ad hoc "centers."
3. Coach David Blatt had to find his way during his first year last season with all his international coaching experience mattering little to the NBA players. His days of bristling over the "rookie head coach" label and defending his achievements overseas are over; Blatt knows how to talk and walk the NBA game now, and presumably has more credibility after being studied and tested last season. How much he can install his preferred strategies, though, remains to be seen with James' preferences carrying so much weight.
Kyrie Irving was an All-Star before LeBron James came back to Cleveland and he was an All-Star with him last season. He had his healthiest and most productive season, in fact, before a gimpy and then curtailed first taste of the playoffs. His return from surgery on his fractured left knee will push into the regular season and he has talked of altering his game to limit recklessness and vulnerability to injuries. Whether that changes his effectiveness remains to be seen.
Kyrie Irving | 21.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.2 apg
Best and most durable season yet (21.5 PER, .583 true shooting) before hobbled postseason.
J.R. Smith | 12.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
Back to starting role while Shumpert's out, rotation's per-minute three-point FGA leader.
Timofey Mozgov | 10.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 0.8 apg
Cavs went 34-11 in Mozgov's starts after January arrival.
Kevin Love | 16.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.2 apg
Stats dipped, as expected, in adjustment from Minnesota's first option to Cleveland's third.
LeBron James | 25.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 7.4 apg
Two-week spa sabbatical in midseason got him and rest of team right.
Tristan Thompson | 8.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.5 apg
Showed value in playoffs as defender/rebounder, but contract squabble ill-advised.
Anderson Varejao | 9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg
Staying healthy his annual challenge (172 appearances in past 394 games).
Mo Williams | 14.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 6.2 apg for Minnesota/Charlotte
Elated to be back in Cleveland as backup PG, with Dellavedova in reserve.
Everything the Cavaliers did in the offseason (with the possible exception of Tristan Thompson's protracted negotiations) was about returning and improving for another, better shot at the franchise's first title. Barring mass or devastating injuries, there is every reason to expect The Finals, and maybe even confetti, at The Q in June.
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